Jimmy Walker overcomes Clint Eastwood jinx to keep otherworldly start going

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports
Jimmy Walker, right, looks over his trophy after it was presented to him by actor and director Clint Eastwood, left, on the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Pebble Beach, Calif. AT&T CEO Andy Geisse, second from left, and broadcaster Jim Nantz, second from right, look on
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Jimmy Walker, right, looks over his trophy after it was presented to him by actor and director Clint Eastwood, left, on the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Pebble Beach, Calif. AT&T CEO Andy Geisse, second from left, and broadcaster Jim Nantz, second from right, look on. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

We had it all at the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: Crosby weather, Kid Rock saying he spent the Saturday delay in the bar, another Jimmy Walker win and Clint Eastwood, cool as ever at age 83.

Eastwood was the story of the week for saving tournament director Steve John's life with the Heimlich on Wednesday night – true story – and then dropped this raspy-voiced pearl in the CBS booth as Walker tried to hang on for dear life on the 18th hole at Pebble:

"There'll be a big check for whoever doesn't choke down there."

File that in the 'Clint Classics' file, along with his eternally hip cinema lines like "Make my day" and "Nobody, I mean, nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog", scarring for life those of us who do, now sheepishly, enjoy ketchup on a hot dog. Clint also dusted off some beauties at Pebble, once decrying players who complain about the weather as "candy asses", and then Sunday verbalizing, Johnny Miller-style, what we were all thinking as Walker wobbled home: Don't choke!

Walker's six-shot lead was down to one on the 72nd hole. And Walker, who'd made only one bogey in his first 54 holes, walked to the 18th tee box with five bogeys on his Sunday card. He was leaking oil, and knew it, and needed to make par, and it was dicey when he ran his 30-foot lag putt some five feet past the cup.

Clever wags noted it might have to be the second time Clint applied the Heimlich this week.

But Walker made a nervy, bumpy, terrifying five-footer for par on the 72nd hole for a one-shot win over Dustin (Pebble Beach Is My Middle Name) Johnson and Jim (I Have No Idea What His Middle Name Might Be) Renner.

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With the win, his third in eight starts this year, Jimmy Walker truly is the PGA Tour's new Kid Dy-no-mite. (That's for all you "Good Times" fans out there, since at 35, Walker isn't much of a kid.)

A golf fan friend emailed me during Walker's march to victory with the simple question: "Jimmy Walker – the new Tiger?" He was riffing, of course, on the relative anonymity of the talk-softly-and-carry-a-big-driver Texan, but the 2014 season is Walker's world. You're just renting space in it.

Because the 2014 season started in 2013, Walker's October win at the Frys.com Open – also in Northern California, at CordeValle – started his official campaign, and when you add in last month's win at the Sony Open in Honolulu, Walker joins Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players in the last 20 years to win three times in his first eight starts. That's ridiculous, especially since Walker started his career 0 for 187 in the win department. Prior to this embarrassment of riches, I'm not certain Jimmy Walker could have picked Jimmy Walker out of a police lineup.

So what happened to make Walker into this winning machine? Tour aficionados knew he was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year in 2004, and that a neck injury slowed him, but that still doesn't explain how the guy stayed with it long enough, and didn't lose faith long enough, to lay waste to the best players in the world.

Now a member of the Pebble victory pantheon, a top-10 player this year in both driving distance and strokes gained putting, he works full time with Butch Harmon on his swing. Aside from that, Walker, who had vaulted to 24th in the world prior to Pebble, says it may all come down to the most intangible of things: belief.

"I always believed I could win out here," he said after the win. "I don't know if it was a matter of doing it once, or what. But I always felt and believed that. And finally, it happened. And it's cool that it's happened a couple of more times."

The only colorful detail to Walker's bio is his passion for astrophotography. He buys high-powered telescopes and cameras, and takes pictures of faraway stars – appropriate enough for a guy playing out of this world.


69-67-71-69 – 16-under 276, Cheyenne Woods, winner, European Tour Australian Ladies Masters, Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, Australia.

Maybe it's less relevant that Cheyenne Woods is Tiger Woods' niece than it is that she's the late Earl Woods' granddaughter. Earl, after all, introduced Cheyenne to the game, just as he did to Tiger. So count this breakthrough win by the 23-year-old former ACC champion from Wake Forest as another from Earl's "family tree" of victories. Cheyenne's only other professional victory was a mini-tour event.

Cheyenne's father is Tiger's half-brother, Earl Woods, Jr. Tiger and Earl, Jr. have different mothers. Uncle Tiger chimed in with a congratulatory tweet.

She's a member of the Ladies European Tour and is still searching for her LPGA card, but has a chance this coming week to make some more noise at the Women's Australian Open, an LPGA-sanctioned event.

