PGA Tour: Is Jimmy Walker the Next Jason Dufner?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 12:  Jimmy Walker celebrates with the trophy after winning the the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 12, 2014 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After nine years on tour and at the age of 34, Jimmy Walker finally appears to have shaken that journeyman status, which is a feat that very few professional golfers ever manage to accomplish.

Walker’s win on Sunday afternoon at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he posted a back-nine score of 30 during the final round and birdies on four out of his final six holes, was his second PGA Tour victory in his last six events.

This was also Walker’s second win of the PGA Tour’s new 2013-14 wraparound schedule, which has given him a significant lead in the FedEx Cup point standings and also has him ranked No. 1 in the current Ryder Cup standings.

This is a rise that very closely resembles that of another "late bloomer," who is now, thanks in part to social media but mostly due to his stellar play on the golf course, a household name among most golf fans.

Jason Dufner, similar to Walker, was a prototypical PGA Tour journeyman during his first seven years on tour before finally breaking through with his first win at the 2012 Zurich Classic, also at the age of 34.

Dufner, once again similar to Walker, followed up his first PGA Tour victory with another win just a month later at the 2012 HP Byron Nelson Championship.

Dufner’s successful 2012 season earned him a spot on Davis Love III’s Ryder Cup team. Between his continued success on the golf course, which has included a major championship victory at the 2013 PGA Championship, and the rise of the "Dufnering" phenomenon, Dufner has jolted himself into a completely new stratosphere in terms of his place in the game.

Some may view this comparison as a stretch considering that Dufner is now a major champion and has competed on both a Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team.

But think back to 2009 and 2010...could anyone in their wildest dreams have predicted the success that Dufner has experienced over the past three years?

This was nothing more than fairy-tale stuff before Dufner finally broke through with two wins in 2012, performed well at the 2012 Ryder Cup and then went on to win a major in 2013.

Who's to say that Walker cannot follow a path similar to Dufner's?

Both players finally broke through at around the same age, and barring a disastrous rest of the 2013-14 season, Walker will have an excellent chance to earn a spot on Tom Watson’s 2014 Ryder Cup team. Walker’s two early victories in this inaugural wraparound season could also allow him to be a factor in the race for the FedEx Cup come September.

Two wins in such close proximity to one another may provide Walker with confidence that will allow him to perform well at the majors, where his best finish to date was a T-21 at the 2012 PGA Championship.

Walker’s current Official World Golf Ranking of 32, his two wins and his place atop the FedEx Cup point standings should result in invitations to all of the 2013 majors, the invitational tournaments and the World Golf Championships. That is a significant step up in scheduling for a 34-year-old former journeyman.

"I've always felt like I belonged and you need affirmation every now and then...a couple months ago [I] was like, yeah, okay, I can do it," Walker said after his round, via ASAP Sports.

"I did it, I was supposed to be able to do it, everybody told me I was supposed to do, and I finally did it."

Of course Walker could also just be in the midst of a hot streak, as we have seen time and time again on the PGA Tour.

That being said, one indication that Walker’s recent success may be more than just an anomaly is the invitation he received into Butch Harmon’s stable nearly two years ago.

Harmon, who is widely regarded as one of the best instructors in the world and works with only a very small stable of players that he feels have potential, took on Walker as a student nearly two years ago and has been working with him ever since.

Of his relationship with Harmon, Walker said:

When I went and saw him (Harmon), he said I believe in you and I believe you've got a lot of talent, and I think you're under‑utilizing what you've got. He said, I want to work and make things better, and I think it's been great. I really enjoy hanging out with him. He's a very confident person. When he tells you something, you believe it. And it's been great. I've really enjoyed my time with him, and I'm going to keep enjoying my time with him.

If Walker is good enough for Butch...well, does one even need to say much more?

Golfers mature in many different ways.

Some players, such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, were phenoms from a very young age.

Players such as David Duval peak early in their career and then quickly decline.

And then there are players such as Dufner and Ben Hogan (no comparison intended) who are late bloomers and mature as golfers sometime in their mid-to-late 30s.

The fact that Walker has been trending upwards for several years now, his two breakthrough victories, and Harmon’s belief in his game, could indicate that Walker’s recent success will be a lot more than just a once-in-a-career hot streak.

Walker, who is an avid amateur astronomer, has been shooting for the stars for nearly a decade out on the PGA Tour. Perhaps all it took was a little time, some confidence and a bit of help from one of the game’s top instructors for Walker to finally reach his intended destination.


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