March 31, 2016
A Masters Diary: Former Cal Golfer Michael Weaver Played in the 2013 Masters
This story appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of NCGA Golf Magazine
As a result of his runner-up finish in the 2012 U.S. Amateur, NCGA member Michael Weaver qualified for the 2013 Masters.
By Ron Kroichick
Several years ago, Bill Weaver came home from work in Fresno and found a large schedule spread across the kitchen island. His son, Michael, had meticulously mapped a summer schedule, highlighting the junior golf tournaments he hoped to play throughout Northern California.
He didn’t say anything about one day qualifying for the Masters.
That young, ambitious kid eventually morphed into the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur and a key player on one of the best collegiate teams in history. But Michael Weaver, now 22, took a break from his season at Cal in early April, for good reason—he had a spot in the field at the Masters.
By reaching the finals of the Amateur, Weaver landed a spot in the game’s most exclusive major championship. It made for a unique experience, as the amateur with strong ties to Northern California spent a memorable week at one of golf’s most storied venues.
Here’s how it went:
PRACTICE ROUND SUNDAY
Augusta National was abuzz with anticipation as Weaver arrived for his first full day of practice. Spectators aren’t allowed on the Sunday before the Masters, but workers purposefully scampered around completing preparations for tournament week.
Weaver spotted Ryo Ishikawa on the range and saw Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott (whose Masters turned out reasonably well) on the course. Nice company.
Weaver played the back nine with 1979 Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller and the front with U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith. Guess which side included more chatter?
“Fuzzy was talking the whole time,” Weaver said, smiling. “Nathan is a pretty funny guy, too, but Fuzzy is kind of in a league of his own. He’s really funny.”
Amid the laughter, Zoeller offered his young companion some sage, succinct advice. Any time one of them hit the ball in a bad spot, from which recovery was next to impossible, Zoeller would turn to Weaver and say, “Don’t hit it here!”
Weaver spent Sunday night in the Crow’s Nest, the spartan amateurs-only accommodations on the upper level of Augusta National’s stately clubhouse. He savored a quick history lesson.
“It’s pretty plain, but then you think about all the people who have been there,” Weaver said. “There are a bunch of pictures on the wall, a lot of memorabilia. It’s really cool.”
PRACTICE ROUND MONDAY
This time, Weaver reached the range and noticed Fred Couples hitting balls with his oh-so-rhythmic swing. Weaver set up nearby, thinking maybe he could chat with the coolest, 53-year-old golfer on the planet.
Then the most famous golfer on the planet showed up.
Weaver didn’t have a chance to introduce himself to Tiger Woods, mostly because Woods and Couples quickly became immersed in conversation. Still, if any fellow amateurs ever big-time him, Weaver can always nonchalantly respond, “Well, I was hitting balls next toTiger and Freddie one day at Augusta…”
Woods went off to play nine holes with 14-year-old Chinese phenom Guan Tianlang, while Weaver joined Jason Dufner for a practice round. They had a connection—Dufner knows Chris Beckner, the club caddie Weaver hired for the week—and they took a pleasant, quiet trip around the course.
Augusta National held its traditional amateur dinner Monday night, giving Weaver the chance to mingle with club chairman Billy Payne and officials from the USGA and R&A. One of the other amateurs there was Guan, the youngest player in Masters history and soon to become the youngest player in the modern era to make the cut in a major.
Weaver and Guan were the only amateurs to stay in the Crow’s Nest that night (Weaver would move to his family’s rented home on Tuesday). They talked
and hung out a bit—long enough for Weaver to become a believer.
“I was really impressed with how mature he is for 14,” Weaver said of Guan. “We all spoke briefly at the amateur dinner—there were quite a few people there—and he spoke in front of everyone just fine. I know if that was me, and I was 14 and speaking in a second language, I would be pretty nervous. But he handled it very well.”
Weaver and Nick Watney later joked about what they were doing at age 14—trying to break 80 on regular courses, not trying to make the cut at the Masters.
PRACTICE ROUND TUESDAY
Weaver memorably christened his practice round with Watney (who starred at Fresno State) and Luke Donald, the world’s No. 4-ranked player at the time. Donald is not especially long off the tee, and his drive on No. 1 stopped in the middle of the fairway, short of the right bunker.
Watney also went down the middle, slightly longer. Then Weaver, filled with adrenaline, crushed his drive—past even Watney’s ball. As the three players walked off the tee, Donald turned to Watney and loudly joked, “You know, these amateurs don’t have any respect for us pros!” The crowd cracked up.
Much to Weaver’s surprise, Donald and Watney both knew about the great season Cal was putting together. They spotted Weaver’s abundant blue-and-gold gear—cap, shirt, bag—and peppered him with questions about his college season.
Weaver thoroughly enjoyed this practice round, partly because Watney was so engaging and partly because it gave him a chance to watch Donald chip and putt. The man didn’t spend time at No. 1 in the rankings by accident.
“His short game is just incredible,” Weaver said. “He’s so consistent around the greens—it’s not like he hits some good shots and some bad shots. They’re all good and some are great.”
