COMMENTARY | "Who's that guy?"
Yes, those were my first thoughts when I saw some guy named Jimmy Walker pop up on the leaderboard last June for the AT&T National, which was back to its original location at Congressional Country Club.
It was the first time I had ever seen -- or heard of -- Walker, so I did what everybody would do and took a cursory skim over his PGA Tour resume. Nothing. Not anything of note at least. Sure, he'd waltzed through the Web.com Tour and made a decent living, earning a pretty penny and picking up a handful of wins and enough top finishes to make himself a noteworthy player.
But on the big stage, he was just another name in an all-consuming ocean of them.
He wouldn't break into the top 20 in a tournament for the first four years he was on Tour and after a decade -- he joined the tour in 2001 -- Walker alas cracked the top five, finishing fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Still, the smooth-swinger hailing from the Longhorn State was still OK at best, scraping together a few nice rounds but nothing that would turn many heads.
By the time I saw him in the summer of 2012, where he would wind up finishing 32nd at the AT&T National, he still hadn't made much noise.
Now, however, Walker is enjoying a mighty fine season -- yes, I do know it's still very, very early. He hasn't missed a cut in seven events, finished third at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -- keep in mind, he only has three total top-three finishes now in his 12 years on tour -- and stands 15th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The usual suspects are at the top, aside from Rory McIlroy, who is still struggling with a complete equipment overhaul, although he didn't really make all that much of a splash until the last few months of the 2012 season, so it's entirely possible that he's just a late-breaker. Either way, McIlroy will be back.
But, for Walker, this is new, undiscovered ground. He's ahead of tour big guns like Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, reigning U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson -- the list goes on.
This is a guy whose career can be charitably described as average, who finished 62nd in last year's FedEx Cup, who has yet to win on the tour, and who is now just a handful of points behind some guy named Tiger Woods and tour leader Brandt Snedeker.
Personally, I was a little surprised to see Walker's name so high up on the standings. Nobody ever talks about him, which I guess you could say is slightly deserved since he has never hoisted a trophy on the 18th green. But, looking a little deeper at his 2012 resume, I probably shouldn't have been, and neither should you.
Last season, he posted back-to-back top 10 finishes after he tied for fourth at the Northern Trust Open. He proved he can go as low as anybody in the field after carding a number of 62s -- 63 was his previous career low. He held the lead heading into the weekend in the Wyndham Championship -- after shooting 62 in the second round. And he posted four sub-70 rounds in a pair of tournaments.
In short, the guy is good, and it's about time somebody took note.
In this flavor-of-the-week sport where consistent major winners are something of the past, left in the Era de Tiger, I'd expect this Walker guy to contend for at least two of the Big Four.
He finished 21st in last year's PGA Championship -- the first cut in a major he's made since the U.S. Open in his rookie season in 2001 -- and 35th at The Players, which I consider to be the fifth major.
Odds won't ever be in his favor, not when Woods is getting putting lessons from Steve Stricker. But Walker's not a bad bet, not now at least.
Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.
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