Cal's Weaver grows from U.S. Amateur frustration

Michael Weaver of Cal

Michael Weaver of Cal

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WINDERMERE, Fla. – The last time most golf fans saw Michael Weaver, he was attacking his golf bag as he walked off the 37th hole at Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver. Weaver had just let the U.S. Amateur title slip through his fingers last August in a mind-racing turn of events. Don’t let that sudden burst of anger, however, be your lasting impression of Michael Weaver. If it is, you’ve got it all wrong.

“That’s the largest amount of emotion I’ve ever seen from him, by far,” said Steve Desimone, who coaches Weaver at California.

Weaver, 21, a junior from Fresno, is a natural competitor. He spent his youth racing go-carts at speeds that would prompt most parents to cringe. But he’s also a mild-mannered, modest fellow who gives the impression of an old soul and not a hothead. Since age 9, he has been a student of the stock market.

“I didn’t ever think I would be on TV,” Weaver said of the club-slamming incident, which can be found on YouTube. “You learn from it.”

Weaver is hardly the first person to strike his golf bag in anger. In fact, his lifelong swing coach has encouraged him to release his frustration quickly on the golf course rather than let it build. Of course, some ways of releasing are better than others. But on a stage like the U.S. Amateur, in the heat of competition, emotions rule.

Weaver was 2 up with two to play against Steven Fox and needed to make a 5-foot par putt on the 36th hole to win the title. Weaver's par putt hit a bump, went airborne and then took a 90-degree turn to lip out of the hole. He lost the match to Fox on the first extra hole and let his emotions fly.

The backlash Weaver felt from golf fans he didn’t know on Twitter bothered him for a few days after the Amateur, but those who know Weaver well told him not to pay it any mind. Desimone said he had Weaver’s back, calling him one of the most even-tempered players he has coached in three decades at Cal.

The pain of coming so close to the Amateur title, however, lingered longer. Michael’s father/caddie Bill, a man who chews gum as fast as he drives in his Formula Mazda weekend races, said losing a tournament in that fashion can’t help but leave scars. A few weeks went by before Bill could no longer hear the disappointment in his son’s voice on the phone.

“If there’s one thing this game has taught us,” Bill Weaver said, “it’s that there are tremendous highs and gut-wrenching lows.”

Two months later, however, Weaver still benefits from the rush of confidence he received by advancing to the final of the U.S. Amateur. Every player on every level, Desimone said, goes through a period in which he is trying to internally answer these questions: Am I good enough? Do I belong here?

The U.S. Amateur helped solidify those answers for Weaver, who redshirted last season to work on his short game and gain entry into Cal’s ultra-competitive Haas School of Business. The fruits of that decision were on display last week at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, where Weaver holed out for eagle on the par-5 seventh to send a surge through the Bears’ lineup and then closed with several clutch up-and-downs on the finishing holes to help top-ranked Cal conclude a flawless fall season with its fifth consecutive victory.

“Holy Toledo!” Desimone said, over and over of his team’s dominance.

Weaver started going to the golf course on a regular basis one summer to avoid rising early for church camp. Bill Weaver told his son at the dinner table one night that his options were church camp or country club life. Michael folded his arms and said in exasperation, “Fine!” He’d go the range.

With no boys around his age to play with at Fresno’s Fort Washington Country Club, Weaver made friends with an older crowd. Soon doctors and lawyers were calling the house to set up tee times with young Michael. These same men have offered to help back him financially when the time comes to turn professional.

When Weaver was 18, he attended the Masters for the first time. The family decided to walk a few holes with Nick Watney, who played college golf at Fresno State. Bill Weaver told his son that one day they would be back at Augusta and that he’d be on the other side of the ropes competing. Of course Bill had no idea that time would come so soon, nor that Michael would be there as an amateur.

When father and son were flying home from Denver last August, Bill told Michael that he couldn’t put into words how proud he was of what he had accomplished at Cherry Hills.

“This is the best week of my life,” Bill said.

And Michael is only getting started.

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