PRACTICE ROUND WEDNESDAY
By this point, Weaver had shed any sense of intimidation cavorting with the world’s top players. So he introduced himself to Rory McIlroy on the range and asked if they could play a practice round together. McIlroy agreed—he recognized Weaver from watching last year’s U.S. Amateur finals—and they soon headed off to play the back nine with Robert Garrigus.
Weaver started by pulling his tee shot on No. 10, narrowly missing the trees along the left side of the fairway. McIlroy immediately announced to the large gallery, “That’s perfect. I’ve been way left of that!”
The crowd laughed, knowing all about McIlroy’s ultra-wayward tee shot on No. 10 in the 2011 Masters, launching his final-round implosion. Weaver couldn’t help but ask exactly where that ball landed two years earlier, and McIlroy pointed toward the pristine white cabins—way, way, way left of where Weaver expected.
“Garrigus was ripping on him a little bit, but Rory was a really good sport about it,” Weaver said.
After nine holes with McIlroy and Garrigus, it was time for the Par-3 Contest. Weaver played with Zoeller and Hubert Green, which made for a leisurely and entertaining stroll. Zoeller constantly signed autographs and pulled five or six kids out of the crowd to putt for him.
He also enjoyed hassling Weaver’s dad/caddie, Bill. Every time Michael Weaver missed a putt, even from 20 feet, Zoeller shouted, “Nice read, Bill!” Weaver’s tee shot landed short of the flagstick on a few holes, prompting Zoeller to quickly yell, “Good club, Bill!”
The crowd went along and good-naturedly booed Bill Weaver.
“Every miscue was all my fault,” he said later, chuckling. “It was just so much fun. I’m sure I had a smile on my face the entire time.”
The long-awaited moment arrived at 11:18 a.m. (EDT). Bill Weaver figured he would hear his son’s name announced on the No. 1 tee—about to hit his inaugural shot in the Masters—and start crying, right there in the crowd.
Michael Weaver just wanted to stay composed and hit a good shot. He was grouped with 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler and 2003 British Open winner Ben Curtis. Stadler went first, then Curtis.And now on the tee…
“It was a little overwhelming when it was my turn to hit,” Weaver said.
The good news: He channeled his abundant adrenaline and smacked a great drive, more than 300 yards and safely in the fairway. The not-so-good news: It was one of his best drives of the day.
Weaver posted an opening-round, 6-over-par 78. He struggled with distance control, given all that adrenaline—many shots sailed longer than intended. He also quickly learned how even small mistakes can turn into big numbers at Augusta National.
One prime example was No. 3, a short and treacherous par 4. Weaver plopped his ball in the left bunker, and then his next shot flew long right—the worst possible spot, as he put it. He soon found himself tapping in for double bogey.
“A quick six,” he said.
That became Weaver’s least favorite number of the day. He made four 6s in all— two double bogeys on par 4s and bogeys on No. 8 and No. 13, both par 5s. Weaver also made two birdies, including a slick, double-breaking, 20-foot putt on No. 9.
“I didn’t feel like I played that poorly,” he said. “It’s just the course is hard if you hit it in the wrong spots—and it seemed like I was
great at finding the wrong spots today.”
Suddenly, the nerves disappeared. All the excitement and anxiety of Thursday gave way to curious calmness Friday (his 22nd birthday). Weaver woke up in a tie for 82nd, so he needed a spirited surge to make the cut—either climb into the top 50 or end the day 10 or fewer shots off the lead.
“When I got to the course, it felt like I was playing a college tournament,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous. Part of it was I knew I had to go out and play really well. So I was kind of carefree.”
Weaver enjoyed playing alongside Curtis and Stadler, even if “The Walrus” struggled mightily and never seemed in the mood for idle chatter. Curtis (who played at Kent State) and Weaver talked about college golf, and Curtis shared his thoughts on the changes over the years at Augusta National.
Not surprisingly, given his newfound serenity, Weaver played better in the second round. His 2-over 74 included another good tee shot on No. 12, the famous par 3 over Rae’s Creek (much like Thursday, his mid-range birdie putt slid past); and his second consecutive birdie on No. 15, the par 5.
That momentarily kept alive Weaver’s faint hope of reaching the weekend—he figured he needed to make birdie on each of his final four holes to have a chance. So when he settled for par on No. 16, he all but knew his Masters was coming to
But he still had time for one great memory. Weaver hit a good tee shot on No. 18, leaving himself 142 yards, slightly downwind and uphill, to a front-right hole location. His caddie, Beckner, suggested hitting the approach shot left of the flagstick, but Weaver had nothing to lose at this point—so he went right at it.
The ball soared straight and true, landed a few feet past the hole, spun and started trickling back down the hill. The crowd roared louder and louder in anticipation, as Weaver—unable to see the elevated green—stood in
the fairway listening and, well, begging.
“Everyone started cheering and I was thinking, ‘Please go in! One time!’ ”he said. “That would just be sick.”
Alas, the ball crawled past—no more than three or four inches wide of the hole, according to Bill Weaver. Michael was left with a 4-foot birdie putt, and he poured it home to punctuate a memorable week in Augusta.