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Pretty Good For a Canadian, Eh?

Here's one of the distinctions: for you Americans, Mike Weir's left-handedness is just a quirk, good for a joke about standing on the wrong side of the ball. But for us Canadians, it's no laughing matter. That's because we take pride in the little things that make us different: buying gas by the liter, parlez-ing français in half the country, living in igloos. When we see Weir's waggle—still trying, after all these years, to get the hockey out of his swing—we see ourselves, or what we like to imagine we are.

By whatever cosmic fluke or genetic defect, more Canadians per capita play golf left-handed than do hackers in any other country—reportedly about 30 percent, compared with something like 10 percent of Americans. No one knows why, exactly, but as with life's other great mysteries—why your own lefties can't win majors, say—there's no shortage of theories floating about.

The best one traces its roots back to the early 1980s, when Canada was consumed by two things: a very bad band named Glass Tiger and a very good hockey player named Wayne Gretzky. A brand called Titan was smart enough to put out a Gretzky signature-model hockey stick—white with red lettering—but only in a lefty model, true to his hand. Right-handers got stuck with the Mike Bossy edition, red with white lettering. Trouble was, Bossy was a heck of a hockey player, but he wasn't the Great One. So lots of hockey-playing kids taught themselves to shoot left-handed, because they really wanted to use the white stick, not the red one. And when they grew up and made the almost inevitable switch to golf, they tucked their newly dominant left hands below their gimpy right ones and slap-hooked the ball onto the adjoining fairway.

Somewhere along the way, a few of us Canadian righties learned how to hit it straight from the south side. Weir went one better—another natural righty, he learned how to hit it straight enough left-handed to win the Masters. In that cotton-mouthed moment, the country had found itself a new sporting hero, and there wasn't any tape on his stick. For today's Canadian kids, it's now Mike Weir, not Wayne Gretzky, who's worth twisting yourself up for.

Which brings us to a second, more important distinction. For you, Weir's Masters moment was a sepia-tinted story, recalling a time when America's heroes were ordinary men who rose to whatever extraordinary occasion they found themselves in, usually by accident, without the burdens of hype and hope and expectation. Then, all of a sudden, they're put at the heads of parades, proud and perfect.

Not our heroes. In Canada, we don't trust them without flaws. We want them to be quirky like the rest of us, and that includes staying almost ridiculously humble—the moment anyone even thinks of getting to the head of our parades, they get cut down before they can get there. We even have a name for that little tendency of ours: Tall Poppy Syndrome. But the great thing about Weir is that, despite his suddenly becoming the biggest jock up here since a certain Los Angeles King né Edmonton Oiler, he's remained beyond reproach. We wouldn't dream of cutting him down. Not yet, anyway.

A couple of days after Mike Weir finished third in your Open, he left his home outside of Salt Lake City, got on a plane and headed north to Muskoka, on the shoulder of Toronto, and to his new "home" golf course—he keeps a condo there—at a lakefront Eden named Taboo. So there was Weirsy (up here everybody calls him Weirsy) along with his older brother James (Jimmy); his coach, Mike Wilson (Willy); and his friend, the Mightiest Duck of Anaheim, Adam Oates (Oatesy). And, sure enough, he insisted on getting in a round of golf despite being caught in a swarm of blackflies. That, like nothing else, marked him as a Canuck. Only one of our own would bathe himself in Muskol ("Canadian cologne," Oatesy said) and make for tee boxes in the deep woods.

"Do you want some bug spray?" Weir asked, making sure everyone and everything was tended to, including the flag at the first green, which he held. It came so naturally to him—like buying the first round of drinks—that he seemed not to notice people staring, sizing him up, wondering if it was really him, the way you might double-take a Tiger sighting.

Unlike Woods, in person Weir looks even smaller than he is, which is five-foot-nine, maybe, and 155 pounds. Every so often, he'd make himself smaller still, tucking under the branches of some giant spruce to take the measure of his swing or finding a quiet corner to monitor his putting stroke for hitches. He was part of the group, but apart from it, too, his body in one place and his mind in some other. It was like he was playing two games at once.

He's always been that way, relentless in his pursuit of his own brand of perfection, at least after it became clear that he wasn't going to get big enough to play hockey for a living and he decided to switch sports, but not hands.

"I enjoy a round of golf, but I've always looked at it as a profession," Weir said, "and it's a profession that takes a lot of hard work. But sometimes I enjoy the work more than going out to play. I like working on my swing, trying to get rid of my bad habits, trying to overcome all of the little challenges the game throws at you."

Growing up, Weir spent most of his free time at Huron Oaks, a club near his boyhood home in tiny Brights Grove, Ontario, near blue-collar Sarnia, about an hour north of Detroit. It wasn't exactly the center of the golf universe, but it fast became the center of his, a single-minded boy on the brink of something big, starting, as these stories usually do, with one whale of an obsession.

"We'd be out on the putting green when he was ten years old," Jimmy said, "and it's getting dark out, and we'd be putting for pops or something like that, and he'd say, 'You gotta make this putt to win the Masters.' He must've said that a million times."


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