Jimmy Walker: Finally Realizing the Player He Knew Himself to Be

After eight years on the PGA Tour and 187 previous attempts, Jimmy Walker finally had all his hard work pay off: he won his first PGA Tour event at the Frys.com Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California, just south of San Jose. He shot a final round 5-under 66 to beat Vijay Singh by two shots. He also ran down wunderkind, Brooks Koepke, the 54-hole leader whose putter went dark of the short putts, and who finished T3.

So you wonder how an All-American from Baylor would take all that time to finally grasp his brass ring (the trophy, the cash, The Masters and Kapalua just to mention the highlights; there are many other spiffs associated with a win). 

I wasn’t good enough to play golf on Tour when I was 20, 21 like [Spieth and Koepke] are.  I mean, they are really good.  I’ve gone through everything.  I’ve played — not on every tour, but on a lot of tours.  I won on a lot of tours.  This is kind of the final steppingstone.

Just continue to keep doing it and keep playing well [and it will happen].  It feels great.  Wouldn’t take back anything I’ve ever done or anything I’ve ever gone through to get here.

In 2009, a business associate who is a member of Augusta, invited Walker and his dad to play on one of golf’s hallowed grounds. What made it especially great was that his dad was a very good player in his day. Walker knew how much this would mean to him:

I shot even par on the first day we played, and it was very wet.  It played really long. Then the next day we played in 38 degree weather.  I think that’s the only place on the planet you will go out and play when it’s 38 and drizzling.

We played the back nine.  We played nine holes.  I shot 1‑under and it was nasty.  I remember the first day I hit driver, 7‑iron up into 18.  Then the last day we played I hit driver and a hybrid into the green.  Played completely different.  It was hard, but it was cool.  What a great experience.

My dad, staying in the cabins.  I think we stayed in Palmer’s cabin.  Played the par‑3 course.  We did it all.  It was ridiculous.

So with that enchanting experience under his belt, how grueling was it to know as each April after that rolled around that he still hadn’t gotten into the tournament?

This game is tough.  It’ll beat you up.  You can’t keep thinking about what could’ve been.  You can only learn from it and keep going.  That’s what I try to do, just try to keep getting better.

Everything you do, hopefully you can learn from and build on it.  That’s what I try to do.  Everything you do.  Like I feel like I learned something on the last hole today [remained calm when it was actually clear that he was going to win].  I’ll put that in my pocket.  It was good.

There’s a lot of curiosity about how Tour pros handle their down time.  In Walker’s case, it was the three weeks after his T11 in the BMW Championship in Chicago failed to move him into the top 30 and into the Tour Championship. So he got together with his coach, Butch Harmon:

Wasn’t so much a crash session.  It was just continuing to do the things that he and I have been working on and really kind of hammer down some of the things that I do wrong.

We worked on ’em.  Worked for two and a half days and it was great.  I had three weeks off.  I had been working out trying to get back into shape for the full year coming up, and so my body felt a little different.  As the week went on it kept feeling better and better and better.  Putter was working all week.

But he didn’t really have any expectations coming into this week:

As far as expectations, I try not to really have any going into a golf tournament.  You start thinking what’s ahead, I think it gets you out of your frame of mind.  You want to go in, hit good shots, be as prepared as possible.  That’s kind of how I go about it.

Having your focus being on the shot in front of you right now is the fundamental precept of excellent golf, it’s true. But it is also true that the power of intention (expectations) has an almost supernatural quality to it. Having your attention wrapped in the accelerant of your intention can really get the fires stoked without detracting from your focus. It’s almost like adding a nice warm blanket on a cold night.

And as much as he’s enjoying this long-held dream, he’s definitely not going to relax. He worked too hard to get there and the players on Tour keep getting younger and younger and better and better

It feels nice.  You know, when you don’t win and you don’t rack up the two- or three-year exemption, you always start your year off on going, ‘I’m at ground zero.  I got to start from the bottom and go get it.’ [to keep playing the following year].

I had always wondered, ‘Will it change the way you think about things if you win?’  But I want to stay hungry.  I want to keep — when you win, I think you want to win again and then you want to win again.  You got to stay hungry.

It’s amazing when you come out for the first tournament of the year and you see all these young guys.  You saw it today.  Two sponsor exemptions [finished] in the top 10 or right there.  There are a lot of fresh, young kids coming out, and everybody is a getting better and everybody wants a spot out here.

You got to stay on top of your game and keep getting better.

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