Jimmy Walker & Andy Sanders

Walker and his caddie, Andy Sanders, were rivals back in their college days. Eight years after they first started working together, Walker and Sanders celebrate their first major win.

Jimmy Walker wins first major among friends

by Mark Wogenrich, The Morning Call

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Jimmy Walker and Jason Day call themselves bus partners. They park their RVs side by side at every tournament, talk about their rides and watch their kids play together. Day calls Walker a "top bloke."

But on Sunday at the PGA Championship, Day wanted nothing more than to play side-by-side with Walker in the final round at Baltusrol Golf Club. Maybe he could have pressured Walker a bit, goaded him into a few mistakes.

Alas, Saturday's weather forced the PGA of America to shoehorn 36 holes into its longest day in decades, which meant players weren't re-paired for the final round. So Day played one group ahead, hoping to apply his pressure from the front.

It nearly worked, as Day made eagle on the final hole to pull within one shot. But Walker, who approached the par-5 18th the same as he had all week, made a more-difficult-than-it-looked par to claim his first major championship.

98TH PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Five things we learned on Sunday | Photos | Highlights

Afterward, the 37-year-old Walker -- who has won more than $20 million in his career -- was met by Day, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, all of whom were genuinely happy for the new champ.

"Makes me feel awesome that the young crew likes to hang out and have a good time," Walker said.

For Walker, this breakthrough appeared certain two years ago, then began to retract beneath the specter of inconsistent putting. Walker missed cuts at the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and tied for 29th at the Masters, so his recent major resume didn't necessarily precede him.

Still, Fowler noticed a spark in Walker's game during their money matches in the practice rounds. Walker hit nearly everything close those two days. Fowler, who also has lapsed in the majors this season, sensed something positive coming.

"I've been with him through it, I know he's been struggling and it's been a hard fight," said Fowler, who tied for 33rd. "But he was swinging really well Tuesday and Wednesday -- some of the best I've seen him swing, hitting it really close on every hole -- so he kind of figured something out and rolled with it this week."

Walker, who led the PGA after every round, stretched his advantage to three shots with a birdie at No. 17. He backed off the 81/2-foot putt twice as Day hit his approach to No. 18. "I figured it was Jason," Walker said, who steeled himself to curl in the birdie putt.

At No. 18, Walker only briefly considered playing the hole as a three-shot par-5, choosing instead to hit 3-wood to the green from 289 yards. What could go wrong?

Walker figured that, 19 times out of 20, he'd make at least par from the fairway, even by missing the green. He hadn't made a bogey in 28 holes and is a confident bunker player, just in case his approach landed in the greenside sand. Even afterward, Walker said he would play the hole the same way again.

And then...

"I literally hit it in the worst place you could hit it," Walker said. "I didn't mean to. It just happened."

From that point, Walker chased the smart par. He pitched to 30 feet from a lush lie and bore down over a two-putt that ended with a 3-footer for the trophy.

"I felt confident in myself, in what I was doing," he said. "I felt confident in my golf swing, my putting, my chipping. Kind of tried to wrap myself around that."

But he was tested. When Day eagled 18, Walker knew he had to make par to win. "That's brutal sometimes," he said, "when you know all you have to do is make a par."

Day, meanwhile, would have preferred to make that eagle with Walker walking alongside.

"It would have been nice to be able to play in the last group with him, just to be able to go back and forth with him, maybe put a little bit more pressure on," Day said.

Sixteen years ago at Baltusrol, Walker, then playing at Baylor, met another amateur golfer from Texas named Andy Sanders, who played for the University of Houston. They forged a friendship after playing a practice round together at the 2000 U.S. Amateur.

Eight years later, after ending his playing career because of health issues, Sanders reconnected with Walker to become his caddie. On the 18th fairway, as Walker prepared to hit 3-wood, Sanders said, "Let's do it."

"We both felt great all week," Walker said. "We talked about us meeting here and we [told] the story a few times this week. So I think it's special for both of us. I know it's special for both of us."

This article was written by Mark Wogenrich from The Morning Call and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.