Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - Submitted by Brian Decker
Mike Weir's win at the 2003 Masters influenced a generation of players to take up the game. Now, with 10 years having passed since Weir's win, that generation is starting to make its own mark in the game.
When Mike Weir won the 2003 Masters, Matt Hill was watching with a keen interest at Huron Oaks Golf Club in Sarnia, Ontario, the same club where Weir grew up playing. Hill was surrounded by dozens of people who knew Weir and were inspired by their hometown hero becoming the first Canadian male to win a major, but the 2012 PGA TOUR Canada Order of Merit winner was also in the same position as nearly every young golfer across the country.
Weir’s seminal victory inspired a generation of young players to take up the game and dream of playing the PGA TOUR. In TSN’s recent Weir documentary 4 Days in April, Graham DeLaet admitted he likely wouldn’t have taken up the game seriously without the inspiration of Weir’s win. Now, with the 10 year anniversary of Weir’s win having passed, that generation of young players is starting to make its own mark on the game.
“He was someone to look up to in Canadian golf, telling you that you can do it too,” said Hill, who had his best season as a pro in 2012, winning the PGA TOUR Canada Order of Merit and earning Web.com Tour status at PGA TOUR Q-School in the fall. Hill was joined in the top-four on the Order of Merit by Michael Gligic, Cory Renfrew and Eugene Wong, all Canadians in their 20s who watched Weir’s win on TV and are now trying to replicate his accomplishments.
“I never really thought at the time I would be an influence, but when you see someone you can relate to break through a barrier like that, it means a lot,” says Weir. “It’s definitely an honour to have those young guys looking up to you like that, and to see them doing well on their own.”
“I remember seeing him win his first PGA TOUR event,” says Wong, a two-time PGA TOUR Canada winner in 2012, who as a nine-year old watched Weir capture his maiden victory at the 1999 Air Canada Championship. “It didn’t really hit me at that age, but as I grew up, I always thought that he if can do it coming from a small town in Canada, why can’t I?”
Hill and Wong are just two players who began playing the game when Weir was Canada’s biggest star in the game, if not the entire country. Weir was named the winner of the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete in 2003, and is a three-time winner of the Lionel Conacher Trophy as Canada’s top male athlete. But now, even as he continues his PGA TOUR career, Weir is helping the same generation he inspired 10 years ago bridge the gap to the professional game.
“When I was starting out as a professional, I was always looking for advice and trying to pick guys’ brains,” says Weir. “I got a lot out of talking to guys like Richard Zokol and Nick Price, and I certainly want that next generation to know the communication is open coming from me.”
Coming from the same home town in Bright’s Grove, Ontario, Weir and Hill have known each other for years, getting closer after Hill won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the NCAA’s top player in 2009. With Hill now trying to following Weir’s footsteps as a pro, the lessons Weir has learned are a valuable resource to younger pros.
“Mike has always taken an interest in helping the next generation understand what they need to do in order to get to the next level, even if it’s under the radar or without the media attention,” says IMG agent Danny Fritz, who manages Hill and Wong in addition to Weir.
“Any time you play a practice round with him, you see how good his short game is,” says Wong. “I’m not the longest hitter, and to see a player like him make up shots with short game and putting is a big inspiration for me.”
“I’ve seen how hard he works at and that’s definitely inspired me to work harder,” says Hill.
As for the next generation’s success in following Weir’s footsteps? Weir says it’s different for every player, but that he hopes he can help the next Mike Weir find their own way.
“Nick Price once told me every player has their own swing habits and tendencies they have to get over in order to get better, no matter how good you get,” says Weir. “If I can help some young player figure out how to do it, that’s great.”