As Mike Weir, 50, Wins His First PGA Champions Tour Event, the Canadian Golf Legend Talks Changing His Approach to Life On and Off the Course

March 2020. North America is in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses close. Families are separated. Isolation and loneliness set in as imposed quarantines keep loved ones apart.

The Masters, a spring tradition, had been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War. Which meant professional golfer Mike Weir, who became a household name in 2003 when he was the first Canadian ever to win the iconic tournament, was enjoying some downtime at home in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City where he lives with his girlfriend – former Bachelor contestant Michelle Money – and her daughter, Brielle. 

After a decade of battling physical and personal issues and watching his game collapse, Weir not only turned 50 last May but he also  began plotting his comeback and rediscovering the groove that made him the most successful Canadian golfer of all time. 

For most of us, golf is a leisurely pursuit that can be enjoyed regardless of our fitness level. But professionals, especially those like Weir who are battling both age and chronic physical ailments, must devote long hours in the gym and on the course to remain competitive. 

But putting in the hard work doesn’t guarantee success – even the most promising comebacks can fall apart in the blink of an eye, as we witnessed recently with Tiger Woods. Woods, who engineered a near-miraculous comeback by overcoming a host of personal setbacks (including debilitating back problems as well as a messy divorce) to return to the top of his game – shocking the golf world by winning the 2019 Masters – now faces the likely end of his brilliant career after sustaining multiple leg injuries in a horrible late February car crash. 

Mike Weir and Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods presents Weir, 33, the Green Jacket after the Canadian won the 2003 Masters Tournament. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

While Weir’s story may never be the subject of an HBO documentary, he can understand some of what Tiger has gone through. After that epic 2003 season, when he won the Masters, tied for third at the U.S. Open and tied for seventh at the PGA Championship, Weir finished the decade winning several tournaments and carding multiple top-10 finishes. However, in 2010, with neck, elbow and lower back injuries hampering his swing, his career went into a dramatic tailspin. After missing the cut in 14 of 18 events in the 2015-2016 season and withdrawing from three others, he took a leave to focus on his family. Off the course, he struggled with personal issues, including the breakdown of his marriage and eventual divorce from Bricia, his wife of 21 years.

Mike Weir
Weir tees off on the 18th hole en route to his historic Masters victory at Augusta in 2003. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Turning 50 was not only a milestone birthday for Weir, but it provided him with a new goal to focus on – he was now old enough to join golf’s senior circuit, the PGA Tour Champions. 

During the pandemic pause, with all professional golf events on hold, Weir began to prepare in earnest. Before the break, he had played in a few events on the Korn Ferry Tour (a circuit just below the PGA Tour) and happily discovered that his game was returning to form – he tied for 17th at the LECOM Suncoast Classic in February, his highest result at a PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament since 2014. 

Advances in equipment and innovations in technology in the last 15 years, combined with a disciplined focus on personal fitness not practised by a previous generation of pros, allows golfers like Weir to compete well into middle age. 

“All aspects of fitness are important, and you need to have a balance,” Weir explains in a February interview from his home in Utah. “To still be powerful, you have to be limber, supple and explosive. And good cardiovascular health is also important. I run, sometimes bike, hike and ski.” 

He focuses on strength training by regularly lifting weights and stretches with a foam roll daily. “I concentrate on areas that are commonly tight on me and most golfers,” he adds. “My hips, back, neck and forearms. I also try to get a massage at least once a week, sometimes twice. Recovery is very important as we get a bit older.”

Mike Weir
Mike Weir, seen here in 2020, says since changing his approach he’s seen improvements in his range of motion and finds he can practice longer.

During the months he was grounded in Utah, Weir lifted weights at least three times a week, hit balls into his indoor net and played practice rounds at nearby courses. He also made sure to keep his mind sharp and reduce anxiety by taking long hikes in the nearby Wasatch Mountains, which his golf schedule did not normally allow.

It’s no wonder Weirsy, as fans know him, is feeling rejuvenated and ready to embark on this exciting new chapter in his career. “I’ve done many things over the past few years to prepare for this moment,” Weir says. “First, I assembled a great team [including coach Mark Blackburn, a past member of Golf Digest’s 50 Best teachers list, and Jason Glass, a B.C.-based strength and conditioning coach] that helps prepare my game technically, physically and mentally. Physically, I addressed some limitations that come with getting older, in particular mobility … that’s been a primary focus.”

He feels his game has become more fluid and finds he has more energy than he has had in many years. And the early results on the Champions Tour show that his dedication, resilience and preparations are paying off. In just his second start, he tied for 10th at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, and through 12 events in the 2020-21 combined season, he has notched four other Top 10 finishes (including finishing second at the Cologuard Classic) and earned more than US$700,000, good for 15th place on the tour. Even better, he’s averaging 286.8 yards off the tee – remarkably only two less than the 289.2 yards he averaged during his prime on the PGA Tour.

