NORTON — Only two players have won three tournaments this season on the PGA Tour. Can you name them?
The easy answer is Rory McIlroy, who won all three of his tour events in succession: first the Open Championship, then the Bridgestone Invitational, followed by the PGA Championship. That’s three big events, coming in a four-week span. Those victories were recent, impressive, and hard to forget, the world’s top-ranked player doing what top-ranked players do: win, and often.
But how about the second player with three wins? Any idea?
OK, here’s a hint: He’s led the FedEx Cup points standings for 35 weeks this season (that’s a record).
Another hint: He’ll make his Ryder Cup debut next month in Scotland.
Still stumped? One more helper: He’s an award-winning astrophotographer. Yes, you read that right.
Jimmy Walker might be impressing more people with his camera and telescope than he is with his golf equipment. Considering the breakout season Walker has had— there’s probably a bad out-of-this-world joke in there somewhere — that’s certainly saying something.
“I feel like I’ve played well,” Walker said last week at the Barclays. “Obviously I would have liked to have won again, but before this year it had taken me 180 times before I had one. I’ve continued to play well. I’ve got a lot of top 10s. I’ve played good in the big tournaments, and I’m looking to win again.”
Because the most recent of his three victories came more than six months ago, Walker might not be mentioned among the favorites at this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship. He still might be flying under the radar, a position he’s known for much of his nine-year PGA Tour career.
Even now, near the end of a season in which he’s collected three wins, nine top-10 finishes, and a spot on the upcoming US Ryder Cup team, Walker can do much of his work in peaceful anonymity. He’s not an up-and-coming young gun (he’s 35), he’s not seen in TV commercials like McIlroy or Rickie Fowler, and he’s probably not near the top of the list if you polled fans for their favorite player.
But he’s making his presence known among his peers.
“I have to say that I’ve played with Jimmy Walker,” said Tom Watson, who will be Walker’s Ryder Cup captain. “He’s got a game that’s just spectacular. He can flat get it. He knows how to maneuver the ball. He’s a great putter.”
This marks the first wraparound season that the PGA Tour has ever had; the points and money earned began counting last October, when the 2014-15 season began. Walker won the first event, the Frys.com Open, to break his winless drought on the PGA Tour in his 188th start. Victories followed at the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which gave Walker three wins in his first eight starts of the season.
Despite not winning since, Walker has continued to play well. Look at his finishes this year in golf’s biggest events. He tied for eighth in his Masters debut, then tied for sixth at the Players Championship. At the US Open, Walker tied for ninth, then he tied for 26th at the Open Championship. Three weeks ago, Walker tied for seventh at the PGA Championship.
Only Matt Kuchar, with 11, has more top-10 finishes this season than Walker.
“I’ve just felt very confident and my expectation levels are higher,” Walker said. “I feel like I should be there. I think that’s one of the biggest factors this year, really get used to seeing your name on the leaderboard. I’ve come to enjoy that fact and relish it. That’s why I’m out here, to be up there and try to be at the top and try to win.”
This recent ascension to the top of the golf world — Walker is ranked 20th in the world and fell from second to third in the points race after the Barclays — mirrors his fascination with astrophotography. Walker asked his wife for a telescope for Christmas a few years back, received one, but it didn’t come with a camera, which is the main reason he wanted it. Once he found a model that could take pictures, he’s been snapping away ever since.
Walker rents space at an elevated place in New Mexico, and with very high-tech equipment can take and work on his pictures remotely, when he’s on the road playing golf. He does that frequently, establishing a website (www.jwalk.smugmug.com) that features his pictures, which he also posts on Twitter (@JimmyWalkerPGA). Galaxies, nebulae, star formations, moon closeups, and planets are all part of Walker’s portfolio. His photos have become works of art, colorful creations of red and blue and orange set against the deep, dark blackness of space. It serves as a reminder of how large everything is out there, and how small everything is down here.
“Being outside and outdoors and seeing the sky from a really dark place is really cool. I don’t think a lot of people really ever get to do that, truly,” Walker said, after he won the Sony Open. “I got hooked on [astrophotography]. It was something to keep my mind occupied and keep the brain working.”
Maybe having a hobby on the side has helped Walker with his day job. This season’s golf has taken him to a place he’d never been. Until recently, when McIlroy won the PGA, Walker was still No. 1 in the points standings, where he’d been every tournament he’s played this year except one. That was the Sony, which he won. A third win, this one at Pebble Beach, assured Walker of an automatic spot on the Ryder Cup team.
“Yeah, it’s on my mind. It’s just kind of a carrot at the end of the year,” Walker said last week at the Barclays, where he missed just his fourth cut of the season. “I think it shows that you had a really good year to make that team; you’ve played well and you’ve played consistently. I’m excited.
“When you win, I think you want to win again and then you want to win again.”
Three wins? That’s exactly what Walker has done.
Jimmy Walker name game
Walker is a rising star on the PGA Tour, but he is not the most famous Jimmy/Jimmie Walker on this list:
Served two terms as the mayor of New York City. He resigned in 1932 after being accused of accepting nearly $1 million in bribes.
Dy-No-Mite! Comedic actor Jimmie Walker is best known for portraying J.J. Evans on “Good Times” from 1974 to 1979.
THE BASKETBALL PLAYER
An All-American at Providence, the former Roxbury resident was the No. 1 pick in the 1967 NBA Draft. Father of ex-NBA star Jalen Rose.
THE SOCCER PLAYER
An undersized English professional goalkeeper, “Wacka” had 500 caps in his career, mostly with Walsall Football Club.
At 35, he has come of age with a breakout season that includes three victories and an automatic berth on the United States Ryder Cup team.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.