It's been painful path for Mike Weir, Trevor Immelman
In celebration of their 10th and fifth anniversaries as Masters champions, Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman have two other major things in common – restored health and renewed optimism.
“I’m seeing some light,” said Weir, the 2003 champion who has been a mess since suffering an injury to his right elbow tendon in 2010 that ultimately led to surgery.
“I’m starting to see good signs,” said Immelman, the 2008 champion who has been fighting to regain form since having surgery on his right wrist in 2009.
It is hard to comprehend how substantial these outlooks are for two once-prominent players who bring the best of themselves to Augusta National when healthy. Each ranked among the top 40 in the world before their respective injuries.
In some ways, that green jacket can feel like an anchor when you’re trying to fight your way out of the bad habits and bad results caused by health setbacks.
“The thing is, you obviously know what your good golf entails and you know you’ve been able to showcase that on the biggest stage in the game. That adds a little bit of pressure from the standpoint of why am I not doing that all the time,” Immelman said.
Both players are working relentlessly with their instructors to rebuild their games and the confidence they had when they were among the top 20 in the world as recently as 2009.
Once ranked No. 3 in the world, Weir currently doesn’t have a single fraction of a world ranking point to even be measured. Since the afternoon when he hit a tree root in the final round at Harbour Town in 2010, the Canadian has missed 37 of 43 cuts including a streak of 17 in a row from July 2011 through January 2013.
“Something like that, you wonder,” he said about the fear that he might never be able to compete again. “It’s your lead arm, you know, and you’re hesitant to hit into the ground, it makes you wonder. But I’m past that and feel good.”
Working hard on his technique with instructor Grant Waite, Weir has started to emerge from the wilderness, even leading the PGA Tour in putting at the start of the Florida swing. He made cuts at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach that included rounds of 66 and 65. When you’ve posted numerous scores in the 80s over three seasons, these small steps are not to be trivialized.
“This year he has already produced a number of rounds in the 60s and is playing better,” said Waite. “As a competitive player, he’s still not where he wants to be but he’s much more functional. He’s still going to have some off weeks like anyone else. If he can see what he’s doing is going to produce some scores, his confidences goes up.”
Weir is encouraged with the direction.
“It shows that it’s in there. It’s just getting it more consistent,” he said. “I’d say it’s still 60 percent out of 100 percent. It’s when you’re not thinking about it when you’re there. I feel like I still have to grind over it a little bit and still have to be consciously thinking about some of the positions that I’m working on with Grant. Through time, all that stuff kind of gets stripped away and you’re back to playing golf. It’s a process a little bit, but I’m seeing some good things in there.”
Immelman never fell quite as far as Weir. The South African bottomed out at 294th in the world rankings in 2011 and still sits outside the top 200. Since reuniting with his old swing coach, Claude Harmon III, near the end of last season, his game has been rounding back into form. Their objective is to rebuild what once was considered a model swing.
“I got into a lot of bad habits through the injuries, and with bad habits and bad play you lose confidence. It’s a slippery slope,” Immelman said. “But I’m starting to build all that up and the only thing I need now is a good result to get that going. I come to tournaments feeling like I can compete this year. I’ve just felt a lot more comfortable. It’s kind of inside me.”
Harmon believes Immelman is on the verge of a major breakthrough.
“I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win this year,” Harmon said. “He’s just too good a player.”
Augusta is the one place both of them return to annually with optimism. Through everything, Immelman hasn’t missed a Masters cut since 2006.
“With Augusta in mind, I always feel if I go there playing well I’ve got a chance,” Immelman said. “I know what it takes, and hopefully I’ll be feeling good by the time that week rolls around.”
Weir has missed only the last two Masters cuts during the depths of his slump. Augusta remained a haven even in the darkest of times.
“It was never a dread. I love the place and love the week,” he said. “We have a great time that week even though the golf hasn’t been very good. I still try to enjoy myself. When you’re out there struggling, it’s tough. But I still always enjoy going back, and this time in particular ... who knows, I might really be getting on form and ready to play and compete.”
For a guy with no world ranking, it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem.
“I look at it as I was a six-year mini-tour player and I got to No. 3 in the world. So I’ve done it,” Weir said. “It wasn’t just one tournament. I’ve been in contention in a lot of majors and won a lot of tournaments. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove anymore. I’m doing it because I love to compete and love the game. Now I’m at an age that my kids hopefully enjoy watching their dad play good golf. When I was at my best they didn’t see that. So that’s a motivating factor. But not for proving anything other than that.”