Mike Weir
Weir, 50, at the Utah Championship in June 2020. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

“My range of motion is better, and I have less tightness in my back,” says Weir of his rejuvenated game. “This allows me to play consecutive weeks and increase my ability to practise longer as well. Guys work very hard on the Champions Tour, so if you’re not capable of that you will get passed by easily!”

Hard work has been a defining feature of Weir’s golf career since the Bright’s Grove, Ont., native began making headlines at the Huron Oaks Golf Club in Sarnia, Ont., where he played as a teenager. While his peers worked summer jobs, went to camp or just hung out, Weir practised endless hours. 

As a leftie, he felt at a disadvantage competing against right-handed players who dominated the sport. Since then, Phil Mickelson (a three-time Masters champion) and Bubba Watson (two-time Masters champion) have proved left-handed players can win at golf’s highest levels. But when Weir was a teenager, the only professional southpaw that had won a major was Bob Charles.

When he was 13, Weir wrote to his hero, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, asking the Golden Bear whether he should switch to playing right-handed. Nicklaus not only took time to write Weir back but advised him to “stick to your natural swing – stay left-handed. The fundamentals apply to both sides of the ball, left- and right-handed, and good luck in your dreams.”

Mike Weir
Weir hoisting his trophy after winning the Ontario Amateur Championship at the age of 20. Photo: Golf Canada

That encouragement from Nicklaus was all the motivation Weir needed to pursue his career. He won the Canadian Juvenile Championship in 1986 and the Ontario Junior Championship two years later. After starring for the Brigham Young University golf team, he joined the Canadian Tour where he spent five grinding years, driving from coast to coast, playing in small towns and frequently living out of the back seat of his car or staying in cheap motels. In 1998, he finally achieved his dream when he tied for 26th in the qualifying tournament and earned his PGA Tour card.

Tom Lehman – a five-time PGA Tour winner over a successful 26-year career – recalls playing a round with Weir not long after the young Canadian had joined the tour. “He reminded me of a young Nick Price [the South African-born golfer who dominated the sport before Tiger arrived],” recalls the 61-year-old Lehman. “He was straight off the tee, accurate with his irons, a fantastic putter and chipper … he was like a mirror image of Price but from the other side of the ball. I knew this guy was going to make a big splash.” 

Lehman’s prophecy came true on April 13, 2003, a date etched in the memories of Canadian golf fans, when Weir defeated American Len Mattiace in a one-hole playoff to become the first Canadian – and the first left-handed golfer – to win The Masters. 

With that stunning victory at the Augusta National Golf Club, Weir became a national celebrity. Kids from St. John’s to Victoria traded in their hockey sticks for golf clubs. The win also inspired future generations of Canadian PGA Tour players, starting with David Hearn and Graham DeLaet and continuing today with Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners.

Hearn, 41, who was born in Brampton, Ont., and turned pro in 2001, remembers exactly where he was when Weir won at Augusta. “I had just finished a full season on the Canadian Tour,” recalls the PGA Tour professional from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “We played an early practice round somewhere in Arkansas and got back to our hotel in time to watch every one of Mike’s shots on the back nine. We were glued to the TV. It was one of those days every Canadian can relate to. We were so proud, and it was also so inspiring. He became the model for how to practise, prepare and play.” Fellow Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet says Weir is the reason he became a professional golfer. “His Masters win was the biggest factor in me wanting to turn pro after college.”

While Weir has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades, he has never forgotten his roots. He still relishes his role as a mentor to the latest crop of Canadian PGA Tour stars and he’s humbled that they see him as a hero – and look to him for advice – just like he once viewed Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and others. 

“A lot of the younger guys look up to Mike,” Hearn says. “He is a tremendous role model. It’s amazing to watch as he continues to work hard and is seeing success again. It’s no surprise because through all his struggles in recent years, I’ve seen how hard he continued to work.”

Mike Weir
Weir receiving the Order of Canada from then-Governor General Michaelle Jean in 2009. Photo: Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

Last November, when the postponed Masters was finally held, Weir returned to the scene of his past glory – winners get a lifetime invitation to join the tourney – to play a practice round at Augusta with three Canadians: Corey Conners (who was 11 when Weir won the Green Jacket), Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor – giving them tips on how to navigate the course’s treacherous putting surfaces and difficult holes. His advice paid off; Conners finished tied for 10th and Taylor tied for 29th. While Weir finished tied for 51st, it was his best showing at Augusta since 2014. 

