Walker delivers on coach Butch Harmon's belief of a major
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. >> Jimmy Walker had champagne in his glass and the Wanamaker Trophy at his side. Still unopened is a bottle of Chateau Margaux that Butch Harmon has kept in his Las Vegas wine cellar for such a moment as this.
Walker gave him the $1,200 bottle four years ago when Harmon refused payment for their first of many lessons. Harmon was so confident in the 37-year-old Texan that he pledged not to open it until Walker won a major.
Asked if he ever opened the wine, Harmon replied in a text message Sunday night, "Not yet."
This should go down smoothly.
Walker went wire-to-wire in the PGA Championship, and he was tested to the very end.
Only three other players over the last decade won their first major by leading (including ties) from start to finish — Jordan Spieth at the 2015 Masters, Rory McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open and Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters. All of them had comfortable margins on the back nine.
What made Walker's victory even more gratifying was who he beat at Baltusrol.
First it was Henrik Stenson, who only two weeks ago set a major championship record at 264 in the British Open with a final round of 63 that ranked among the best. And over the final hour of the longest day at the PGA Championship, the challenge came from Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world and defending PGA champion.
Through it all, Walker didn't make a bogey over the final 28 holes of his 36-hole day.
"God, just to be in it and be there and have a chance and then to finish it off is just ... it's so gratifying," he said of his one-shot victory.
Walker heard the wild cheering of Day hitting 2-iron onto the green at the par-5 18th, twice backed off his 8-foot birdie putt at the 17th and made it. That gave him a three-shot lead, which shrunk to one shot moments later when Day closed with a 15-foot eagle putt.
Walker never looked concern, even if his heart was pounding.
"That's brutal sometimes when you know all you have to do is make a par, and I haven't made a bogey all day," Walker said. "You come to the last hole, and just didn't want that to happen."
He missed the green to the right in deep rough, pitched safely to 35 feet, rolling the first putt 3 feet by and getting his par.
Harmon had a right to save the wine until his latest client won a major, because Walker appeared to have all the goods. Yes, he's a late bloomer, though most of that was due to some nagging injuries when he first got on the PGA Tour. He could hit the ball with power, and his putting is what other players envy.
From his first victory in October 2013 to the way he held off Spieth in Texas, Walker won five times in 39 tournaments over a stretch of nearly two years and rose as high as No. 10 in the world. He played in the Ryder Cup in 2014 and the Presidents Cup in 2015.
Somewhere along the way, his confidence took a hit and it was becoming tougher to recover from a few wild tee shots. He had not come seriously close to winning over the last year and slipped to No. 48 in the world going into the PGA Championship. The Ryder Cup was starting to seem like a long shot.
One week changed everything. He looked like the Walker of old, and became golf's newest champion.
"I know exactly how Jimmy feels because I did exactly that last year," said Day, who beat Spieth by three shots at Whistling Straits in 2015 to win his first major. "So it was actually quite nice to be able to see him celebrate with his family and friends there."
Walker and Day can be considered neighbors during their PGA Tour travels. Both live in a tour bus on the road, which gives them a sense of being at home and allows for a little more stability for their children. They often park next to each other, or at least on the same property.
Walker wrapped up a season in the majors marked by first-time winners. It was the first time that's happened since 2011, but only the third time since 1970. The PGA Championship was the most peculiar of all, mainly because of rain delays that led to a 36-hole finish for 10 players (Walker included), and left so much water and mud on the fairways that the PGA allowed players to lift, clean and place their golfs in the short grass.
On Monday morning, Walker was headed to New York for a media tour before taking some time to digest what happened. He moved to No. 15 in the world. He is virtually a lock now to be on the Ryder Cup team.
As for that Chateau Margaux? Walker wasn't sure whatever became of it.
"That's a question for Butch. I gave it to him, and if he drank it, that's on him," Walker said, pausing as his smile widened. "But I've got another one at home."