2013 Greenbrier Classic a turning point in Walker’s career

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Jimmy Walker has had a lot to smile about lately.

Almost as much as Jimmy Walker remembers his first three PGA Tour victories, he’ll remember one that slipped away in the mountain twilight.

That was the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, the one delayed three-plus hours Sunday by a thunderstorm. Walker played in the final twosome with Johnson Wagner, who entered the day with a two-shot lead. Walker had a two-shot cushion on Jonas Blixt.

On a silent, overcast evening, Walker and Wagner teed off at 5:10 p.m., almost guaranteeing a Monday finish. But in a pace-of-play miracle, they nearly beat the 8:45 sunset.

Almost. As both players struggled with changes in the greens, they went the wrong way vs. par and Blixt slipped pass them. Walker and Wagner both needed a hole-in-one on the par-3 18th to force a playoff.

That was tough when the mountain on the other side of the valley was disappearing. The tee and green were lit by an unlikely source.

“All those [electronic] leaderboards brightened everything up,” Walker said.

The tie for second was Walker’s third top-4 finish at the Old White TPC. In the bigger picture, the result sparked a rapid climb up the golf ladder. For instance, he raised his FedExCup standing enough to qualify for his first British Open.

Three months later, the 35-year-old Oklahoma native won his first Tour event, the Frys.com Open. In the new wraparound format, that was the opener of the 2013-14 season.

Five events later, Walker captured his second win in Hawaii. Three weeks after that, he conquered Pebble Beach.

That opened doors all around him. He went to the Masters for the first time, finishing eighth. He went sixth in the Players Championship, followed by a ninth in his first U.S. Open in 12 years. His world ranking went from 73rd entering last year’s Classic to 17th the last several weeks.

Oh yeah, he is also leading the FedExCup standings, and has done so almost every week this season. His 2,322 points are 239 points ahead of Bubba Watson and 597 over third-place Matt Kuchar. And Walker has raked in a cool $4.9 million in earnings.

He owns eight top-10 finishes, 15 top-25s and has missed only two cuts.

So what has set Walker, winner of the Web.com Tour’s Pete Dye Classic in 2007, on this unprecedented hot streak? An April 2013 union with swing coach Butch Harmon was no small factor.

Harmon has Walker believing he can win, even at majors, under a variety of adverse circumstances. Even darkness.

“Butch brings a great dynamic,” Walker said. “He brings not only instruction, but the confidence he drives home in players. That’s one of his greatest attributes.”

An interesting dynamic about Walker’s rise is the beginning of fatherhood. A year ago, Walker and wife Erin brought 3-year-old Mclain James and 4-month-old Beckett Meier to The Greenbrier.

The resort is perfect for a family like that, something that has brought quite a few competitors to White Sulphur Springs. But for the rest of the tour?

For rests from the Tour?

Some fathers struggle at juggling golf and early parenthood, but Walker has thrived.

“For having kids, I’m playing pretty good,” he said. “Having kids, you know there are more important things in life than hitting a golf ball. It changes my perspective.”

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

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