Mike Weir is headed back to the U.S. Open.
Sure, that might be a surprise for some golf fans. Weir, after all, has been battling through injuries and surgeries for some time now. As well, he turned 49 on May 12 and is perhaps past the best days of his career.
But to be sure, there is no quit in Canada’s greatest golfer. There never has been.
On Monday, Weir shot rounds of 69-67 in blustery conditions in Dallas to advance to the American championship. It will be played at Pebble Beach, a course Weir loves dearly.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Weir from Dallas where he was preparing for the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club. “Pebble is probably my favourite course in the world and it will probably be my last time playing a U.S. Open there since it’s there once every 10 years or so. This will be my third one and it’s one of my favourite venues for sure.”
Weir last played in the U.S. Open in 2013. This will be his 14th time teeing it up in that major, with his best finish being a tie for third in 2003, the same year he won the Masters.
This year, his game has been showing signs of progress. Part of that is he is playing regularly again, mostly on the Web.com Tour. He’s made eight starts there as well as two on the PGA Tour, one of those being the Masters.
“I’ve been playing like this all year,” he said. “Not consistently, but I’ve been showing some signs and shooting some good scores. Obviously I need to do it more consistently.”
Weir had to battle through some stiff winds at the Monday qualifier, making a long day even longer. While his swing may have gone through some ups and downs, the Brights Grove, Ont., product has been relentless in maintaining his fitness and continues to be one of the strongest players mentally as well. Those two things allowed him to get through.
“I think Monday was a test of being physically ready to play 36 holes but I felt with it being a really windy day that mentally you had to be there more than anything and I felt that was kind of my focus, that for 36 holes,” Weir said. “I had to be ready on every single shot. Physically you might get a little tired towards the end of the day and that’s when you can lose a shot or two – which I did to that – but I was able to build enough of a cushion to get through.”
Weir is looking forward to playing at Pebble Beach for much the same reasons and he loved playing in the difficult conditions in Dallas. It will be a test of more than just who can drive the ball the farthest.
“You really have to think your way around that course,” he said of the oceanside layout, “especially during the U.S. Open. I think that’s what I love it about it so much. It’s not just a driver and an iron every hole. There’s fewer and fewer of those courses nowadays that we play on Tour so it’s nice to play one at a major championship.”
The eight-time winner on the PGA Tour noted that many of today’s tournaments are played on courses that reduce the possible winners to a handful of bombers. He referenced last week’s PGA Championship where the big-hitting Brooks Koepka won, followed by another bomber in Dustin Johnson, as somewhat of an exception.
“There’s a trend to play these huge golf courses that usually one of the longer players has a good driving week he’s going to be near the top of the leaderboard,” said Weir. “But that being said, Bethpage is a course where if the long guy hits it straight he should have an advantage. Some courses where it’s wider is where it becomes a bit of a problem.”
Weir added that recent U.S. Open courses have strayed from the tradition of a more well-rounded test of golf. Layouts such as Erin Hills and Chambers Bay were more about distance more than precision. Neither was given high marks by the competitors.
“[The USGA] has had such a tradition of playing great, classic golf courses that have showed they can stand up to the test of today’s game if set up properly. And Pebble will show that,” Weir said. “With the right design and the right set up you can neutralize and make it available for the player who is playing the best, not just the longest player but anyone. You identify the best player and that might be a medium-length player and that kind of player is going to have a chance at Pebble Beach.”
Weir will also be playing another classic golf course just before the U.S. Open. That will happen at the RBC Canadian Open at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club. It will be the lefthander’s 28th start at his national championship, which ties him for third spot in most appearances.“I really like Hamilton,” he said. “[It’s] another classic, traditional old golf course that you have to think your way around. Some really interesting green complexes and you have to putt really well. Some rolling hills, and side-hill lies, downhill lies . . . you’re always thrown off a bit by that. Right now it’s a nice stretch, Colonial and then Hamilton and then Pebble Beach.”