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The Meteoric Rise of Jimmy Walker

The Meteoric Rise of Jimmy Walker

Feb. 10, 2014

628x471It took Jimmy Walker 188 starts on the PGA Tour to collect his first win.

Now Walker has three wins in eight starts, and is a lock to make his first Ryder Cup team.

Walker picked up his first win just an hour up the road during the season-opening Frys.com Open at CordeValle in October, and left Pebble Beach this weekend as the undisputed hottest player in golf. Throw in Walker’s win at the Sony Open in January and he’s already got three this season. To put that in perspective? In the last 20 years, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval have won three times in eight starts.

So how exactly has Jimmy Walker carved out a spot among the Mount Rushmore of golf titans?

Sports Illustrated‘s Alan Shipnuck points to last April, when Walker sought out the help of Butch Harmon. Walker broke through in October, firing 62-66 on the weekend for an impressive first win at the Frys.com Open.

Walker is also incredibly comfortable in California. Here are the 35-year-old Oklahoman’s stats in the Golden State:

  • He’s made 45 percent of his career earnings in the state, despite making only 15 percent of his career starts there.
  • When he tees it up in California, his weekly paychecks average $143,763.
  • He’s had 23 top-10 finishes in his career and 10 of them have come in California.
  • He’s nearly a full shot better per round in California than outside the state.
  • After seven starts at Pebble Beach, he’s up to No. 6 on the tournament’s all-time earnings list. Everyone ahead of him has made more than 17 starts there (except for No. 2 Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner and Sunday’s runner up).
  • In his last 15 starts in California, he’s only missed one cut, last month at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he was battling illness.

Things got a little squirrelly for Walker on Sunday, who saw a six-shot back-nine lead shrivel to one after a three-putt on No. 17. (Walker admitted afterward that he’s never had a six-shot lead, even going back to junior golf.) But then Walker remembered an exchange he had with his caddie during a practice round earlier in the week:

“My caddie and I were going, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to walk down 18 and have a chance to win this thing on the 18th hole?’  And he reminded me about that, after I was kind of feeling down.  And I said, ‘Yeah, man, this is what it’s all about. This is why we are here.’”

Walker cleaned up a 5-foot par putt for the win, holding off a hard-charging Johnson (who shot a Sunday-best 66) and Jim Renner (who made five birdies on the back nine to close with a 67) by one stroke.

So what does this recent run mean? Golfchannel.com summed up the oddities of Walker’s rise:

I can’t think of another player in the game’s modern era who has toiled in utter anonymity for so long – Walker went winless in his first six full big-league seasons – then rolled out of bed one morning and landed on a pile of seven-figure paychecks.

Jason Dufner sort of did the same thing, but he didn’t win three times in eight starts. Rich Beem went crazy in the summer of 2002, but that flamed out quickly. Mark Brooks leapt from the Tour’s middle class to win three times (including the PGA) in 1996, but he had four prior victories.

Another extreme rarity in Walker’s career is that he has improved his standing on the money list every year since making the Tour in 2008. Guys might do it for three or four consecutive seasons, but seven? That’s crazy. We can talk about the average fields he has beaten and wonder if he has the poise and polish to run with the big boys – he has played in just four majors, three of them PGAs, and made one cut (T-21 in 2012).

A couple of things jump out at you on Walker’s statistical profile, the biggest being that he spends more time in the rough than almost any Tour pro alive. He has never ranked better than 176th on the Tour in driving accuracy, meaning he lives two floors below the basement in that department.

Weird, right? Well, even Walker doesn’t try to explain it:

“I just go out and play golf.  This is what I want to do and I’ve worked really hard to do it, to be here, and to be in this position and it’s really cool.  I’ll let you guys figure all that stuff out.”

-Kevin Merfeld

Author: Kevin Merfeld

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