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June 17, 2009


By: Jimmy Robertson

Despite some horrifying incidents in his past, Drew Weaver became a terrific golfer and an even better ambassador for his university

Drew Weaver

Days following Virginia Tech’s graduation ceremony in which he proudly accepted his degree in marketing, Drew Weaver sat at his family’s home in High Point, N.C., and found himself going a little stir crazy.

He had one of those utmost of rarities on his hands – free time.

After years of managing a schedule in which literally every minute of the day served a specific and important function, he had nothing to do – no classes, no studying, no research, no meetings, no mandatory golf practice, no training, no packing for events, no traveling and no worrying about fitting the puzzle pieces of his life together.

He sat at home, trying to relax and to breathe for the first time in quite some while. He had time, life’s most cherished resource.
Yet he felt strange.

“It does feel different,” Weaver said. “It’s hard to believe everything has come to an end. I’ve got kind of this empty feeling now. I’ve had so much on my plate for so long that it just feels odd not having all these obligations.”

Weaver played golf at Virginia Tech for four years and played it well. And, of course, he will continue to play golf. He has a summer filled with amateur events in hopes of making the U.S. Walker Cup team, a team of amateur players selected by the United States Golf Association to compete in a match-play event against amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland during odd-numbered years. This year, the Walker Cup will be played on Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

But he just walked off the 18th green of his stellar Virginia Tech career. For all he accomplished during his four years, he deserves a round of applause from the orange-and-maroon patrons. For the ambassador he’s been for the university, he deserves a standing ovation.

It’s deserved because, somehow, he managed to get up and down out of the rough of life.

He got his start in golf like most. Right around the age of 10, he wedged himself into his father’s golf cart and watched in awe as John Weaver tooled around High Point Country Club making the game look easy (at least to Drew). Then Drew got his own set of golf clubs and started attempting shots of his own. He drew a particular fondness for plopping his ball in the sand and then blasting out toward the hole.

Those times with his father only served to tee up his interest in the sport. They were, in golf lexicon, the shotgun start to his golf career.

“My dad was my biggest influence,” Weaver said. “He has played for most of his life and I’d go out with him and I’d try different shots. I kept enjoying it and then I gradually became passionate about it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d play a ton of golf every year.”

He became a regular at the course, practically bunking there each evening. Jim Brotherton, the director of golf at the club, knew the Weaver family well. He ultimately became Weaver’s swing instructor and got him lined up in the right direction toward a promising career.

“I knew he had the desire,” Brotherton said. “I always knew he’d make it up the ladder. The question was ‘How far?’ But he always loved golf and he followed the sport religiously. That’s unique. You don’t always see that desire in junior golfers.”
But Weaver’s career certainly hasn’t been a smooth drive down the middle of the fairway.

For starters, at the age of 10, his mother, Cathy, was taking him to see the orthodontist when she suddenly fell ill. An artery spontaneously ripped apart, and only divine intervention kept her from heading to the big course in the sky.
In essence, she got a mulligan.

“Absolutely miraculous,” Cathy said as to how she survived.

Drew was a little angry at his parents for not letting him know about his mother’s health issues, and it took some time for them to get their 10-year-old son to understand that they didn’t have a clue that anything would happen.

Still shaken, Drew got the scare of his life 10 days later. The parent of a friend took him and his best buddy to McDonald’s near the family’s home. He and his friend went to the bathroom, and while washing their hands, a man burst into the bathroom and attacked another man, slashing his throat.

“That was truly horrible,” Cathy said. “Drew wouldn’t even talk to us about it. Fortunately, he worked with a counselor and that helped, but it was seven or eight years before he could bring it up to us in a conversation.”

“I was totally frightened at the time,” Drew said. “I wouldn’t go into a McDonald’s for four or five years after that.”

Two years after that incident, Drew’s grandfather, a pharmacist, was shot in a robbery. Fortunately, his grandfather survived.

Then, three years after that, at the age of 15, Drew was practicing with a high school teammate at a public course not far from a rough section of town. Two assailants in ski masks approached them on the course and claimed to have a gun. Drew, fearful for his life, gave him all the cash he had – a robust sum of $22.

“I haven’t played that course since,” he said.

Talk about drawing a bad lie in life, he certainly had up to this point.

“He had been exposed to a lot of violence at a young age,” Cathy said. “As a parent, you certainly don’t want that for your kid. None of us do.

“When you’ve been through so many things like that, you get to a point where you don’t feel the horror. Our concern was that he would become numb to it. When you get to a point where you don’t feel anything, that’s when it’s really dangerous.”

All these things had happened before he even had his driver’s license. Whether on the golf course or at school or doing whatever, those things certainly gave him a perspective uncommon among his peers.

Yet nothing could have prepared him for what was to transpire several years later while a sophomore at Virginia Tech – April 16, 2007.

Drew Weaver’s career at Tech has been marked by consistency. As a freshman in 2005-06, he earned the team’s rookie of the year honor. His sophomore season, he quickly became one of the leaders on the team, along with senior Ryan Sypniewski.

But Weaver’s life changed forever one cold April morning while walking to a biology class. Shots rang out at Norris Hall, and he and a few other students saw a rush of police officers heading toward Norris. A few of the police officers yelled toward Weaver and the others and told them to run, and a group of them, including Weaver, sprinted toward the Newman Library.

