Big Hitter, Even At The Games Sale and Pelletier? Team Canada? Barenaked Ladies? Nope. Mike Weir rules in the Great White North, which was apparent during his week at the Salt Lake City Olympics

February 25, 2002

The most popular Canadian athlete in the E Center in Salt Lake
City last Friday afternoon sat in section 124, row 22. That may
have had something to do with the fact that the Canadian hockey
team got waxed 5-2 by the Swedes. Then again, it may not. Mike
Weir lives in the Salt Lake suburb of Draper, but his heart
belongs to his home country. Weir, the Canadian Male Athlete of
the Year in 2000 and '01, missed two of his favorite tournaments,
the Buick Invitational in San Diego and the Nissan Open in Los
Angeles, to soak in the Winter Olympics. "This," said Weir, "is a
once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Weir grew up in Sarnia, Ont., but played golf at BYU, where he
met his wife, Bricia. He's accustomed to the quizzical looks he
gets when people discover he doesn't live in Orlando, Dallas or
one of the other Tour ghettos. "Taking time off in the winter
isn't really difficult for me," Weir says. "It's how I grew up. I
started playing golf when I was eight or nine. I've been on
skates since I was two."

Golf and hockey are brother sports in Canada, where one in five
people 12 or older tees it up. Weir plays in Wayne Gretzky's
charity golf tournament every summer and counts Mario Lemieux as
a friend. It's that kind of connection to hockey and its
luminaries that sent Weir to see the Latvia-Slovakia game on
Feb. 10. Last Friday, Weir had a guy day, along with three
people close to him: his brother Jim, who runs mikeweir.com; his
golf coach at BYU, Carl Tucker; and his caddie, Brendan Little.
They drove up to Sundance for a morning of skiing and came back
to Salt Lake City for the game against the Swedes. On his
website Weir had predicted a 7-3 victory for Team Canada, and he
proudly displayed his allegiance, wearing a sweatshirt with
CANADA stitched across the front. When Canadian defenseman Rob
Blake fired the puck past Swedish goalie Tommy Salo only 2:37
into the game, Mike and his friends doled out high fives. Later
in the first period, when the fans in section 124 tried to start
a wave to the tune Tequila!, Mike was right there with them.
"It's nice being a fan, cheering the guys on," he said.

The compliment was returned by Team Canada players. When forward
Joe Nieuwendyk, whose regular gig is with the Dallas Stars, was
told that Weir skipped the Nissan Open for the game, he said, "No
way! That's awesome. We're big Mike Weir fans. We play our own
Ryder Cup on the Stars, the Can-Am Cup. We always threaten to fly
in Mike."

Between the first and second periods Weir walked to the concourse
and stood against a door to a luxury suite, watching the Canadian
fans walk by. "I get recognized in Salt Lake a little bit," he
said, "but not a whole lot. It's a different world when I go
home." As if on cue, three fans from Toronto approached with a
camera, asking for a picture. They set down their drinks in front
of the door. After the photograph, a woman walked up to enter the
suite and asked Weir to move the cups. He looked at her and said,
"Aren't you Bonnie Blair?"

"Yes," she replied.

Weir introduced himself.

"Mike!" Blair said excitedly. "I didn't recognize you out of
uniform!" Blair pulled out her camera and, along with her
husband, Dave Cruikshank, and their three-year-old son, Grant,
posed with Weir too. When Blair and her family had left, Weir
said, "That was cool. I'd never met her."

Shortly after the second period began, Team Canada fell apart.
Niklas Sundstrom's goal at 6:06 left Weir looking as if he had
just rimmed out a three-footer. When Mats Sundin scored 4 1/2
minutes later, Weir bent over and covered his face with his
hands. By the end of the period Sweden was ahead 5-1, and Weir
said, "I'm as shocked as anybody."

At game's end the concourse filled with disappointed Team Canada
fans, but Weir and his buddies remained in their seats. More
spectators spotted him and went over to shake his hand and snap a
picture. In particular four young men who had driven 20 hours
from Vancouver to see the game hovered around Weir as if he were
royalty. One of them, Jay Heer, a cigarette marketer, told him,
"You're the king, man! You're the king of Canada!" They hung
around for so long that Weir began drawing on his vast reserve of
politeness. Jim looked at his brother and said, "If you lived at
home, it would be like this every day."

On Sunday, Weir boarded a plane for San Diego to prepare for this
week's Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa Resort and
Spa. For him, playing golf for a chance to win $1 million was a
return to normality.

COLOR PHOTO: KENT HORNER Home boyWeir ditched the Tour to root for his hockey pals in their game against Sweden.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)