Weaver keeps golf in perspective
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- His travel-worn maroon and burnt orange golf bag, the one with the "Virginia Tech remembers 4:16:07" patch, is now a museum piece in the school's Hall of Fame display. His Va. Tech diploma is already a month old. And nothing he wore Friday -- not the argyle vest, the white short-sleeve shirt or the golf cap -- included a VT logo.
And yet, Drew Weaver heard the same "Go Hokies!" chant over and over again as he worked his way into the red and onto the U.S. Open leaderboard.
"Probably heard [it] 100 times today," the 22-year-old Weaver said.
If you want to root for someone in the non-Tiger/Phil heavyweight class of this week's Umbrella Open, then the amateur Weaver is a perfect place to start and finish. Nothing against the rest of the field, but very few players here can match his backstory.
When Weaver finished his first round, he was the clubhouse leader at 1-under-par 69. When play was called at 8:24 p.m. ET due to darkness, he stood tied for 12th, 5 shots back of leader Lucas Glover.
Weaver isn't playing for money, but for country and for free. In fact, there remains a part of him that still plays for his 32 fellow Virginia Tech students who were killed on the Blacksburg campus by a gunman in April 2007.
"Personally, kind of with everyone else who was involved, we've moved on," Weaver said. "It's not something we can ever forget. It will always be in the back of our minds. Kind of learned to appreciate the smaller things in life. Things are great, but we definitely haven't forgotten those we lost in 2007."
There is no statute of limitations on heartache. Weaver was a mere 100 yards away from entering the Engineering Hall when the popping sound of gunshots began to echo from inside the building. He found safety, but he has never found complete peace. After all, how can you ever make sense of a senseless tragedy?
Golf has been Weaver's personal therapist. It is his refuge and escape. Maybe that's why he isn't unnerved by seeing his name on the Open leaderboard.
"It's neat," he said. "That's the goal. Get up there and get in contention. Not worry about making the cut, just trying to win the golf tournament."
Win the U.S. Open? At Bethpage Black, a course with bigger biceps than Paul Sr. of Orange County Choppers? Doesn't Weaver know that only eight amateurs have ever won a U.S. Open, and that the last one to do it was John Goodman in 1933?
Apparently not. He was 2-over-par after 10 holes when play was suspended Thursday after heavy rains. He returned Friday morning and birdied three of his eight remaining holes, thanks to a 20-foot putt on the par-5 13th, an 18-footer on the par-4 16th and a 22-footer on the par-3 17th. When the big left-to-right putt dived into the cup on 17, Weaver nearly suffered hearing loss from the roar of the gallery.
"I'm not really a guy that's on the driving range looking left and right, [saying,] 'Oh, wow, I'm next to Tiger Woods,' or whatever," Weaver said.
That's because he won the British Amateur in 2007. He has played in the Masters and the British Open. He squeezed through the nerve-racking U.S. Open qualifier not long ago, reaching the field through a playoff in which six players were competing for four spots. But more than anything, he survived the trauma of that day in Blacksburg, when a college campus was saturated with police cars and ambulances, and a community and nation mourned.
So, of course, the New Yorkers here know Weaver and his story. They understand, better than anyone, the sense of shared loss. They're honorary Hokies.
Meanwhile, an actual Hokie, Va. Tech golf coach Jay Hardwick, caught a few moments of Weaver's round as he graded notebooks at a golf school at Purdue.
"Saw the highlights of him making the birdies," Hardwick said by phone.
Hardwick is the guy who gathered his Virginia Tech team in a rental house two days after the April shootings (they were in North Carolina for the ACC tournament) and told them it was time to talk.
"Everybody was holding it in," Hardwick said. "We got seven chairs, put them in a circle in the living room and said, 'Guys, get mad, cry, throw things, but don't blame anybody for what's happened. And whatever you say in this room will forever remain private for the rest of your lives.' "
Hardwick vented. His assistant coach vented. Each of the players, including the usually reserved Weaver, vented.
"It's something I'll never forget," Hardwick said. "It was a powerful thing to be a part of. It was group therapy."
Weird. That's exactly how Weaver described it Friday.
"We kind of had a big meeting where everybody let everything out," he said. "It was more of a therapy, like group therapy, where we all vented and let out all of our emotions. That was definitely a turning point."
Weaver uses a more tour-appropriate golf bag these days. But he still has a soft spot for the Va. Tech bag he used in 2007. Even the 2009 bag from his final season of college play included an embroidered VT logo and ribbon on it -- in honor of the 32.
Soon, but not just yet, Weaver will turn pro. First he wants to play on the U.S. Walker Cup team. He represented Virginia Tech. He'd give anything to represent the other 49 states, too.
But for now, the U.S. Open has his full and undivided attention. And he has the attention of the Open galleries, and of his former coach.
"I think Drew can win any golf tournament he plays in," Hardwick said. "He's not out there with his head in the clouds. He's out there all business."
Not all business. If Weaver somehow won the Open, he'd have to take a pass on the $1.35 million first-place check.
"That's all right," Weaver said. "It's not the end of the world."
Nothing is. Not after 4/16/07.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.