Jimmy Walker, slowly getting back to health, energized for PGA title defense

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Jimmy Walker, slowly getting back to health, energized for PGA title defense

PGA Tour

Jimmy Walker, slowly getting back to health, energized for PGA title defense

CHARLOTTE – It’s been a little over a year since Jimmy Walker captured the PGA Championship for his first major title.

But for the defending champ, it’s felt like a whole lot longer.

Walker simply hasn’t been himself since late last year, as he developed a short temper and felt low energy throughout the winter. He wasn’t sure what was up, guessing mononucleosis.

He would be diagnosed in April: Lyme disease. A dose of antibiotics followed, but his hands were burning so bad at the Players Championship the following month that he didn’t compete again until the U.S. Open.

So it’s been a difficult nine months, but there’s good news: in the days heading into his title defense at Quail Hollow, Walker is starting to feel like himself again.

“I’m feeling better, a lot better than I have, and it’s nice. I’ve got a lot more energy,” Walker said. “I’m able to practice more and that’s just been something I’ve been kind of lacking. I do feel good on that front.”

So maybe there is hope for Walker after all.

The 38-year-old has just two top-10 finishes since his PGA Championship win last July. But he’s seen a surge in good form since his post-Players hiatus.

After back-to-back missed cuts at the U.S. Open and Greenbrier Classic, Walker has made four straight weekends – with three of them netting finishes of T-33 or better.

If that doesn’t do enough for his confidence, earlier this year at his home club Cordillera Ranch in Boerne, Texas, Walker played a casual round in which he made nine consecutive birdies.

Walker quipped he couldn’t imagine being in that sort of zone in a major and chafed at the fact that his eventual score (he said it was a 62 or 63) wasn’t lower that day.

“I had a chance to break the course record at my home track and ended my birdie streak with a bogey, two bogeys, actually, 17, 18,” Walker said. “It was kind of a bummer.”

Walker’s win at Baltusrol last year seemed like a breakthrough – the next step for a guy who had ridden a resurgence in his career in his later 30s to five previous PGA Tour wins – but what’s come since has mostly been a disappointment.

Whether Walker has a letdown effort in his title defense remains to be seen. The height of his Lyme disease issues have passed, but Walker is still nowhere near 100 percent.

Despite racing out to the 36-hole lead at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Walker admitted he was still losing focus and concentration at times due to lingering effects of his illness.

It showed in the final two rounds, as Walker closed 74-72 to drop to a tie for 28th. He’s also not exactly sure how to deal with those continuing issues besides accepting that they’re going to happen.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can really do about it. It’s just kind of there,” Walker said. “I really tried to concentrate – sounds stupid – but extra hard last week. You know, try harder. But it just kind of comes and goes. I just try to be 100 percent committed on every shot and see it and feel it, and then try to execute it. … It’s a weird deal.”

Maybe so, but a more energized Walker is certainly not one to discount. He’s emboldened by what he calls 54 “really solid” holes last week at Firestone and he oozes with the comfort that often finds major champions with greater ease.

“Doing what we did last year, being able to win this tournament and set yourself up for basically the rest of your career, is just nice – it’s a huge relief,” Walker said.

As for whether his illness and some time off has dulled his competitive edge, precisely the opposite.

“I know everybody likes time off from work, but I really don’t,” Walker said.

It wasn’t a smooth path, but all systems are go again at Quail Hollow for the defending champ.

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