Column: Jimmy Walker steps away, Liv gives him way back


FILE - Jimmy Walker celebrates with his son Beckett after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on July 31, 2016. Walker has earned a full PGA Tour ticket for the season that begins Thursday, September 15, 2022, due to all of LIV Golf's splits.  Walker had walked away from golf in April.  (AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)
FILE - Jimmy Walker celebrates with his son Beckett after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on July 31, 2016. Walker has earned a full PGA Tour ticket for the season that begins Thursday, September 15, 2022, due to all of LIV Golf's splits.  Walker had walked away from golf in April.  (AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)
FILE - Jimmy Walker celebrates with his son Beckett after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on July 31, 2016. Walker has earned a full PGA Tour ticket for the season that begins Thursday, September 15, 2022, due to all of LIV Golf's splits.  Walker had walked away from golf in April.  (AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

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FILE – Jimmy Walker celebrates with his son Beckett after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on July 31, 2016. Walker has earned a full PGA Tour ticket for the season that begins Thursday, September 15, 2022, due to all of LIV Golf’s splits. Walker had walked away from golf in April. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

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FILE – Jimmy Walker celebrates with his son Beckett after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on July 31, 2016. Walker has earned a full PGA Tour ticket for the season that begins Thursday, September 15, 2022, due to all of LIV Golf’s splits. Walker had walked away from golf in April. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

Jimmy Walker quietly walked away from the PGA Tour in April, unsure whether it was the lingering effects of Lyme disease or growing frustration — perhaps both — that led to the decision. He just knew he needed to be away for the rest of the year, maybe two years, maybe even longer.

Then came LIV Golf.

Saudi fortunes didn’t land at his front door in San Antonio, and Walker wasn’t sure he was interested in that. “History is strong and that has not happened yet,” he said.

Walker watched from the sidelines, without envying anyone who chose to go to the rival league. What he didn’t realize was that for every player who scored in LIV Golf – and was suspended or resigned from the PGA Tour – it just helped him.

The phone call surprised him on Labor Day.

Cameron Smith and Mark Leishman were among the last to leave, allowing Walker to move up nine places to number 50 in career earnings on the PGA Tour. This gave him access to a one-time exemption for the new season, which begins on Thursday.

Walker was happy at home behind a grill or on a lawn mower, going to the gym, or chasing his two sons. He still played golf with friends, a show and swing set. This was fun.

“I’ve been running and shooting at this professional sports job for 20 years,” he said. “I just need time to not do a damn thing.”

Walker also knew that this opportunity wouldn’t exist next year if he didn’t seize it.

“I didn’t have any plans to play and didn’t know when I would play again. Is this fate going?” Walker said. I don’t know.”

Leave it to the words of a child.

Walker is of the opinion that he could have retired and been satisfied with a career that brought him a major championship and two Ryder Cup teams. He is 43 years old and still feels he can do more. So he asked his two sons, 12-year-old MacLean and 9-year-old Beckett, if they wanted him to go on the road again.

‘Can you be cool again?’ said the younger Beckett to me. If you think you can do it, I want you to go. ‘That was a tearful moment,’ said Walker.

Beckett was three years old when Walker shoved him in his arms on the 18th green at Baltosroll after his one-stroke win at the 2016 PGA Championship. Could he offer another moment like this? He thinks it’s worth a try, especially when the decision was made for him.

Walker is one example of how LIV Golf has provided a course that players did not expect.

Another former PGA Champion, Jason Dufner, moved into the top 50 by career money to get his card. Rory Sabatini landed in the top 25 for career money due to LIV suspension.

That’s what Walker had on a Monday commercial flight from San Antonio to Oakland, California, then a short drive – no free car this week – to Napa for the Fortinet Championship and the start of a season he wasn’t planning on playing.

So determined to take a clean break from golf, Walker stayed home instead of playing the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, making his US Open debut in 2001. That would be full circle. He would have preferred to stop.

“I’ve had an amazing career,” he said. “I can hang my hat on that.”

It took Walker 178 to start on the PGA Tour before he finally won the season opener at CordeValle in 2013. By defeating Brooks Koepka, he relieved the sponsor who had received his European Tour ticket that year. Koepka was one of the players who signed with LIV and enabled Walker to move up the career earnings chart.

Walker still holds the Sony Open record with a nine-shot win in 2015. He peaked a year later when he captured his lone lead and played on his second consecutive team in the Ryder Cup, and that was an American win in Hazeltine.

A hunting trip to King Ranch in the fall is where he suspected Lyme disease, although it took months of symptoms and uncertainty before he received a diagnosis the Wednesday before the Masters.

The way back seemed to get longer the longer he worked.

He felt fine in one week, and was bad the next. The drug made him sensitive to the sun. He started struggling with chopping and shooting, the hallmark of his game. He was happy at home in San Antonio, and increasingly grumpy on the road.

Now it feels like a fresh start. Walker played long enough to know what was coming.

Golf is getting younger and better. Only the top 70 keep their cards in this new season of big prizes, another change brought by LIV Golf.

“I had mixed feelings on leaving,” Walker said during a layover Monday in San Diego. “I know what that entails, hard work and all that. I’m nervous. Honestly, I don’t feel quite prepared. But there’s no better way than to jump into it again.”

“It could be amazing, or it could be a disaster.”

Either way, it’s something Walker wasn’t expecting. He has LIV Golf to thank for that.

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