A Late Bloomer
When Jimmy Walker holed his putt for a par-5 on the 72nd hole of last week’s PGA Championship, he became the fourth first time Major winner in 2016.
Walker’s 4-round total of 14-under par was one better than world #1 Jason Day whose closing eagle-3 was a quantum case of a little too late.
Walker is a late bloomer who for the first 13 years as a professional toiled in relative anonymity and was the poster boy for Journeymen everywhere. It wasn’t until his 188th PGA Tour event that Walker was able to break through for his first win at the Fry’s Open in 2013. He then followed up that victory with two more in his next seven starts.
This year’s PGA Championship was played two weeks earlier than its usual time to accommodate next week’s Olympic Games. This was the 9th Major to be contested at Baltusrol. Baltusrol gets its name because a man, Baltus Roll, who owned and farmed these lands, was murdered by thieves in in 1831. It was one of the more infamous murders of its time and in 1864 became even more famous in a book by Maria Cummins.
The golf courses were built in the late 1890’s by eccentric New York millionaire, Louis Keller, the publisher of the first Social Register in 1887. The Upper and Lower (renamed in 1922) courses were designed by legendary course architect, A.W. Tillinghast. The Lower course has been the host of 7 of the Majors played there and each one since the 1915 U.S. Open.
Walker seized control of the tournament from the outset, opening with a 5-under par, 65 to take the first round lead. It was a lead that he would never relinquish. A second round 66 and a third round 68 gave the 37-year old Texan a one shot advantage over Day going into the final round.
Rain had washed away play on Saturday so the players had to endure a 36-hole marathon on Sunday to avoid a Monday finish. That may have been to Walker’s advantage because he would avoid all the media hyperbole that accompanies normal post-rounds on Saturday evenings of a Major. He would also start his final round only a couple of hours after finishing his third so would have less time to think.
Walker’s final round 67 was a superb round in the crucible that is leading in the closing stages of a Major. Day’s eagle-3 on his last hole narrowed the margin of victory to a single stroke, but this was Walker’s championship to lose from the outset.
Day played very well again in defense of his triumph last year at Whistling Straights http://www.birdgolf.com/carpe-diem/ , but was not as good as Walker this week. World #2 Dustin Johnson missed the cut so Day further distanced himself at the top of the world rankings, but he must feel that this was an opportunity lost.
Walker joins Danny Willett (Masters), Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (Open) as winners of men’s golf’s most coveted titles in 2016. Time alone will tell which if any or all for these four players will capture another Major, but all four have the common thread of having dearly earned their wins.
Walker’s ascension to become a Major Champion is the culmination of so much hard work and perseverance for the quiet Texan. It is his 6th PGA Tour win in the last three years leaving Jordan Spieth and Day as the only players who have won more events in that same time. His longtime coach Butch Harmon has always insisted that Walker was one of the game’s elite players http://www.birdgolf.com/pair-fourths/
He now has the Wannamaker trophy to prove it.