Jimmy Walker on the comeback trail after Lyme disease nightmare

Ronan MacNamara

Jimmy Walker (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Jimmy Walker, who won the PGA Championship in 2016 is looking to make the most of his one-year exemption on tour after battling serious health issues over the last seven years.

Walker was one of the best players in the world from 2014 to 16, winning a whopping six times including the icing on the cake of a major as he held off Jason Day at the 2016 PGA Championship.

However, his life and career went spiralling and instead of being a regular fixture at the top of weekend leaderboards, a bout of Lyme disease at the end of 2016 caused irreparable damage.

When the bloodwork came back in March of 2017, it showed Walker was positive for mononucleosis, West Nile virus, two different types of bacterial pneumonia and Lyme disease.

From 2019 to 2022 Walker earned just over $1 million and the Texan had thrown in the towel after a missed cut at last year’s Valero Texas Open, his home tournament.

Amazingly, Walker was thrown a lifeline, indirectly from LIV. After several PGA Tour members left for the Saudi backed tour, he was bumped up from 65th to 50th on the all-time PGA Tour money leaders meaning he was granted a one-year exemption for the 2022-23 season.

A lifeline. A golden ticket. A second chance.

Now, through 36 holes Walker leads the RBC Heritage, one of the PGA Tour’s elevated events in what could be the highlight story of the year.

Walker has rolled back the years so far with successive rounds of 66 and he will have a lot of support as he looks to claim one of the all-time great comeback wins.

“Yeah I was pretty much done. I didn’t know if I was going to play again it’s just been such a struggle. Wasn’t enjoying myself and it’s been tough. It was an opportunity I had to take or I wasn’t going to be able to do it again,” said the former world number 10.

“With all the dominos falling with other tours and everything that was happening I knew I had to go and take advantage of this top-50 exemption. Have I to this point? Not really yet, but maybe this is the week where everything falls into place. I’ve got a lot of old feels from a long time ago because that’s what it feels like so it’s exciting whatever happens. There will be a lot of top players near the top so it’ll be fun.”

While he was on his five-month break from golf last year, Walker completely switched off from tour life, paying no attention to the professional game. Instead he was playing recreational golf, sipping beers and mowing lawns.

Living the dad life.

“I didn’t watch a shot. I didn’t look at golf scores. I didn’t know what anybody was doing honestly.

“I don’t know what it was. It was like a five-month break or something. And I was still going out and playing golf at home with my friends. I always treated every time I played golf, even at home or work, I treated it like it was work and I was always working.

“All of a sudden, it was, well, maybe I’ll have a beer or something. So I shifted gears. I was going out there to let loose and have fun as opposed to just a grind. I would show up and play, and I was still playing pretty good at home. Courses you know, and they’re not as hard as out here and that kind of thing.

“So it wasn’t like I wasn’t playing golf. I was still playing but zero practice. I wasn’t doing any of that.”

Admirably, he has no time for sympathetic pats on the back. The American wants to win again.

“I mean, I really want it. I’m out here, and I really want it, and I want it bad. I have been really tough on myself. I’ve had so many people say give yourself a break, but it’s been tough, and it’s hard to do. Easy to say, hard to do for sure.

“Since getting sick, mentally and physically feel different damn near every day, and that’s been the hardest part. The things that I work on one day, I can’t feel it the next day. Some days I’ll get two days out of it. So that’s been the hardest part.

“That’s what drove me away is I can’t get the same feels day in and day out, and that’s what you need out here to play well is to have a feeling of it’s the same and I can rely on that today, and I haven’t had that.

“I’ve never felt like I’ve ever been afraid to go win a golf tournament. I’ve won golf tournaments in all sorts of fashions, big events. Played in the biggest stages. So nothing — there’s nothing I haven’t done. Nothing this weekend is any different than anything I’ve ever done honestly. Just go do it again because it’s fun if you win.”

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