In the 17 months and 37 starts since that breakthrough victory, Walker has quickly run his win total to five, the last of which came in dominant fashion over the weekend at the Valero Texas Open. That's two more PGA Tour titles than anyone (Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed are tied for second with three wins) since the start of the 2013-2014 season.
These days on the PGA Tour, five wins in that short of a span by anyone is impressive. But coming from such a late bloomer -- Walker's first win came at age 34 -- makes the accomplishment even more remarkable. In fact, Walker's past year and a half stacks up pretty well with some pretty good careers. Yes, careers.
Did you realize that Walker's five wins have pulled him even on the all-time PGA Tour victories list with former World No. 1s Tom Lehman and Luke Donald? How about with players like John Daly, Jesper Parnevik and Billy Mayfair?
Walker's five victories have him just behind current big names like Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington, and just two behind Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Retief Goosen. If Walker keeps up his torrid pace of winning every three months, he would catch all those guys by the end of this season.
You'd also probably be surprised by how many marquee names Walker has already passed on the wins list. Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler just to name a few. Again, Walker has more PGA Tour titles than all of these guys in just his last 37 starts!
Of course, Walker's next challenge is breaking through at a major championship. Considering he had his first three top-10 finishes in those four events last year (he only had six previous starts in majors), though, Walker taking that next step might not be too far off.
“Tiger Watch has become another Masters Tournament tradition unlike any other,” Scott Michaux writes in the Augusta Chronicle. “What used to be a exercise in following HOW Tiger Woods played, however, has devolved into monitoring IF he’ll play. For the second consecutive year, April approaches with no word on whether or not Woods will compete in the major that first defined his greatness in 1997.”
(Tiger Woods teeing off in final round of 2013 Masters (Getty Images)
“Call it PR or spin but while on Friday the Irish public was being told that Rory McIlroy was doing his bit for the Irish economy by paying corporate tax on royalties here, The Sunday Times reports today that the world No 1 is now a registered tax exile in Dubai when it comes to the lion's share of his fortune,” Brian Keogh of the Irish Golf Desk writes. “Colin Coyle reports that Palm Jumeirah Island is now his primary residence in the ‘tax-free statelet popular with celebrities and sports stars.’”
“Chinese authorities have closed 66 golf courses in a renewed crackdown on courses built in contravention of rules designed to protect arable land and save water, China's top economic planning body said on Monday.” Reuters has the story.
Two years ago, Callum Macauley had full playing privileges on the European Tour. Today he is driving a taxi, John Huggan of the Scotsman reports. “My swing has always been unorthodox and distinctive. It has never looked good alongside other guys on tour. But my thinking on the course was well above average. I knew how to play and score. Now my head simply isn’t ‘there’ any more. I’ve lost all confidence as far as my golfing ability is concerned. And because my swing is the way that it is, I’ve got nothing to fall back on technique-wise.”
Prognostication in a sport that produced 20 different winners in its first 20 events is pointless, but any list that doesn’t have Texans Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth somewhere near the top of potential winners at Augusta in two weeks is not one worth considering.
Jimmy Walker (Getty Images)
Walker, who lives outside San Antonio, made his case emphatically on Sunday, winning the Valero Texas Open by four shots to become the first to win multiple times on the PGA Tour this season. Spieth, who resides in the Dallas area, finished second, two weeks after winning the Valspar Championship.
McIlroy is a green jacket shy of the career grand slam, and we hear about inevitability (“If Rory doesn't win at Augusta in a few weeks’ time, he’ll win next year. And if he doesn't win next year, then he'll win it the year after,” Darren Clarke said last week). But don’t summon a tailor just yet.
Walker, who has two victories and a playoff loss in 2015, now has five PGA Tour victories in less than 18 months, the impetus for a rapid ascension that has landed him in the top 10 in the World Ranking.
Spieth, 21, came into the Texas Open ranked sixth in the world and is aiming higher. “I'd like to at some point be the number one ranked player in the world,” he said earlier in the week. “I'd like to win at least one major championship, try to get one before we look forward from there. But ultimately I'd like to be one of the best players to ever play the game.”
Bettors seem to have been slow to board the Walker bandwagon, despite a record that argued on his behalf. Prior to the Texas Open, odds on Walker winning the Masters were as high as 45 to 1.
It’s one thing, of course, to win the Texas Open or the Sony Open of Hawaii (his two victories in 2015), another to win a major championship. But consider this: Last year, with scant experience in majors, he finished in the top 10 in three of them, including a tie for eighth in the Masters.
