What happened to the 'Mike Weir effect' in Canadian golf?
Star players haven't materialized since historic 2003 Masters win, but there's hope for future
It's hard to believe 13 years have passed since Mike Weir's improbable and magical Masters victory.
For casual sports observers in this country, seeing the Brights Grove, Ont., lefty slip on the iconic green jacket in 2003 is likely one of the few Canadian golf memories they have.
In the days and months after that win, grand predictions were made about what it would do for Canadian golf. The excitement from Weir's victory, it was thought, would quickly trickle down to the junior ranks and soon weekly PGA leaderboards would be littered with Canadians.
A day after Weir's win, he told a downtown Toronto crowd that "hopefully some young kid is watching today and will be inspired to be here wearing a green jacket someday himself."
Weir would never win another green jacket. Nor another major. In fact, he has won only two PGA tournaments since, the last one in 2007, and in recent years injuries have transformed him into a virtual non-factor on tour.
Weir is the lone Canadian competing in this year's Masters, where his 2003 win gives him a lifetime exemption, but don't expect much. He shot a 4-over 76 in the first round, placing him 10 shots behind the leader Jordan Spieth.
Weir effect may take time
With Weir looking like an also-ran again this year, Canadian golf fans may be wondering how long it will take before they have a contender to cheer for again.
Veteran golf journalist and author Lorne Rubenstein thinks it's the next few years that will be key when evaluating the state of Canadian golf.
"I always thought, this idea that Mike Weir won the Masters and that would start a rush of tremendous players, I never really bought into that," says Rubenstein, who has covered the sport for nearly 30 years and is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of fame.
Rubenstein says we may just be starting to see the so-called Weir effect manifest itself.
"Top Aussie players told me that after Greg Norman started winning around the world, it was a lag of about 10 years and then Australians started winning very often."
He says we shouldn't lament Weir being the only Canadian in the field at this year's Masters.
"It doesn't really surprise me, because there are only 89 players in the field. It's the smallest field of the four majors. The Canadians just haven't qualified to get in because it's so difficult to win on the PGA tour."
Today's PGA tour is a very different circuit than when Weir won the Masters. The last decade has brought an influx of even more quality international players, each seemingly in better physical shape than the last.
When Weir won the Masters, Rubenstein says the 5-foot-9 golfer was being outdriven by about 30 or 40 yard off the tee.
"Today, guys like Mike are giving up 60, 70, 80 yards to the likes of Rory McIlroy, so they have to have every part of their game on, with no margin for error at all," Rubenstein says. "The number of players that can win a tournament like the Masters, which has become a bomber's course, is reduced even more than it was back then."
Rubenstein says there are a number of Canadians who have the potential to create Weir-like excitement again, but they need to win.
He points to the "powerful" Graham DeLaet as someone close to breaking through. And the "thoughtful" David Hearn, who has come close on tour, losing in two playoffs and finishing third in last year's Canadian Open after holding the lead through 54 holes.
Rubenstein also likes Winnipeg's Nick Taylor, who has actually won a PGA event (the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship), becoming the first Canadian to do so in more than seven years. And the "fiery" Adam Hadwin, who Rubenstein calls "a player with star quality written all over him."
The player Rubenstein is really watching is Adam Svensson, who is currently paying on the Web.com tour.
"I think he may be Canada's most promising player out there. I would watch for him to get to the PGA tour next year and do some good things."
Rubenstein says players like Svensson represent the fruits of Weir's magical moment at Augusta 13 years ago — and reasons for Canadian golf fans to get excited again.
"I see four of five players competing regularly — one one week, two or three the next... and if the stars align maybe a five-way playoff."
Hey, Canadian golf fans can dare to dream.