March 12, 2014
Jimmy Walker just keeps going
Three’s a charm, they say, and Jimmy Walker would surely agree, given his third victory in eight starts not only makes him golf’s hottest player on the planet, but because at Pebble Beach he learned he could close the job even without his best stuff.
Halfway through the final round he led comfortably, a wire-to-wire victory seemingly a formality. Finally, after a jittery spell, including three-putt at the famed par-three 17th, it came down to a nerve-jangling five footer at the closing hole to secure the biggest cheque of his career.
From his Tour debut in 2005 the lanky 35-year old Texan went 187 events winless until the Frys.com, the first event in the PGA Tour’s newly-hatched wraparound season. In the benign Californian October sunshine one might be forgiven for believing the eight-year veteran approaching his middle-thirties had caught lightning in a bottle with closing 66.
Onward to Hawaii early January, where at the Sony Open Walker proved he was no one-day wonder but a player now putting a solid apprenticeship to good use. Down the stretch Walker emerged from a four-man bunch when he followed a long and clutch par-save with three straight birdies to pull ahead of the pack, closing with a 7-under par 63 and a single stroke victory.
Pebble Beach was another story, managing a large lead still a learning process in Walker’s resume. Yet as it turns out, in the long haul finding the mental resilience to block out the anguish of giving up most of that lead and still get the job done with a hard-fought par at the 72nd hole, may be more valuable than any runaway win.
The switch-around was viciously sudden. Walker birdied the 11th hole but failed to get a difficult chip close on the par-three 12th, bogey, then three-putted the 13th and then the 17th, there jarringly erring a par putt from almost tap-in distance.
Perhaps Walker’s quiet demeanor comes from his hobby, he’s a keen amateur astronomer; certainly he was delightfully prosaic when it came to explaining his mindset on the final green, with the lead reduced to a single stroke. “I hate three-putting,” he said. “I had two of them back there, and I definitely didn’t want another one on the last.”
Slamming the approach putt five feet past the hole was hardly the best way to resolve that, but here’s some valuable advice for every golfer who faces the same type of challenge, albeit not with 1.116m dollars on the outcome.
Walker: “I tried to blank everything out that was going on. I just went about it, tried to go about it as businesslike as possible. Don’t watch the putt. Keep your head down, stuff I probably should have thought about the last couple of holes.”
Victory also gives long-hitting Walker a Ryder Cup lock, as well as joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players in the past two decades to have won so often so early in a season.