Friday, Tour rookie, Justin Thomas shot 9-under 61 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and I named him the “Popup Player of the Day” for exceptional play from an unlikely source.
Saturday, Jimmy Walker shot 8-under 62 and no one was surprised.
Walker is on a three-win run which continued by getting into a two-man playoff last week in Kapalua. While he lost to Patrick Reed on the first hole when he couldn’t make a birdie to match Reed’s — and that stung for sure — it didn’t take away from the luster of his wins or making the Ryder Cup and the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. And Saturday’s round added to that luster with 11 one-putt greens.
Yeah. I think when I tapped that one in on 15, I started thinking, wow, that feels like a lot of one‑putts in a row, and I kind of went back through it, and I counted eight counting that one, and then when I hit it up on the green on 16, I thought, if I blow this, this is going to be a tough one to keep the streak going, but I made that one.
What made that possible was that he was able to take away all the positives from last week’s loss rather than the temptation of dwelling on what might have been:
I mean, I definitely wanted to win last week, but I tried to take — you try to take as much positives as you can out of the situation, and try to figure out what you did, what you could have done different. But we talked about what we did, and we liked what we did. It just didn’t work out.
And I had my chance on the last hole, but then to carry that into this week and to keep playing well, I knew I had been playing good, I’ve been hitting it good, and yeah, it feels good. It’s nice to get back right where we want to be, having a chance to win, especially after last week. I think it’s pretty cool.
He has a 2-shot lead over Matt Kuchar and another over Brian Harmon who’s T3 with Troy Merritt. Merritt finished after Harmon posted his 6-under round, so it will be Harmon in the last group with Walker and Kuchar.
But Walker is by no means complacent with such a small margin in the face of the super-hopscotch scores that have been posted this week:
I don’t think so. Somebody is shooting a low round every day, and you never know where it’s going to come from. So you’ve got to go out with the expectation you’ve got to shoot a good score tomorrow. I think conditions are probably going to be about the same. It seems like the trade winds kind of tried to come back a little bit today.
In responding to a question about what an insurmountable lead might be, Walker exhibits a seasoned acceptance of the vicissitudes of the game, “Hey, it’s golf. You can only do what you can do.” Would six shots be sufficient?
I don’t know, you can’t say that — I don’t think you can say that at all. It’s golf, man. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel good about what I’m doing, and my golf swing and things that are going on. Like I said, I can only go out and control what I can do tomorrow, and I can’t put anything on anybody else.
But I’m going to go out and just keep trying to hit the golf shots, hit the good shots, hit the shots I see, put it under the hole, give myself some good looks, make some putts. I feel good putting. I feel like I’m seeing the greens pretty good.
The magic ingredient to Walker’s recent rise is Butch Harmon. Harmon is the kind of guy who can be supportive and nurturing in the teeth of the process…and then say that one last thing that gets you over the top. For Walker, it was about changing his expectations of himself:
I expect more of myself. I put more pressure on myself, and I want to win more and that type thing. I think we all do. But Butch really hammers that home, that fact to you, that it’s about winning. I had the best year ever two years ago and didn’t win, and we started talking about it, and I said, that was my best year ever. He said, yeah, but you didn’t win. I said, yeah, that’s true. That’s what we were trying to do and didn’t do it.
And then we started winning and won a few. So that was nice. But yeah, just trying to get back and get to where we’re at. It’s cool.
And one of the things Walker most appreciates about Butch is his experience and perspective:
We talked Monday evening, and he was cool. He’s like, I know it hurts, and it’s going to hurt, and it should hurt; you should be mad. And it did.
He’s been there. He was a player, he knows what you’re going through, he’s seen it as a coach. But more importantly he’s seen it as a player. He went out and played and he gut wrenched and did all that stuff like we all do. He’s got perspective. He knows what’s going on. He knows when not to call and when to call.
So it basically comes down to whether Walker can swallow last week’s bitter pill and keep his train moving down the tracks. It certainly sounds like he’s got it all together.