Walker’s focus is on Augusta National, where he’ll be Monday and Tuesday for two days of practice, his second visit there in the last two months.
Spieth, meanwhile, already is a consistent force who held a share of the 54-hole lead at Augusta last year, before derailing on the back nine and tying for second.
Both pose a credible threat to McIlroy, who has to pass through Texans en route to the Butler Cabin.
Walker used the putter earlier this year in winning the Sony Open and it was still in the bag at the Valero Texas Open where Walker had an impressive 2.585 in strokes gained/putting. Put another way, Walker gained more than 10 strokes on the field on the greens over the four rounds.
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Titleist 915D2 (Aldila Rogue Tour X), 9.5 degrees
3-Wood: Titleist 915F, 15 degrees
5-Wood: Titleist 915F, 18 degrees
Irons (3-9): Titleist MB 714; (PW): Titleist Vokey SM4
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (54, 60 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron By Titleist Newport2 303 GSS
Putters sometimes get noticed more for what people see on the outside. However, it's the materials and structures inside the clubhead and grip that are the game-changers on Nike's new Method Converge.
Each of the four head styles uses a proprietary resin polymer ("RZN") between the face and back to improve how the ball rolls. The company says the polymer material can control sidespin on off-center strikes so toe and heel misses come off the face consistently straighter.
Even more intriguing is what's inside the grip. On the Nike's 35- and 38-inch counterbalanced models (called CounterFlex), a 75-gram weight can be shifted within the 15-inch grip to let golfers adjust how much counterbalance they want.
There are four models in the series, with standard designs ($170) available in May and the CounterFlex ($230) available in June.
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GolfDigest.com regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:
Men In Green
By Michael Bamberger, Simon & Schuster, $27, hardback, 260 pages
When a book's premise matches a reader's present state of mind, that's a problem-free read. When the book doesn't quite take you on the journey you expected, that's problematic. That's where I was with Men in Green, acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger's new book. I felt closely aligned with the subject matter. The author is at that middle-age stage as I am, when the nostalgia and charm of events and eras from the past can be overwhelming and the players and moments from today just don't seem to measure up. The past, however, creates issues and questions that must be answered. In Men in Green, Bamberger talks with various golf figures about questions such as: What do you remember about the old days? Does it match up with what I remember? Were you happier then or would you have wanted to have done what you did in today's environment? Was golf better back in the day?
To help answer his questions, Bamberger did some pondering with the help of Living Legends and Secret Legends, nine names of each group he came up with as he wondered about these concerns. The Living Legends were all former players, while the Secret Legends was a hodgepodge ranging from a writer to caddies to golf's grand old man, Sandy Tatum, a former USGA president, NCAA champion and Tom Watson comrade. Watson is among Bamberger's Living Legends, which include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Wright, Curtis Strange, Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, and Ken Venturi, who passed away in May 2013 but who did talk with the author for the book.
When Bamberger created his list, it was fall 2012. He mapped out where his 18 legends lived and saw they were spread around the country. Going on a Grand Tour that's more upbeat than George Jones', Bamberger is accompanied by Mike Donald, the tour player who was Hale Irwin's vanquished playoff foe from the 1990 U.S. Open. The stories the subjects tell bring golf from the era of late 1950s to the 1980s back in full vigor, sprinkled with some flowery language from the unexpected (Arnie saying the F-word) that proved more humanizing than shocking.
If you're familiar with golf of the last 50-plus years, the stories, the names and the events will entertain and enthrall. I felt, however, there was a lack of answering the central question surrounding if golf was better then than now. The mini-visits with subjects were biographical but not analytical about what they felt about the time they had in the golf spotlight. Bamberger weaves some common threads though the book, such as the infamous rules dispute Venturi couldn't let go of from the 1958 Masters, in which he felt Palmer cheated the runners-up Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins. The Masters itself and its workings are another common subject throughout.
Regardless of answers left unsaid, Men in Green did not disappoint as a nostalgic visit and reminiscence with those who fashioned golf history. Was golf better back in the day? Was the thrill of adventure watching our golfing heroes better then? Yes or no, it sure seemed to me that everyone was having a helluva time.
I particularly liked: Anything written about LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright, the notoriously reclusive superstar who Ben Hogan said had the best swing, male or female, he had ever seen. Considering it is so difficult to find anything fresh about her, the several nuggets Bamberger reveals are to be cherished, especially the part that includes a letter she wrote about the old days.