Mike Weir recalls Don Hutcheson and Donna Gilhuly
The Canadian golf legend shares the credit for his successes with many he’s known, but is especially pleased to count on kindergarten teacher Donna Gilhuly and high school teacher Don Hutcheson for their continued support.
Even Canadians who don’t follow golf know Mike Weir as a Canadian legend because of his win in the 2003 Masters. Some two million Canadians, including then Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his wife Aline, watched as Weir became the first Canadian to win the Masters. Among the die-hard followers were a couple of teachers who had a personal interest in Weir. They wouldn’t claim to have influenced his development, but Weir himself acknowledges their contribution.
“It’s a great feeling,” Weir says one spring day this year at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami, where he’s playing a PGA Tour event, of how he remembers his former teachers. “The great thing about Sarnia is that when I go back it’s like I haven’t missed
a beat. It feels easy to pick up where I left off, even if I haven’t seen somebody in 20 years.”
Don Hutcheson, Weir’s geography teacher in Grade 12 at St. Clair Secondary School in Sarnia, remembers a “pleasant, quiet young man, not an over-the-top person, laid back.” He also remembers that Weir was focused. He says that teachers refer to “time on task” as a strategy for getting things done, and that Weir decided early on that a main task of his would be to compete and to become as good a golfer as possible.
“Classes with Mr. Hutch were fun,” Weir recalls this spring day in Miami. “In some ways, he didn’t even seem like a teacher to me, but more like a buddy.”
This was not surprising, given that Hutcheson himself was a more-than-decent amateur golfer, and that his son Bill had competed in junior tournaments with Weir for some time before he taught Weir in the classroom. In fact, Bill remains a friend whom Weir invited to join him for a practice round before the 2006 Bell Canadian Open at the Angus Glen Golf Club’s north course in Markham. It was like old times, Weir says, when he and his pals in Sarnia banged the ball around for fun, but always with a view toward improving their games.
Weir’s kindergarten teacher Donna Gilhuly was also watching closely when he played the 2003 Masters. She taught him at St. Benedict Catholic School in Sarnia and was pleased to learn that he raised her name when asked about teachers who had influenced him.
“Mike was a great little kid, always smiling and easy to get along with,” Gilhuly remembers. “He was very co-ordinated. He could bounce a ball and catch it easily. Mike was a natural athlete.”
Weir was definitely that. He would go on to play a variety of sports, including volleyball, baseball and hockey as well as golf. But he was particularly drawn to golf, a sport where the player relies on himself. So it was that he enjoyed playing the Holiday Inn Golf Club, a 1,399-yard short nine-hole course in Sarnia near the Bluewater Bridge that connects the city to Port Huron, Michigan. Weir made his first birdie there while playing with his brother Craig.
“I hit a driver on a par-three and the ball ran through the green, but I chipped in for the birdie,” Weir says, smiling at the recollection. He was a competitive youngster. In volleyball he played centre and liked to dig the ball out of the ground to give his teammates a chance to hit it over the net. Weir wasn’t tall enough to spike the ball, but he was fierce enough to go after it and find a way to get it to his teammates.
Donna Gilhuly knew that youngsters liked games. “My theory was that everything should be a game,” she says. “We had little games even in math. Mike was always ready to compete.”
She also noticed that, as competitive and aggressive as he was, Weir didn’t boast. Much later, when he became a professional golfer and made his way through the ranks from the Canadian Tour to the PGA Tour, she took note of his humility. He let his game speak for itself.
“Humility is one of Mike’s greatest assets,” she says now. “My husband Bill and I go to tournaments and watch him, and we see that. We’ve been to the US Open in Chicago, to Doral and to Canadian Opens.”
The Gilhulys were present when Weir was trying to qualify for the PGA Tour at so-called Q-school. Gilhuly approached her former student while he was waiting on the tee of a par-three to play.
“I went up to him and said I had taught him,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Oh yes, Mrs. Gilhuly,’ and gave me a big hug and said he would call his mother to say he saw me.”
The Gilhulys were watching intently when Weir played the 2003 Masters. “It was a great time,” Mrs. Gilhuly says. “We had a gang over and we were all watching.”
Thinking about his school experiences and the teachers who inspired him, Weir puts it all in perspective. He knows that golfers, playing such an individual sport, can sometimes be selfish.
“Golf can be so self-consuming,” Weir explains. “You get so absorbed in it and forget the people and the things they said over the years that helped. But the older I get, the more I think about them.”
By “them” Weir means both his teachers themselves and the things they told him. In addition to his school teachers, of course, there were his golf coaches. That list includes Steven Bennett, the professional at the Huron Oaks Golf Club in Brights Grove near Sarnia and Bennett’s then assistant, pro David Bedour.
“They were a great crew,” Weir says. “Both Steve and Dave were very encouraging. Dave would call me champ and tiger all the time.
“Whatever success I’ve had,” Weir continues, “it’s not just me. There’s a lot that happened behind the scenes. A lot of great people helped me.”