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Walker aims for top-10 finish at Open

HOYLAKE, England – Erin Walker smiles when she hears the whispers. Oh, that’s Jimmy Walker. He leads their Order of Merit.

Actually, Walker leads the FedEx Cup standings and is second on the money list behind Bubba Watson. He’s the only player on the PGA Tour to have won three times this season, and yet he still is a bit of an unknown to casual American golf fans.

“I find the crowds over here are more knowledgeable,” said Walker’s wife, Erin. “He gets more TV time over here, too.”

Walker was understandably disappointed in his finish Saturday in the third round of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. He failed to take advantage of the closing par 5s and shot 1-under 71. Still, he’s tied for 12th at 5-under 211 and one shot out of a third top-10 finish at the majors this season.

To appreciate that stat, consider that the 35-year-old Walker turned pro in 2001 and this is only his ninth major-championship start.

“I definitely want to win one,” Walker said matter-of-factly. “That’s the goal.”

He has rocketed from a nine-year span of no majors to being ready to win. It’s easy to see that another top 10 this week won’t do much to satisfy him.

The Brits are keeping a particular eye on Walker as they’ll be seeing him again in September at the Ryder Cup. Walker’s game has exploded at such a rate that pretty soon we’ll need one of those high-powered telescopes he fancies to track his rise.

Walker met Erin in 2004 at what was then a Nationwide Tour event in Salt Lake City. She had a job in marketing five minutes down the road from the course and volunteered that week as a walking scorer. A caddie introduced them, and 10 years later they have two children, a comfy travel RV and a fantastically hectic life.

But let’s go back to 2005 when, shortly after topping the Nationwide money list, Walker felt a pop in his neck after hitting driver on the range in Hawaii before the start of the Sony Open. Erin said the pain was so bad that it brought him to his knees.

Even worse, it shook his confidence.

Walker finished 202nd on the PGA Tour money list in 2006 and went back to what’s now the Web.com tour. In 2007, he finished 25th on the money list to nab the last ticket back to the PGA Tour.

From there it was a steady, if not flashy climb. Erin began to harass her husband about reaching out to Butch Harmon for lessons. It took a former Tour player to convince Walker that it was time.

“It took Butch two weeks to get back with him,” Erin said. “He’s picky. He’s busy.”

Harmon agreed to see him for an hourly rate in 2012 but said he couldn’t take on another full-time student. They worked together about a half-dozen times that season. Toward the end of 2012, Erin said Harmon asked his full-time players if they minded his adding Walker to the team.

The results speak for themselves: Walker jumped from 48th to 30th on the money list in 2013 and could top it all in ’14.

Walker said he and Harmon have worked on tightening up some loose shots, but really it’s about confidence.

“It’s hard to say (how), but it happens,” Walker said.

His wife was more descriptive: “Butch just pounds it in his head: ‘You’re awesome.’ When you have Butch Harmon telling you you are awesome, you start to believe it.”

It also helps, Erin said, that Harmon and Walker have the same sense of humor. She divulged that her hubby is great at voice impressions and has nailed Butch and Ivor Robson, the famed first-tee announcer at the Open Championship.

The Walkers are a competitive couple. Monopoly games at Christmastime can get heated. This family doesn’t do anything halfway.

Four years ago, Walker asked for a telescope for Christmas. He had one as a kid and thought it might be a fun hobby. He now has one so powerful that it’s stationed at a place called New Mexico Skies, which hosts telescopes for NASA. While Walker is busy with his day job in Scotland, his telescope might be firing away shooting images of the night sky.

Erin’s hobby is equally intense. She’s a nationally ranked show jumper and will compete next month at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Erin will take their two young sons, Mclain and Beckett, in the RV to two horse shows, pop over on the one-hour drive to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville for the PGA Championship, and then head back to Lexington for another round of show jumping.

While the couple live in San Antonio, their three horses reside in Houston.

Walker will skip the Wyndham Championship and travel with his family to the four FedEx Cup playoff events before heading to Gleneagles in Scotland for his Ryder Cup debut.

Erin laughs when she thinks about an early memory from the Nationwide Tour when Charles Warren said he couldn’t wait to see Walker on a Ryder Cup team. Erin recalled Warren saying something like, “He’s going to slit some guy’s throat on the first tee.”

The reserved Walker, of course, seems far too restrained for such gore, but perhaps that’s why he seemed so unfazed in his tartan blue shirt talking about his next trip to Scotland.

“I’ve done pretty much everything you can do in golf,” he said.

Not quite, but he has seen more stars than both teams put together.

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