But, as Weir approached downtown, the surprise was on him, and it might have had something to do with that garment he brought along for the plane ride. A Green Jacket.
“It was a Sears, and as we got near, I saw all these people crowded around,” Weir recalled. “I thought maybe there was a grand opening or they were giving something away. Then I realized. Those people were there for me.”
Canada is a proud country, passionate about its sports and its athletes. So when Mike Weir, a native son, won the Masters 10 years ago, the entire nation rejoiced to celebrate a seminal moment in its history. Citizens old enough to have witnessed the epic 1972 Summit Series likened the moment to Paul Henderson’s last-minute goal in Moscow that secured a victory over the Soviet Union -- a Thursday afternoon when schools were let out so children could watch the game.
On that Monday in 2003, when Weir returned to his native land, Canada might as well have been closed. That night, he went to a playoff hockey game -- what else? -- at the Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers had no use for each other but even they gathered at center ice, smiling, banging their sticks in approval.
“I was upstairs, just relaxing,” Weir went on. “Then they asked me to drop the puck. So many great things happened because of that Masters. Wayne Gretzky called. So did our Prime Minister, Jean Cretien. But dropping the puck, that was probably the coolest.”
On that Sunday at Augusta National, there was no cooler golfer under pressure than Weir. Up ahead, Len Mattiace was working on a career round of 65 to seize the lead. Weir faced a tricky eight-footer on the 18th green to force a tie. A smallish left-hander who had taken seven years to make the PGA TOUR, a tireless worker who had been told since childhood that he probably didn’t hit it far enough for the big leagues, a world traveler whose thin wallet posed no problems when he had to lug his clubs through a muddy street In Jakarta toward a tee time, Weir steadied over the ball and drained it for a 68.
A few minutes later, dressed in black, Weir raised his arms on the 10th green where he clinched his first major with a par. He hugged wife Bricia. Many miles and one border away, Canada hugged him. Weir instantly became a transformational figure there, inspiring youngsters of all sizes to dream. An inordinate number of lefties play golf in Canada -- it’s a hockey thing -- and Weir’s triumph validated their ways, much as Jack Nicklaus did in a return letter to Weir, who at age 13 wrote The Golden Bear about whether switching sides would be a requirement to pursue a career.
“If I helped promote golf in some way, that’s great,” said Weir. “I’ve always tried to be determined. I’ve also tried to kind of be off the radar.”
Such was the case during the spring of 2003. Although Weir had won two tournaments -- the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the Nissan Open -- on the West Coast, he did not figure in many conversations about Masters favorites. Tiger Woods had won two green jackets in a row, Phil Mickelson lurked as the odds-on first southpaw ever to win one, and when Augusta National became a rain forest after being drenched so thoroughly that Thursday’s round was postponed, one assumed the survivor would be a bomber. To wit: on Friday at No. 1, Weir opened with driver, 5-wood.
“But I felt confident coming in,” recalled Weir, who proceeded to drive the ball well. Short strokes never were a problem. He can chip and putt blindfolded. Weir posted a first round 70, four swings shy of Darren Clarke, a leaderboard that was inverted when Weir posted a second round 68 while Clarke had 76. Even when he fell two behind leader Jeff Maggert with a third round 75, Weir did not despair.
“I always thought the Masters would be the hardest major for me, because of the length,” he said. “But that week, I just felt I was in control. I had missed the cut the week before in Atlanta with some undisciplined play, and that kind of worked in my favor. It was a grind with the weather, and you always have to stay patient there anyway. Lenny was having a terrific Sunday. I was aware of that. When I went to No. 15 tee, he was two ahead. He bogeyed 18, and so when I made birdie at 15, we were even. But I still had to make that putt on the last hole, with a pin I haven’t seen since. After the playoff, a lot of it is a blur, to be honest.”
Weir’s body, which he might consider donating to science, has incurred its share of wounds -- the most recent being a rib injury that forced him to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard and skip the Shell Houston Open. Rest is required, but Weir intends to practice as much as possible because he treasures the Masters, and all its trappings.
“I’m going no matter what,” he said. “Life is about ups and downs. The injuries, I don’t wonder, ‘Why me?’ My wife tells me everything happens for a reason. Augusta National is longer and narrower than ten years ago, but it’s still the Masters. The Champions Dinner, the tradition, the atmosphere. The older you get …”
Understand this: no golfer plays for his flag under such scrutiny. It is highly unlikely, say, when Vijay Singh hits a ball in the water, that he frets about evoking angst throughout Fiji. But Weir wears the weight of Canada on his shoulders, and wears it admirably.
“Winning the Masters,” he concludes, “it was great for me. But with all the support I’ve gotten from home, it was great that I could share it, too.”