How a 5-month break from pro golf helped heal this week’s leader
HILTON HEAD, S.C. — It’s been a long while since Jimmy Walker has been atop a PGA Tour leaderboard. In fact, it’s been so long, he thought about retiring from pro golf just a year ago.
After a second-consecutive 65, Walker finds himself leading the RBC Heritage this week at 12 under. It’s the first time since the first round of the 2020 Sanderson Farms Championship that Walker has led on the PGA Tour.
The six-time PGA Tour winner’s play this week certainly qualifies a a surprise given this is just his fifth made cut in 13 starts this season.
“When you haven’t been playing well, it’s even more pressure to keep playing well when you’re playing well and take advantage of what’s happening because it hasn’t been happening very often,” he said Friday.
Walker’s play is also surprising because before the first event of the season at the Fortinet Championship in September, Walker hadn’t played the previous five months.
“I didn’t watch a shot. I didn’t look at golf scores. I didn’t know what anybody was doing honestly,” he said. “I was still going out and playing golf at home with my friends.
“I always treated every time I played golf, even at home or work, I treated it like it was work and I was always working. All of a sudden, it was, well, maybe I’ll have a beer or something. So I shifted gears. I was going out there to let loose and have fun as opposed to just a grind. I would show up and play, and I was still playing pretty good at home. Courses you know, and they’re not as hard as out here and that kind of thing.”
Walker hadn’t won on Tour since his only major title, the 2016 PGA Championship, and was still dealing with the lingering effects of a 2017 Lyme Disease diagnosis. He told the Associated Press in September he contemplated retirement.
But then he was thrown a lifeline by none other than LIV Golf, but not in the way you think.
At the conclusion of the 2022 Tour Championship, Walker was No. 59 on the career PGA Tour earnings list. When the latest round of LIV Golf defectors signed with the Saudi-backed tour that week and several players like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and co. were removed from the list, Walked was suddenly 50th. Those in the top 50 of the career money list are able to use a one-time exemption to restore their Tour membership.
Walker jumped at the chance.
“It was a pretty easy decision, honestly,” he said. “If I didn’t play, I’d never get it again. I just wouldn’t. So when it happened, it was kind of like, wow, this is incredible.
“I remember going into the first tournament, should I go practice? Should I just go out and start winging it? We winged it, and I played pretty damn good that first week. I think I led the field in birdies. It’s like, where has this been?”
Walker finished T25 at the Fortinet Championship and then missed five cuts in a row until the Farmers Insurance Open. His only other highlight this season until this week was a T13 at Torrey Pines.
But even after the rough start to the comeback, he’s still as hungry and confient as ever.
“I’m out here, and I really want it, and I want it bad,” Walker said. “I have been really tough on myself. I’ve had so many people say give yourself a break, but it’s been tough, and it’s hard to do. Easy to say, hard to do for sure.”