Walker starts over at Silverado

Like everyone else, Jimmy Walker didn’t know exactly what to expect when the PGA Tour unveiled its new wraparound season for 2013-14 last October with the Frys.com Open.

Then Walker shot 62-66 on the weekend at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., to claim his first PGA Tour victory by two strokes over Vijay Singh.

All that did was kick-start a career year for Walker at the age of 35, who added two more victories, led the FedEx Cup standings for most of the regular season, collected $5,787,016 in winnings and earned a spot on the United States team for the Ryder Cup. He posted a 1-1-3 record in the U.S. defeat at Gleneagles.

“I think (winning the Frys) really boosted my confidence, because it was my first win on the PGA Tour,” said Walker, who also captured the Sony Open in Hawaii and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am while finishing in the top 10 on 10 occasions. “The next time I got in that position, I felt like I could close the door.

“It sure felt nice to get a leg up on the field right away and then continue to play well after that. It sure is addicting to see your name at the top, and it definitely makes you want to stay there for the rest of the year.”

Walker will be back to defend his Frys title next week, although the tournament moved to Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., which hosted the PGA Tour from 1968-80 and the Champions Tour from 1989-2002.

Golfing great Johnny Miller, co-owner of Silverado and NBC golf analyst, believes the new schedule changed the dynamics of the PGA Tour season.

Miller expects more of the top players will follow Walker’s lead and play at least a few times in the six 2014 events that kick off the new season.

“You can’t wait to get interested until Florida or something,” said Miller, who won the Kaiser International Open Invitational at Silverado in 1974 and 1975. “You have to get on it right away. What it does is build momentum and confidence for the rest of the year.

“I built a whole career on playing great golf in January and February, and now with the (wraparound schedule), it’s important to get off to a good start. If you get behind and don’t play, guys get way ahead of you and you’re playing catch-up and start stressing out, it works against you.

“I think guys are going to say, ‘Hey, I better play in a few of these fall Tour events and get off to a good start. It pays off for the rest of the year.’ Jimmy Walker, especially, showed everybody that.”

Walker, who played college golf at Baylor, won three times on what is now the Web.com Tour, but he was nothing more than a journeyman on the PGA Tour until last season.

There is no question he always had the ability, but it took famed instructor Butch Harmon to bring it out of him.

“Butch has been great,” said Walker, who started working with Harmon in 2012. “We’ve done just a few little stuff with the golf swing. It’s just kind of helped me just in the right areas, and then the amount of confidence he instills in you when you have him barking in your ear about how good you are and blah, blah, blah, you believe it.

“He’s great. I love hanging out with him. He’s got an unlimited amount of knowledge and stories, and he just makes it a good time.”

Walker isn’t concerned that he hasn’t won since February because he continued to put himself in contention, posting six top-10 finishes and 12 top-25 results since.

That stretch included a tie for eighth in his first Masters, a tie for ninth in the U.S. Open, a tie for seventh in the PGA Championship and a tie for sixth in the Players Championship.

“I feel like I’ve played well,” said Walker, who teed it up in all four majors in one season for the first time in 2014. “Obviously I would have liked to have won again, but before this year, it had taken 180 times before I had one, and you win three.

“But I’ve continued to play well. I’ve got a ton of top 10s. I’ve played good in the big tournaments, and I’m looking to win again. It’s close. It’s right there. It’s just a matter of putting four rounds together, but I’ve been there.”

It’s not CordeValle, but other than that, he is going back to where it all started.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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