At 37, Walker is too old to be cool. He’s too soft-spoken to demand your attention. His game has been so steadily unspectacular there was really no reason to take much notice of him even after he busted out with five wins in an eight-start span on the PGA Tour in 2014-15.
He’s been a roadie among rock stars, but at the end of the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, the band was watching him play.
Pressed by the spectacular eagle at 18 made by world No. 1 Jason Day, Walker responded with his own dramatic putt when he canned a birdie on the 17th hole. And with his friends — Day, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler — watching under black skies, from the back of the final green, Walker secured his first major title with a two-putt par.
Day was trying to win his second straight PGA, and Walker beat him by one shot by matching him with a three-under-par 67 in the final round. Walker led wire to wire and finished with a 14-under total, 10 shots better than Phil Mickelson when he won the PGA at Baltusrol in 2005.
Walker and Day were among those who had to play 36 holes Sunday because they never got on the course Saturday due to storms. Day gained one shot in the morning, scoring 67 to Walker’s 68.
Walker was never caught in the final round, and after making nine straight pars to start, he gave himself a cushion by holing out from a greenside bunker for birdie at 10 and making a birdie putt at 11. He recorded the first bogey-free round on his majors resume.
He also is the fifth straight first-timer to win a major.
“God, just to be in it and be there and have a chance to finish it off is just . . . it’s so gratifying,” Walker said. “Everything I’ve done up to this point helped this happen.”
If Walker is mostly a mystery to those outside of golf, he is highly popular among his peers, and that showed in the genuine celebration that happened in the scoring area after he’d won. He regularly travels to events in a luxury bus, as do Day and Spieth. You can find them parked next to each other.
Day, holding his son, Dash, was the first player to greet a tearful Walker with a hug, and then Walker’s two young boys traded high fives with Dash.
Fowler and Spieth waited to offer their congratulations after Walker signed his scorecard, and even the caddies were involved. Day’s mentor and caddie, Colin Swatton, warmly congratulated Walker’s longtime looper, Andy Sanders, and Michael Greller, Speith’s caddie, asked for a photo with Sanders.
“He’s always been very positive. He’s always looked on the bright side of everything,” said Fowler, who regularly plays practice rounds with Walker. “He’s one of the best guys I know on and off the golf course.
“To see him struggle since the five wins and know what that feels like . . . this is huge for him.”
Walker, a quiet Texan who lives outside of San Antonio, was grateful for his friends’ presence.
“It’s amazing sportsmanship,” he said. “I think that’s what golf is. . . . I think it’s great that these young guys ask me to come play and hang out with them. Makes me feel awesome.”
Day definitely gave Walker a friendly scare.
It was a haphazard final round for the Aussie, who was trying for his fourth win of the year. Day was immediately wayward off the tee and bogeyed two of the first three holes. He bounced back with three birdies in the middle of the round, but also left himself with too many long birdie attempts.
When Day didn’t birdie the par-five 17th, he trailed Walker, playing in the group behind him, by two shots. He needed an eagle at 18, and he got that chance when he hit two-iron off the tee and used the club again for an approach that landed softly and settled 15 feet from the cup.
“Probably one of the best two-irons I ever hit,” Day said.
The crowd roared for Day while Walker lined up his eight-foot birdie putt at 17.
“I said, ‘Let’s birdie and close this thing out,’” Walker said. “And Andy said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And made birdie.”
Walker’s putt fell in the hole — barely — catching the right edge.
Pumped up for his chance to tie, Day’s shoulders slumped when he saw the scoreboard as he walked to the 18th green. Still, he made the putt, pumping his fists.
“It was nice to get eagle, just to try and make Jimmy think about it,” Day said. “But obviously Jimmy just played too good all day.”
Walker caused murmurs in the big grandstand behind 18 when he went for the green in two and ended up in thick rough next to the green. But only one bogey was made on the hole in the final round, and Walker was confident he’d get safety in with three shots. He needed only to make a two-footer after pitching up and lagging his first putt.
“Incredible finish,” Walker said. “Just puts a smile on my face.”
SOURCE: L.A. Times