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  • Alistair Tait

Divine intervention in the Amateur Championship

Drew Weaver carried a small logo on his bag during the 2007 Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham (pictured) that put the pressure of elite amateur golf into perspective.

The logo simply said: Virginia Tech remembers 4:16:07.

That was the date all hell broke lose on the Virginia Tech campus, the day Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself in the then deadliest shooting in US history.

Weaver was 100 yards away when Cho started his mayhem in Norris Hall. Weaver and other students ran for their lives, taking refuge 400 yards away in the library. He waited there for three and half hours until he felt safe to leave.

It was a case of there but the grace of god for the affable American. The shooting took place on a Monday. Weaver had classes in Norris Hall on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“If it had been the same time on a different day…” Weaver said, leaving the dreadful thought unfinished. “It was one of those really surreal experiences. Still is.”

The Virginia Tech golf team travelled to North London, North Carolina for the 2007 ACC Men’s Golf Championship four days after the shooting. The team held a meeting on the eve of the championship to try to purge the nightmare of 4:16, then went out and tied for first place.

“We had so many people telling us we were going to go and win, but we were ranked 7th out of the 13th teams. So it was unbelievable that we could go there and do it. It was meant to be. To be honest it seemed easy to go out and narrow the focus to get out and play golf.”

It wasn’t so easy off the golf course. Weaver had to work with sports psychologist Dr Bo Winters to help erase the memories of 4:16:07.

“I had trouble sleeping. It definitely affected my dreams. When I closed my eyes I heard the shots.”

Compared to what happened on that sad day on the Virginia Tech campus, Weaver’s two victories in the third and fourth rounds to make it through to the Amateur Championship quarterfinals were like a casual walk in the park. (Both rounds should have been played today at Royal Birkdale if the coronavirus hadn’t upset our world.)

The American defeated Ireland’s Simon Ward by two holes in the third round, and then beat Kevin McAlpine 2&1. Both were Walker Cup squad players, with McAlpine arriving at Royal Lytham fresh from winning the Scottish Stroke Play Championship at Royal Dornoch the previous month. His play against Weaver would have been good enough to win most matches. McAlpine was 4-under-par for 17 holes.

The Virginia Tech sophomore went two shots better. He was 6-under-par. Ignorance turned out to be bliss.

“The two players I beat today were great players, and Walker Cup squad players. It’s a great accomplishment, but for me there is no intimidation factor because I don’t know anything about the guys I’m playing.”

Aside from trying to cope with the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, Weaver was attempting to make up for a dearth of American Amateur Championship winners at the time. Jay Sigel’s 1979 victory was the last by an American, while Jim Holtgrieve reached the 1983 final.

Weaver, one of just nine Americans who began the championship, wasn’t expected to get as far as the third round let alone the fourth. He finished the 2006-2007 college golf season ranked 165th. The High Point, North Carolina native earned his place at Lytham courtesy making the match play stages of the 2006 U.S. Amateur, where he lost in the first round to Oliver Fisher.

Moreover, it was Weaver’s first experience of links golf. He and father John wondered if the trip was worthwhile when they experienced the extremes of links golf on their first trip round Royal Lytham.

“When we got here we wondered if we had done the right thing, because the wind was howling at 40 mph,” said John Weaver, who caddied for Drew throughout the championship. “Drew shot 80 and played really well! We just thought: what are we in for?”

What they were in for was the ride of a lifetime. Weaver went on to win the championship. He defeated Australia’s Tim Stewart 2&1 in the final. His mind immediately turned to the fallen 32.

“I dedicate this entire week to Virginia Tech and the lives that were lost on April 16,” he said. “The scale of what happened there was so incredible. Winning a British Amateur is so minute compared to everything the victims went through on that day.”

It’s true that anything can and probably will happen in match play golf, but there seemed to be a touch of divine intervention at Royal Lytham 13 years ago.

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