In April, Weir will tee it up at his 22nd Masters. He’s enjoying life at 50 and if he maintains good health and keeps up his high level of play, he could enjoy another 10 years on the Champions Tour. After all, Hale Irwin, who is 75, is still playing on the senior circuit.

Despite all the success and accolades he has earned in his career – winning eight PGA Tour events, career earnings of US$28 million, playing on five President’s Cup teams, winning the Lionel Conacher Award for Canada’s Best Male Athlete three times and receiving the Order of Canada – Weir remains resolutely focused on the future.

“I’m more of a look-forward-and-live-today type person,” he says. “But many things come to mind: special victories, my relationship with my children [daughters Elle and Lili, both in university], my family and many dear friends. What has sustained me through 30 years of playing professional golf is my love of the game, the gratitude for doing something you love for a living and the many relationships along the way.”

An Outsider No More: Allison Russell Confronts the Past and Celebrates the Present

Scars, we all have them. Some are visible; others are hidden deep. Human nature is to bury these secrets — keeping the most harrowing stories for our ears only. The problem is these memories of past traumas circle our brains like caged animals, gnawing away and fraying the wires, hoping for release, a little bit more each day. As the years roll by, you can suppress them and silence them. Even think you’ve forgotten them. But, they are always there. They lurk in your subconscious and wait to remind you of who you once were. 

Songwriters, by nature, are storytellers. Some tell other people’s stories and create relatable characters. Others use the craft as a cathartic tool to share their experiences of this messy thing we call life in hopes of helping those that still struggle with a pestering past.

Allison Russell is one of these brave souls. The Canadian songwriter was born in Montreal, but now calls the suburbs of Nashville home. She rents a place on an acre of land with her husband JT and their daughter. Since Covid-19 arrived in North America in March 2020 forcing her to abandon her tour with Birds of Chicago, this is where she has stayed — growing vegetables, letting love rule, and writing beautiful songs that confront her past. 

On Outside Child, her debut solo record produced by Dan Knobler, released May 21 via Fantasy Records/Concord Music, the songwriter bares her soul. The record documents Russell’s story in all honesty: from childhood abuse at the hands of her father and her survival, living on the streets of Montreal as a teen to finding her tribe of fellow musicians in Vancouver to finally finding true love with her life partner and musical collaborator.  

“I wanted the album to feel like a journey and ultimately feel hopeful,” Russell explains, when we connect via Zoom on a mid-March morning. “While this is a story that begins in abuse and trauma because those were the circumstances of my childhood, the point is that I’m looking back on that now from a place of love, connection, empowerment and happiness. I felt it was so important to share my experiences … it’s a road map for anyone else going through similar things.”

Russell’s map to the world started in Montreal, Quebec where she was born and lived until she was 17. The city of her birth holds mixed emotions. Home is where the heart is, so goes the adage, though these days, that is Music City. But, Montreal is where she found her voice, her strength, and her determination in the face of abuse and neglect. While there was trauma, there was also joy. The journey from a homeless teenager to finding her fellow misfits on the other side of Canada to releasing her debut solo record after more than 20 years in the music business parallels Outside Child’s narrative. This is her story.

In revealing her abuse, and sharing her scars with the world via her songs, Russell does not mince words, nor does she waste time. On “4th Day Prayer,” she speaks to this childhood trauma no one should ever experience. The songwriter sings in a confessional style: “Father used me like a wife/Mother turned the blindest eye/Stole my bodies spirit pride/He did he did each night.”

The “A-side” of the record chronicles Russell’s childhood in Montreal and all of her experiences in the City of Saints and ends with “The Runner,” when she made the decision to leave Montreal behind and head to Vancouver to follow her muse and her music. “That [Vancouver] is where I really came into my own as a musician, an artist, and as a writer,” says Russell. “That is also where I met a whole new musical community and fell in love with my life partner. Hopefully, when people hear this record, they hear a lot of the hope and the joy.” 

At 15, Russell escaped her nightmare at home. From then on, she spent her nights discovering another side of Montreal: the misfits, night owls, lost souls, and McGill students that drifted in the all-night cafes after dark. “A lot of the record is a love song to Montreal,” the songwriter explains. “It’s like you can’t see your home until you leave it; until then, you take everything for granted. I really think I wouldn’t have survived my childhood in any other city and without the escape art offered me through books and music.

“Montreal is a very 24-hour city,” she adds. “I would spend hours in Café Royale playing chess. Next to me were McGill University Poli-Sci students studying and cramming for exams, and old guys drinking coffee. I would leave there and wander around Mount Royal at all hours. In the summertime, I would sleep in the graveyard and watch the sunrise over the city. Montreal held me. And, in many ways, protected me.”

