SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Heroics from the world’s best golfer could not fluster Jimmy Walker, who led from start to finish and won the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
After a dramatic eagle by Jason Day at the last hole, Walker calmly drained a knee-knocking, 3-foot putt on the 18th to take home the Wanamaker Trophy. The day began with the likelihood of numerous weather delays that would likely force a Monday finish. The rains did come but the lightning stayed away so the leaders were able to finish 36 soggy holes. The rain was so bad the PGA decided to let players lift, clean, and place their balls in the fairway for the first time in major golf history. It was a smart decision as balls would land and mud would get caked on them. That’s no way to decide a major championship.
It was mostly a two-horse race after Henrik Stenson couldn’t get anything going on the back nine and finished with a listless 1 over par 71. He can be forgiven after putting on the greatest performance in golf history on Sunday at the British Open. Walker matched Day with a round of 67 giving him a one-stroke victory and setting off a family celebration on the 18th green that featured Walker’s adorable kids and his stunned wife. Erin Walker certainly knew the life-changing importance of winning a major championship. The 37- year-old’s career is now validated. He’ll forever be known as major champion Jimmy Walker.
He had won five times on tour and made a ton of money but ask Darren Clark, Tom Kite, Tom Lehman, David Duval, Davis Love, and Paul Azinger what their lone major championship means to them. Conversely ask Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood what they would give to have one. Actually, don’t ask those guys that—too painful.
Jason Day showed incredible sportsmanship congratulating Walker immediately after coming so close to defending his PGA championship. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler also hung around for bro hugs and back slaps. Rickie has to be next in line to win his first major. The fact that this year brought four first-time major winners (Willet, DJ, Stenson, and Walker) and he wasn’t one of them is astonishing. He’s got the game and the golf gods owe him a break for being so damn supportive of his fellow players.
Regarding Walker, everyone seemed to agree, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. It almost didn’t. Walker stood in the 18th fairway and heard the roars as Day drained his eagle putt up on the green. He contemplated laying up to 110 yards but decided he “could make par 19 of 20 times by going for the green.” He then made his worst swing of the day with his 3-wood flaring the ball out right and leaving it in the wet rough. He played a safe pitch 30 feet past the hole but leaving a difficult two putt for par and the championship. His first putt carried some speed and drifted three feet by the hole leaving a putt nobody wants to have with a major championship on the line. Walker stepped up and knocked it center cut; a no doubter and the celebration commenced.
Walker is another in a long line of extremely likeable golfers. Humble to the core, you could see the relief on his face at his press conference but also the sense of accomplishment. He knows what this means, having worked his way up to the PGA from the Nationwide tour. He was effusive with praise toward Day, who consistently performs under pressure especially in majors. He pointed out, “Jason holes out for eagle, of course. If he only makes birdie I can relax a little bit.” When asked how he was able to look so calm down the stretch, he demurred, “I’m glad you guys thought I looked calm, that’s huge….that’s what I was going for.” Finally, asked to sum up what this championship means to him, Walker didn’t get too philosophical, simply stating, “It just puts a smile on my face, it really does.”
We can tell, Jimmy.
Notes from Baltusrol:
I promised myself I would accost any fan who shouted “Bababooey” or “Mashed Potato” after a drive. I wanted to but the guys who did it were usually in large groups and some of them looked menacing. Where are Obama’s drones when needed? Howard Stern is just cashing checks now, by the way. He stopped caring years ago.
Not to get all Blue Lives Mattery on you but major props to the New Jersey state troopers. Every statie on the course was jacked. I think they have a 275-pound bench press minimum. They also got a kick out of wearing their full uniform: fully buttoned up long sleeve shirt, long dress pants, and hat when it was 95 degrees and humid as hell. You could just tell they thought it was funny. Sort of like saying to the crowd, not only can we kick your ass, we can also deal with heat stroke better than you.
Including Walker’s win today, 17 of last 18 major winners at Baltusrol have been American. USA! USA! USA!
I heard Dyn-o-mite at least 50 times….cultural appropriation run amok.
Dan Redmond can be reached on twitter @danfromdc.