July 31, 2016
Jimmy Walker wins the PGA Championship
Jimmy Walker did not appear in any of my pre-tournament picks. He wasn't even on my radar. He hasn't been in a position to win a regular PGA tournament since January in San Diego when he started the last round one shot back, but shot 77. In his professional career, which started in 2001, he has only played in 17 major championships and was never in a position to win. So although he is not an unknown, he is an unknown to contending in major championship golf. Remarkably he led or was tied after every round, which put even more pressure on a person in an unfamiliar position. Usually you see a player gradually getting better and having some strong finishes before a win like this, but he hadn't had a top ten finish in four months. Nothing in his recent play could have predicted his performance this week. This was not a fluke, but it definitely was a surprise winner.
Jimmy worked his way up the ranks of professional tournament golf and in 2013 at age 34, old for a first time winner on the PGA Tour, learned what it took to win. Before his win at the Fry's.com Championship, he had many chances to break through, but found a way to lose. Jimmy's coach, Butch Harmon, worked more on his belief system then his golf swing. It worked, because the talent was there. His breakout season was the 2013/14 year where he won three times and was the FedEx point leader up to the final weeks. He played well in that year's Ryder Cup and was selected to the President's Cup last year. This year he wasn't a consideration for the Ryder Cup until winning the PGA Championship.
My theory on what made this week special for Jimmy Walker is rooted in what he learned in breaking through and winning his first of six PGA tournaments in his career. His opening 65 led the field by one shot. Most expected him to back up in the second round and take a secondary position, but he came out and made a statement with an equally as good 66. I believe it was then that he realized he could play at a major championship level. He channeled or re-experienced his feelings and vision for what it took in a regular PGA event and realized that was also what it took to win on a grander stage. Somewhere along the way to winning comes a time that you have to hit a shot to "win" the championship. Jimmy won on the seventeenth hole with a deft wedge shot and clutch 8 foot putt to seal the victory. Jason Day hit a fantastic clutch iron shot from 254 yards to thirteen feet and made the putt to pull within one shot, but Walker had already won with his birdie on 17. A solid par on the last and Jimmy Walker was lifting the Wannamaker Trophy.
Baltusrol Golf Club was an excellent classic venue for the PGA Championship and although the rain made scoring conditions a bit easier, she held up remarkability well. Walker and Day were clearly the players to beat going into the last round. Too bad that they couldn't have played together in the final pairing, but I still believe Jimmy would have prevailed. I like winners of majors to have major championship talent, characteristics and traits. Jimmy Walker, although a surprise this week, has major championship abilities and character. I am pleased a good guy like him could win and happier to have him as the newest member to claim a major championship.