Montreal is also where Russell first started to make music, busking on the streets. Vancouver, her next stop on this musical journey, is where her true awakening occurred and where she found her tribe. Not long after her arrival in British Columbia, the 17-year-old was asked to join The Hot Club of Mars, a gypsy jazz group led by a local luthier named Michael Dunn. The band paid homage to Django Reinhardt’s famed The Hot Club de France. Russell was hired to write French lyrics to Reinhardt songs and join the band for a gig at The Festival du Bois in Coquitlam, BC. Russell had met Dunn through her aunt (Gillian Russell) who was also a singer-songwriter that had started her career in the coffeehouse scene in Montreal back in the 1960s.

“My aunt and uncle were entrenched in the Vancouver folk scene and introduced me to their friends,” Russell recalls. “I started to play with people 30 and 40 years older than me and learned a lot from them. I also did quite a bit of busking and taught myself to play guitar and banjo.”

Allison Russell. Credit: Marc Baptiste.

Vancouver at that time had an amazing and thriving roots and Americana scene and it was natural for Russell to find a home within this artistic community. “I moved into a big house with eight other people between the ages of 19 and 27. It was a real artist house. We had wonderful jam circles where we would share our songs. That is when I really started to write my own material. It is also when I first met Trish Klein; she took me under her wing and encouraged my songwriting, for which I’ll forever be grateful. She also introduced me to the banjo, which has now become my primary writing instrument.”

When Klein’s band (the Be Good Tanyas) took a hiatus, she and Russell started a new group together (Po’ Girl) and released a self-titled debut in 2003, which was picked up by HighTone Records in the U.S. Nettwerk in Canada, signed the band for its next couple of records. “That was a sweet time,” Russell recalls. “We toured 300 days a year all over the U.K., Ireland, Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada. We were just kids and still learning. I’ll never forget a day off we had once in Amsterdam when a gig fell through. We decided to busk and made like $2,000 in tips, more money than we had ever made at a gig, in just over 90 minutes.”


While Po’ Girl has never officially broken up, in 2011 Russell decided to collaborate with the love of her life and fellow musician JT Nero, who she had first met at the annual Folk Alliance International Conference, held in Vancouver back in 2001. Russell says the pair started to fall in love five years later when they toured together during a Po’ Girl European tour. “We knew we were lifers,” she says. “We started to write songs together and figured maybe we needed to take this a step further. It took a while because I was scared about what would happen if it didn’t work out.”

Taking the leap, and not looking back, Birds of Chicago was born in late 2012. For the next four years they honed their chops and solidified their sound playing 200 shows a year. A handful of albums met by critical-acclaim followed: the self-titled debut (2012), Real Midnight in 2016 (produced by Joe Henry); Love in Wartime (2018); and the EP American Flowers (2017).

The need to revisit past traumas and share her story came to Russell while she was working on the collaborative project: Songs of Our Native Daughters, released in early 2019 by Smithsonian Folkways. She made the record with Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, and Leyla McCalla. The album tackled America’s history of slavery, racism, and misogyny from a Black female perspective. 

“On Songs of our Native Daughters we were delving into a lot of this painful history that is still happening today, but from our perspectives and really trying to find the lost voices of Black women throughout history,” Russell explains. “That was a really powerful experience to do that with my sisters in song. It brought up a lot of stuff and reframed my own experience within this continuum. I was a child who was severely abused. I left home when I was 15. It made me understand my experience was not in a vacuum. It was part of this continuum of ancestral, intergenerational, cyclical, violence of trauma, bigotry, and abuse that is continuing to do harm.

“I feel we are called upon in this time to really try to address, face, and heal this intergenerational trauma we are all carrying forward,” she continues. “It affects us all. I’m a mom now and it got me thinking what does it mean to be a good ancestor? What do our kids inherit? They don’t inherit just everything we want them to. They inherit everything we didn’t deal with, all of our trauma and neuroses if we don’t deal with them. I felt I needed to face some of my past and felt compelled to write about it.”

Outside Child is a personal statement. It confronts the harm and the history of traumas from Russell’s past and reframes them with hope. In the process, the songwriter discovers second chances and spiritual rebirth. A broken traveller Russell is for sure, but who amongst us isn’t? The album closes with the celebratory “Joyful Motherfuckers.” On this duet with JT, Russell sings of hopeful sinners, true forgivers, the courageous, and the lovers — shouting out loud for all to hear the power of love to conquer hate; a wise lesson her grandmother taught her. And, she also speaks directly to her father, telling that “thief of her childhood,” “ragged jackal,” and “loveless coward” that he was actually the thief of nothing for she has found peace and everlasting love. The journey is complete. The past is forgotten. Namaste. 

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