The last two golf seasons of men’s golf have been dominated by the “Big Three” of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Speight. All you need to know about their dominance of that period is that five of the eight majors during the years of 2014 and 2015 were won by those three and in the ones they didn’t win, one or more of the three were also strong contenders. There were a lot of “experts” who were convinced that most, if not all, of the majors would be won by the new young guard of golf.
But now that the last of the four majors are now in the books, we now know that none of this year’s majors were won by any of the big three. Jordan Spieth came close in the Masters and Jason Day came close in the PGA, but all four majors this year were won by first time winners.
What happened in the PGA really did help to illustrate just how close in ability that the top few players (as in the “big three”) are to the next tier or two of players. When the “next tier” type player is on top of his game, that person is
very capable of beating EVERYBODY in the field and of winning majors.
The crazy way that this season developed (where all of the previous three majors were won by first time winners) made this year’s PGA seem like it had all of the makings for still another first time winner. The planets were kind of aligned for a “Grand Slam” of first time major winners this year and lo and behold, it happened again.
Historically, the PGA Championship, has had this amazing track record for allowing a certain type of player to do well and to win their first and sometimes only major. For some crazy reason, the type of player that tends to often do well and to sometimes even win PGA Championships isn’t always the glamor name at the top of the world golf rankings. Instead, it’s a type of player I like to call “the successful, veteran American touring pro” who has that one greatest week of their lives.
If you look back at some of the winners from the past, you can see this phenomenon in action. American touring pros who were solid U.S. tour players, and who were good enough to win regular tour events a few times in their careers, became good enough for a week to win themselves a major. They often did their damage on a historical, major-worthy course. This year’s PGA was at storied Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
Paul Azinger, Davis Love III, Mark Brooks, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, David Toms, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Jeff Sluman, Bob Tway, Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins, Dave Marr, Al Geiberger, Don January. Players that were respected touring pros. Players that became famous when they won a major. That major so often was The PGA.
There was something about this year that seemed like there might be “someone” in the field like the previous mentioned PGA major winners who might have a chance to win this year’s PGA. Someone who had won five tournaments during their career on the PGA Tour. Someone who was good enough to be named to a Ryder Cup team. This year, that person turned out to be Jimmy Walker.
Walker came right out and shot 65 on the opening day to take the early lead. He followed it up with a 66 to go nine under and the halfway lead, although a couple of big name players, including Jason Day and Henrik Stenson were close behind. At the 54 hole point, Walker still held the lead with an 11 under score, followed closely by Day and Stenson. Stenson double bogeyed a hole late to drop out of the race, so it was left to be a two horse race with Walker and Day. Neither Walker or Day would really falter this day. (Day, the second place finisher ended up shooting 68, 65, 67 and 67 and that was not good enough to win) It would be whoever had enough left at the end of this day to pull this out.
There were some really dramatic moments late in the tournament. Even though Jimmy Walker led the tournament by three strokes as he teed off on the 18th hole, Day had one final great moment to remind everyone why he is still the number one player in the world. Like the Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus greats of yesteryear, Day would reach the par five 18th hole in two and hole a putt for an eagle to briefly pull to within one of Walker and force him to par a final hole with all of the pressure of a major riding on it.
That Walker was able to make a three foot par putt on his last stroke to win the tournament was the stuff of PGA Championship lore, as he had exactly the right stuff when needed. There have been players who have missed that last hole three foot putt and LOST majors, but Jimmy Walker was able to make the key shot to win the tournament. It was the type of poised shot that successful touring pros learn to execute during their years of competition.
The last few holes of a major golf tournament are the ultimate test for the pro golfer. The person who learns how to cope with the pressure of competing against the top players in the world, on the toughest courses, under the toughest conditions, and triumphs over those obstacles… deserves the right to be considered a champion of the highest order.
Jimmy Walker was just such a man on this day. When he needed to par the last hole of the tournament to win it, he had the stuff of champions. When he needed to be, Jimmy Walker was Dy-No-Mite.