This story is flashy for the names involved, but carries with it a deeper meaning: Avoid entering any Uncle/Niece tournaments at your local muni or country club if you see the name 'WOODS' on the list of names entered. I know, the next 'Uncle/Niece' tournament at your local muni or country club will be the first, but consider yourself forewarned.


"Either way, I'm winning – I found the bar . . . easy, Larry King . . . John came to one of my shows 15 years ago, and the next thing I knew we were teeing up golf balls off of Bud 22s." – An assortment of thoughts from Kid Rock during Saturday's third round at Pebble Beach, to David Feherty, on CBS.

"We know how Kid Rock spent the delay." – Jim Nantz, CBS, dryly leaving much to the imagination.

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If you're going to be a rock star at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, you might as well be a rock star. That means wearing American flag golf slacks (as Kid Rock did), describing how he spent the Saturday weather delay (as Kid Rock did), rebuking Feherty's microphone in his face with the Larry King bomb (as Kid Rock did), and endorsing hitting golf balls off of beer cans (as Kid Rock did).

And if you're going to be the man who always keeps it in control, like Jim Nantz, you've got to be the guy who always keeps it in control.

Hey, it beats Bill Belichick mumbling clichés.

Of course, Eastwood's turn in the CBS booth over the weekend vied for Broadcast Moment of the Week honors, too, including his 'don't choke' admonition to Walker on the 72nd green. Asked earlier about saving tournament director John's life with the Heimlich, Eastwood noted that he thought John was joking at first, or doing an imitation, then noticed the unmistakable look of panic in John as he choked on a piece of cheese.

"I turned him around, flipped the knob of my wrist under his sternum, pushed it in and out and the third time," Eastwood said, "he shot that cheeseball across the room."

While we all pondered the image of a flying cheeseball, Nick Faldo said to Eastwood: "That must have been scary for you."

Eastwood, ice cool, answered: "Not really."

You could almost hear the haunting themes of Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" in the distance.


Just for all of our sakes, let's revisit the 72nd hole played by Jimmy Walker at Pebble Beach.

Make no mistake, the hottest player in the world deserved his win and earned it all the way, despite a Sunday 74 that was eight strokes worse than runner-up Dustin Johnson's scintillating Sunday. But Walker was brilliant all week – a 67 at windy and exposed Monterey Peninsula on Saturday in particular – and even though he'd three-putted 17 to see his lead whittled to one, he played 18 well enough to win.

First, he pulled iron from his bag at his caddie's insistence on the tee box, a fine show of discipline. Problem is, he roasted the tee shot through the fairway. Gifted a decent lie in what Faldo called the "chewy" stuff, he was able to leave himself a wedge into 18 for his third shot and left it some 30 feet away. Two putts to win was all he needed.

It's that first putt we need to revisit. He hit his lag too firmly and, as it raced past the cup, everybody on 17-Mile Drive thought he or she was witnessing the end of Jimmy Walker's psyche. His golf ball went a full five feet past the hole, and on those soggy and footprinted Pebble greens, five feet for the win might as well be fifty.

He made it, of course, and was able to joke afterwards: "Just drama, man. It's good TV, isn't it?"

But let's cut him a break, go back out to 18 green, re-instruct Walker that the lag needn't race past the cup at breakneck speed, let him cozy it up there for a tap-in and . . . give that man a mulligan!


The rapper Coolio needs to record a follow-up to his 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise" and make it about Riviera Country Club. Working title: "Ballstrika's Paradise."

What? That won't sell on the hip-hop charts?

Said it before and will say it again: There is no better 1-2 punch on the PGA Tour schedule in back-to-back weeks than Pebble Beach into Riviera C.C. No, not the Augusta National/Harbour Town double-dip, although that's close.

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Riviera has been cursed by rain the last several years, but my sources tell me it should be dry and gorgeous in West L.A. this weekend, a perfect showcase for 'Hogan's Alley'.

Last year, UCLA grad John Merrick won, feeling at home near his alma mater and his hometown of Long Beach. He'll be back, as will Mickelson and 16 of the world's top 30 players as they head over to ready for the following week's Match Play in Arizona, and then the Florida Swing leading to the Masters.

Freddie Couples will play, also, and that means the coolest player around will be playing one of the coolest golf courses around, and that's a win for you on your couch.

Have to warn Boom Boom, though – Jimmy Walker is playing, also, and he says he loves Riviera, that it's one of his favorite tracks and that he has family coming to visit and he's fired up. And as we've learned, when Jimmy Walker sets his mind to something, ain't nothing in this galaxy that can stop him. Maybe check one of his astrophotos for the galaxy that can.