Mike Weir made his first-ever appearance at the Utah Open this past week — not because he needed the $20,000 first prize money. Rather, he wanted to make some progress as he tries to return to the PGA Tour, where he was once one of the best players in the world.
Because of a freak elbow injury more than two years ago when he hit a tree root on a swing, Weir's game has deteriorated to the point where he's made less than $25,000 in the past two years after making more than $25 million in a little more than a decade before that.
Weir didn't come close to winning the tournament at Oakridge Country Club, finishing in a tie for 39th place, 12 strokes behind winner James Drew.
However, you can say the former BYU star did make some progress in his comeback bid.
After all, he did make the cut, something he hadn't done in 12 PGA Tour events this year and only twice in 15 events last year. It's been a long hard fall for a man who not only won the 2003 Masters, but was once ranked as high as No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings.
Weir claims he's back to full health and doesn't feel pain in his elbow, which was surgically repaired a year ago by Dr. Dave Petron at the University of Utah.
Now, it's a matter of regaining his mental edge and confidence, which he hopes to get by playing in as many tournaments as possible.
But anyone who watched him play at Oakridge last week knows he has a ways to go yet in his quest to return to his former glory days.
He especially struggles with his driver, hitting a lot of low hooks, which he attributes to not keeping his right arm as straight as he should. The best part of his game was his scrambling, getting birdies and pars from bad situations.
During his three rounds at Oakridge, Weir attracted a few dozen followers, a lot of whom wanted him to sign their yellow Masters' flags afterwards, for which Weir patiently complied.
Weir is a reserved person, who likes his privacy and doesn't seek the limelight. He's been able to live a fairly anonymous life in Utah for the past two decades, with his wife, Bricia, and their two daughters.
In his native Canada, he's a national sports hero, having been inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2009 and being named No. 12 on the list of Canada's 100 greatest athletes.
A lot of people have wondered why Weir has continued to live in Utah for so long when he could have easily moved to warmer climates of Arizona, California or Florida, or gone back to Canada. Weir says he gets asked "all the time" by his countrymen why he doesn't move back to Canada.
"From the moment I moved here from college, I fell in love with the lifestyle," Weir said. "We hike as a family, do a lot of river-rafting trips and motor-homing down south. I like the active lifestyle here and there's a good airport to travel in and out of. I still have a lot of friends from college and it just seems like home now. It's our way of life now."
And what about the golfing aspect — wouldn't Weir be better off living in a place where he could play golf year-round?
"Given where I grew up with four seasons, it's never bothered me to hit balls in a net, or go down to the fieldhouse at BYU and practice there," he said. "For me, it's refreshing to get away from golf and go skiing or do something else. I think if I lived somewhere else where I could golf all year long, I'd get burned out. What I'm doing works well for me."
So Weir will keep plugging away at his home in Sandy where he has a mini-indoor facility in his garage, as he tries to regain the form that took him to the top of the golf world less than a decade ago.
Because he ranks among the top 25 money-winners of all-time, Weir can take a year-long exemption next year to play on the PGA Tour, even though he has lost his playing status this year.
Weir plans to stay busy the rest of this year going to Europe for two events the next two weeks and coming back to play in as many of the four PGA Tour FallSeries that he can get into.
He's already in Fry's.com Open in northern California in mid-October and the Children's Miracle Network event at the Disney courses in Florida in November. He hopes to get into the Las Vegas tournament in early October as well as one in Georgia in late October.
"I'm looking ahead to next year," he says, meaning he doesn't necessarily expect great results in the rest of 2012.
It's going to be a rough road for Weir and I don't know if he'll ever become an elite golfer on the world stage again, especially in his 40s.
But if he doesn't, at least he can be comforted by the fact that he can keep playing in the Masters for the rest of his life.