LITTLE ROCK — A closet follower of pro golfer Jimmy Walker for several years, I was disappointed when a post-Pebble Beach review of his sponsors failed to turn up the Houston-based company that stuck with him during the lean years.
A little Internet research did wonders for the psyche.
In May 2007, barely two lackluster years removed from being a can’t miss on the PGA tour, Walker and wife-to-be Erin went out of their way to tell a media member about their appreciation for Administaff. That day, Walker was in Fort Smith for a Nationwide Tour event and the company name was in white three times on his black golf bag.
These days, his list of sponsors begins with Titleist, which also received high praise from the Walkers in ‘07 for honoring its contract when Walker was struggling. Winning three times in his last eight starts on the PGA Tour, Walker still plays their woods, irons, wedges, and golf ball. Outside the top 100 in the World Golf Rankings a year ago, Walker is inside the top 25, a meteoric rise that attracts manufacturers eager to be associated with a winner.
Following him around Hardscrabble Country Club seven years ago, there was no doubt he could play. Afterward, he impressed as a straight shooter, discussing his 65 and the certainty he was headed in the right direction.
Because of that perception of the person, I looked up Administaff. Turns out, Administaff morphed into Insperity, high on Walker’s sponsor list. Loyalty is a two-way street.
The first heads-up on Walker came from Joe Chemycz, the media liaison with the Nationwide Tour and the ultimate insider. Each year that the PGA Tour’s so-called minor league had a stop in Arkansas, Chemycz was the go-to guy for a tout on a young player with the game and the gumption to succeed.
In 2004, he pointed to a slender 25-year-old from Baylor. When the season ended, Walker had won twice, compiled seven Top 10 finishes, and was on his way to the PGA Tour. Seeing Walker’s name on the pairings sheet in Fort Smith three years later, I wondered what happened.
Erin filled in the blanks. Preparing for his first full-fledged year with the big boys, he was on the practice tee at the Sony Open in Hawaii when there was a "pop" in his neck.
"He couldn’t lift his head off the pillow when it happened," she said in Fort Smith. Because of the bulging disc, Walker didn’t start in a PGA event until May of ‘05 and only played nine. A year later, he made nine cuts in 21 tournaments and lost his PGA Tour card.
Back in the minors in ‘07, he was 25th on the money list, good for the final PGA Tour card awarded Nationwide Tour grads. He went through Q-School in 2008 to get his 2009 PGA Tour card and barely kept it by finishing 125th on the money list.
Last October, he broke through, winning in his 188th start on the PGA Tour. Inside the trophy was a yellow "Masters 2014" flag, a reminder that winning a Tour event in the fall includes a trip to Augusta in April. He called the victory the "final stepping stone."
On Sunday, he accomplished something much more difficult than it sounds — winning with a big lead. After three days of being aggressive, the approach is to avoid a big number by playing safe and lagging putts. In Walker’s case, a four-stroke lead dwindled to one on the back nine because he was tentative with a chip and three-putted twice.
Even the par five 18th was a struggle with an iron off the tee and a birdie putt that was 5 feet too strong. He made the one coming back, not easy in light of a miss from closer on No. 17.
Good guys do win.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.