Yesterday, Jimmy Walker–a slender, 6 foot 2 inch, 37-year old, Baylor graduate, and bearded native Texan–won his first major, the PGA Championship. It was the last of the four majors this year and was held at the famed Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. To do so, Jimmy defeated defending champion and #1 world player Jason Day by one stroke. He then lifted the 37-pound, crystal, Wanamaker trophy at the end of a grueling and tense day of golf.
The tournament had been plagued with four inches of rain that had caused one day to be canceled. That required the players to complete 36 holes yesterday in order to get the tournament completed on Sunday in the traditional four-day format. The soggy fairways and soft greens required tournament officials to impose the rule called “lift and clean,” in which players could clean their pellet whenever it was sitting pretty, though muddy, in the short grass (fairway). Henrik Stenson, winner of the previous major last month, the British Open, said after the tournament that he had been troubled all week with his ultra-backspin on his iron shots that caused his ball to spin backwards so much on the greens.
Jason Day came from behind with a pair of 67s Sunday to make it an exciting finish. Although he never got closer to the leader, Jimmy Walker, than one stroke the last nine holes, Jason hit a terrific 2 iron on the last hole, a par five, and made his 15-foot eagle putt to literally give Jimmy pause. For, Walker was at that moment about to strike his 8-foot birdie on the previous hole, and he had to back off due to the roar that erupted from Day’s gallery as he sunk his eagle putt. But Jimmy made that putt to have a one shot lead on Jason with one hole to play.
Walker, playing in the last group, now needed to make par or better on the 18th hole to win this historic tournament that is hosted by the Professional Golfers’ Association of American, which is the club pros’ organization that is to be distinguished from the PGA Tour. Jimmy drove in the fairway and then made a decision that I don’t think I would have made. The 18th green has several greenside bunkers full of sand that still had not dried out much that week. Yet Walker chose to go for the green in two shots by hitting his fairway metal club. His ball landed just right of the right bunker in fairly thick rough.
So, Walker now had to play from the rough, over the sand bunker, and onto the elevated green for his third shot. It was no easy shot, and he had to play it safe by pitching his wedge shot about twenty feet past the hole. He now needed two putts to win. As Jason Day said later concerning what type of first putt Jimmy had, “that was no easy putt.” Indeed, although the greens were slow all week due to the weather conditions, the putt was downhill and thus its speed was faster than most. And Jimmy did what would have been most expected–he putted past the hole about three feet or more. But the “cool and collected” Texan rolled his ball firmly into the middle of cup to bank the biggest check of all that week–$1,800, 000. It was not unexpected since Jimmy Walker is one of the best putters on Tour.