After the Web.com Tour’s inaugural visit to the Bradenton-Sarasota area wraps up Sunday at Lakewood National Golf Club, Mike Weir will be heading to Augusta, Georgia.
He plans to check out Augusta National’s newly lengthened fifth hole — an increase of 40 yards to become the second-longest par-4 on the course at 495 yards along with the 10th hole — on Monday and Tuesday.
That’s because the 48-year-old Weir, who is playing the LECOM Suncoast Classic as part of roughly 20 planned starts on the Web.com Tour in 2019, is a former Masters champion.
As such, he plays the tournament every year.
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“It feels a little different every year, depending on state of mind and state of the game,” Weir said. “But I’m really excited about this year. ... Every year is special.”
Weir claimed the green jacket in 2003 during the height of Tiger Woods’ domination of golf’s major championship scene. In doing so, Weir became the first left-handed golfer to win the Masters.
It’s led to some additional perks aside from returning to play golf’s first major each year. As defending champion, Weir went with a Canadian-themed dinner as part of the champions dinner held the Tuesday night of Masters week.
His choice for the main course? Elk.
“It’s almost like lamb, but totally different flavor,” Weir said. “You serve it kind of rare like you would lamb and with some sort of nice sauce on top that was really good. Kind of a lean flavor.”
It turned into a big hit for one golf legend — Byron Nelson, who passed away in 2006.
“I was lucky enough to sit beside him and had great conversation with Mr. Nelson that night,” Weir said. “And he was like, ‘Wow, this is one of the best meals we’ve had here, Mike.’ ”
Nelson was so impressed, he invited Weir’s childhood friend — chef Alastair Mackay, who helped cook the meal with Augusta National chefs — up from the kitchen.
“He invited him upstairs to give him a round of applause,” Weir said. “And all the years I’ve been there, that’s been the only time that’s happened.”
Weir’s visit to Bradenton isn’t his first. He’s previously worked with famed golf instructor David Leadbetter at The Concession Golf Club.
But this year is different for Weir than it has in several previous seasons: He’s playing a full schedule rather than waiting week-to-week to see if gets into a tournament.
“It’s hard to prepare. It’s hard to be at home for a month and kind of wonder if you’re going to play,” Weir said.
But as a past PGA Tour member aged either 48 or 49, Weir has Web.com Tour status in 2019 and he’s planning to play at least 20 times on the tour this season — especially now that his youngest daughter is 18 and off to college.
That’s resulted in three consecutive weeks playing Web.com Tour events, which includes the LECOM Suncoast Classic, where he is 13 under par and tied for 10th place after a 3-under 69 Saturday. He is eight shots back of leader Mark Hubbard heading into the final round.
Never grouped in the bomber’s category off the tee, Weir’s equalizer was always his short game during his PGA Tour career that includes eight victories — the last coming in 2007 in the Fry’s Electronics Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Seeing Phil Mickelson gain swing speed that helped him win last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at the age of 48, Weir hasn’t added distance to his long game, but he’s hitting it just as far as he did in 2003 when he won the Masters.
“I haven’t lost anything yet,” Weir said. “... I am going to start working on trying to get some more speed. I am going to start working on some speed drills.”
Showcasing just how fine the line is between the Web.com Tour and the PGA Tour, Weir is one of several former PGA Tour players and winners to play this week’s stop in Lakewood Ranch. Angel Cabrera, who missed the cut, won the Masters in 2009 and the U.S. Open in 2007.
Weir’s getting a first glimpse at the lengthened fifth hole following this week’s event, but said he doesn’t know if it will make that big of a difference for him.
“I was going in with, maybe if I hit a really good drive there I might get a 7-iron in,” Weir said. “Most times it was a 4- or 5-(iron), and that’s hard to stop on the green. So I don’t know if putting it back that much is going to make that big of a difference going in with a hybrid/rescue, it might be better because I can hit it higher than maybe even a 5-iron.”
But aside from playing in the Masters, the invaluable conversations with golf legends at the champions dinner throughout the years is one of the best perks for Weir.
“That Tuesday night having a drink out on the patio, having a conversation with Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, sitting beside Byron Nelson and him telling the stories of how the golf course changed,” Weir said.
“That’s what I remember about that night was him saying, ‘Hey, the green used to be here back in 1942.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, his memory is unbelievable.’ Those kinds of things is what makes it really special for me.”