They holed up there for more than three hours. During that time, Weaver called his mom to inform her of the situation and to let her know that he was okay. Then came the new

s that a student had taken 32 lives before taking his own in the worst mass shooting in United States history.
Weaver certainly didn’t need such an event to put things into perspective. He already knew life became more than just hitting a little white ball around a sea of green expanse.

One week after the tragedy that occurred on April 16, Virginia Tech’s golf team rallied on the final day to claim a share of the ACC golf championship - the program’s first since joining the league.

“Definitely,” he said. “Obviously what happened to me wasn’t on the scale of what happened on April 16 and getting through it wasn’t easy – not for any of us. But I had been through some similar things.

“That doesn’t mean I was numb to what happened. It altered my way of thinking. All of that stuff has. In my case, you realize how trivial golf is. If I didn’t play well, it’s not that big of a deal. There are worse things in life.”

Time stopped in Blacksburg for several days as the campus and the community searched for some semblance of normalcy. Tech’s athletics teams gradually returned to competition, including the golf team.

Perhaps in a twist of fate, Tech’s golf team pulled off a stunning finish at the ACC Championship just a week following the shooting. Expectations were tepid for the golf team heading into the ACC Championship – after all, golf may be the league’s best and most competitive sport. But the Hokies, led by Sypniewski and Weaver, rallied on the final day to claim a share of the championship with Georgia Tech. Sypniewski finished in a tie for third, while Weaver finished 12th.

That championship, maybe more than any other in Tech’s recent history, spurred the healing process.

But Weaver himself took care of a larger part of that process just weeks after that event.

Drew Weaver (left) and Johnson Wagner, a former Tech golfer himself, engaged in a conversation during the par-3 tournament before the start of the 2008 Masters. Weaver received an invitation to play at the Masters following his British Amateur victory.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews’ convoluted ranking system for amateurs resulted in Weaver receiving a surprise invitation to play in the British Amateur that June. He and his parents traveled across the big pond fully expecting to take in some sights, while Weaver played a little golf.

Nothing was expected from Weaver. After all, he went into it ranked No. 181 in the world in the amateur rankings, and he had never played a links-style course – with sand dunes, thick rough, deep bunkers and water hazards. Royal Lytham and St. Annes figured to humble his game.

The tournament consisted of two rounds of stroke play, with the top 64 advancing to match play. Weaver, with his dad caddying for him, actually made it out of stroke play easily and the momentum started to build.

He won five matches in match play, advancing to the championship match against Tim Stewart of Australia. He dominated the 36-hole final, leading by six with six holes to play. Stewart, though, won hole No. 13 and climbed back in it.

But Weaver drained a 7-footer for par on No. 17 to halve the hole and win the championship in one of the biggest upsets in British Amateur history. The stunning win marked the first by an American in the British Amateur since Jay Sigel won the event in 1979.

Drew Weaver holds the trophy for winning the British Amateur in 2007.
“I knew Drew was a good player,” Brotherton said. “Now, winning the British Amateur … that was a surprise. But I talked with him each night while he was over there and I could sense he was relaxed and confident. He had shot 64 here before he left, so I told him to just play like he was at home.”

After the victory, he wasn’t thinking about his exemptions to The Open Championship (British Open) that July or for the 2008 Masters, or the four-year exemption to the U.S. Amateur. Instead, he immediately dedicated it to the 32 who died and the many others injured on that tragic day.

But more importantly, his victory rallied Hokie Nation. At a time when the campus and community needed something positive to happen, he provided it. He spoke glowingly of Virginia Tech in the deluge of interviews that followed, including a couple on ABC during the week of The Open Championship. He rallied the orange-and-maroon base, and they will always respect him for it.

“It’s [the shootings] always going to be with you,” Weaver said shortly after his victory. “But this is not what we want to be remembered for. I wanted to do my part to portray a positive image for the university and I hope I helped.”

Weaver failed to make the cut at The Open Championship that July and then again at the Masters the following spring. He didn’t play up to his standards during the spring of his junior year, perhaps wanting too much to uphold a university and community that adored him. He finished in 23rd place at the ACC Championships and 58th at the NCAA regional.

“I don’t think I could ever have expected what comes out of doing something like that,” Weaver said of his British Amateur victory. “There were a lot of positives and I wouldn’t change a thing. But there were a lot of expectations, and as a 20-year-old trying to juggle everything, it was very difficult.

“You go out there thinking you’ve just got to play well. But you can’t think that way. You’ve got to block it out or it will have negative consequences. I think I do that well now.”

His senior season certainly reflected that. He recorded four top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes and nine top-20 finishes in 11 tournaments. He finished second on two occasions, and earned All-ACC and All-America honors for his efforts. The only thing missing was a victory – something Weaver never accomplished in his collegiate career.

“That’s frustrating,” he said. “I was probably in legit contention to win in seven of those tournaments, so yeah, it’s frustrating.

“But I had great improvement and that’s what you want. I got better and better all four years. My work ethic is good and I have the desire and drive. I just need to finish and that’s the hardest thing to do in golf. But if I continue to work hard, it’ll happen.”

The hard work appears to be paying off. He recently qualified for the U.S. Open, and if he makes the Walker Cup team, he’ll turn professional after that event later this fall. The ultimate goal is making the PGA Tour.

That certainly matters little to Tech alums. No matter what he accomplishes from here on out, they’ll remember him not so much for how he played, but for his approach to the most tragic of incidents.

Yet for Weaver, a PGA Tour card would be deserved. After all, he’s already navigated the doglegs of life’s course. A tour card – now that would only be the ultimate hole in one.