The trophy that goes to the winner of the Nissan Open features a
sculpture of a golfer finishing his swing. The figurine looks a
little like Ben Hogan, a legendary figure at Riviera Country Club
after his wins there in the 1947 and '48 L.A. Opens and the '48
U.S. Open. The golfer wears the same flat-clothed cap, and has
the same steely forearms and determined look. Hogan, however,
seldom wore knickers, and the statuette's weak right-side finish
is straight out of an Arthur Murray dance studio.
The trophy's a good-looking piece of hardware, though, and Mike
Weir needed to use both hands to hoist it over his head on Sunday
evening after he had won it in decidedly un-Hoganesque fashion.
As dark, swollen rain clouds ominously drifted in from the
Pacific, Weir joked that since he had won the prize twice in a
row, "We need a lefthander on the trophy."
Weir would be the perfect choice. He has more than a few things
in common with Hogan. There's size. (Hogan was also 5'9".)
There's grit. Hogan's was well chronicled after he survived a car
crash in 1949, but Weir has shown his mettle in competition as
well: All six of his previous Tour victories had been
come-from-behind affairs--until Sunday, when he blew a seven-shot
lead, then scrambled magnificently on the final hole to save par
and beat Shigeki Maruyama by a shot. There are the tight, compact
swings. Weir and his coach, Mike Wilson, use a transposed video
of Hogan's swing, making him lefthanded, to check Weir's action.
There's more: Hogan was lefthanded, too. He changed to the right
side as a kid, when he couldn't find lefthanded clubs. Hogan won
his first major at age 34. Weir was 32 when he won the Masters
last April. Hogan resided in a quiet section of Fort Worth,
Texas, while Weir lives in the sleepy Salt Lake City suburb of
Draper. And a devoted wife figures prominently in each man's
career. Hogan, a loner, depended almost solely on Valerie. Weir
worked with Wilson and with a sports psychologist, Rich Gordin,
last week, but he was joined by his wife, Bricia, on Sunday.
"She's very supportive," Weir says. "What I'm doing right now
wouldn't be the same if I didn't have her to share it with."
There are differences, of course. Hogan won 64 times. Weir has
won only seven times (though he does need just one more victory
to tie George Knudson as the winningest Canadian). Hogan was
known as Bantam Ben, the Hawk, the Wee Ice Mon or simply Mr.
Hogan. Weir, who has always been just one of the guys from
Bright's Grove, Ont., goes by Weirsy. Hogan, who was childless,
was obsessed with a game whose secrets, he said, were in the
dirt. Weir's outside interests include hockey--he has practiced
with NHL teams--and skiing. (He had hit the slopes in Alta, Utah,
the Monday before the Nissan.) A devoted father, Weir also bought
a puppy for his daughters Elle, six, and Lili, almost four, a
week ago. They named it Timp (for Mount Timpanogos, a peak near
Provo, Utah). Hogan was a consummate shot maker but struggled
with his putting, especially late in his career. Weir may not be
as good a ball striker, but his exceptional short game rates
right up there with Tiger Woods's and Ernie Els's.
If you look at style, not swing, Weir most resembles Jose Maria
Olazabal, another short-game wizard, who has twice won the
Masters. Weir will be one of the favorites next month in Augusta
based on his performance at Riviera. He got up and down (or holed
out) for par 20 of the 26 times he missed the green. "That was
the story of my week--my up-and-down game," Weir said. "It was
probably fitting that I got up and down to win." Weir needed only
99 putts, the lowest total on Tour this season and only six off
the Tour record shared by Mark Calcavecchia and Kenny Knox. Weir
also led the tournament in putts per green hit in regulation
(1.543), a category in which John Daly, who finished fourth, and
Maruyama ranked second and third, respectively. Weir one-putted
54% of the greens, second only to Billy Andrade's 58%. "[Weir's]
putting great," said Woods, who tied for seventh after a closing
64, "and his putts aren't lipping in and taking a victory lap.
They're going right in the middle." Added Maruyama, "Just like at
the Masters last year."
Weir's putting has made a dramatic turnaround from only a month
ago. He was stroking the ball so poorly during the Bob Hope
Chrysler Classic that at one point he decided to putt with his
wedge for nine holes--and made a 15-footer on his first try. He
went back to his putter the next day and, thanks to a tip from
Wilson to keep his lower body still, Weir has been on a roll ever
since. He needed every one of those putts to withstand Maruyama's
charge on Sunday.
Weir had set a tournament record with his 54-hole total of
17-under 196 (66-64-66). But while Weir was spinning his wheels
on Sunday (he wound up with an even-par 71), Maruyama was making
birdies en route to a 67. Maruyama finally pulled even by
birdieing the 15th and 16th holes. "What can you do?" Weir said
later. "You can't play defense in golf."
On the soggy 475-yard 18th, though, Maruyama drove into the right
rough while Weir split the fairway. Maruyama couldn't reach with
a fairway wood, but Weir pushed his four-iron onto the hillside
left of the green. From there he hit the shot of the week, nearly
holing his pitch for a kick-in par. Maruyama pitched long, and
then he missed badly on a 10-footer that would've forced a
When their duel came down to the final hole, Bricia could barely
stand it. "The 18th hole on Sunday at Augusta was hard to watch,
but this was a close second," she said moments after running onto
the green to hug her victorious husband. A minute later she
stopped at the top of the steep stairway that leads from the
final hole to the clubhouse, held out her left hand and said,
"Look at me, I'm still shaking."
Before last week, her husband had been 0 for 5 when leading after
54 holes. Another loss, this time with a big lead, would've
scarred his psyche and left others wondering. Instead, Weir moved
up to fourth in the World Ranking and joined the short list of
players, Els and Vijay Singh, who appear to be ready to knock
Woods off golf's throne. Weir has looked as comfortable in
contention at the majors--in addition to winning the Masters, he
tied for third at last year's U.S. Open and was seventh at the
PGA--as he did in the Riviera pressroom last Friday. Daly, who
had also shot a 64, was taking questions from reporters when Weir
walked in and playfully jumped on his lap.
"So," Daly asked, "what do you want for Christmas?"
Weir only smiled, but he probably thought that a second green
jacket, to match Hogan's haul, would be nice.
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK SHORT STORY Weir, who had either gotten up and down or holed out on 19 of 25 previous tries, pitched to within inches on the 72nd hole to edge the fast-closing Maruyama (above).
B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS MIRROR IMAGE Weir has patterned his swing after another lefty, Hogan, who changed to the right side as a youngster.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK [See caption above]
"THE 18TH HOLE ON SUNDAY AT AUGUSTA WAS HARD TO WATCH," said
Weir's wife, Bricia, "BUT THIS WAS A CLOSE SECOND."