SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Stale and stagnant.
They’re not words that any player wants tied to his game, but those are the two that Jimmy Walker chose to describe his form entering the PGA Championship.
It may not seem like much time has passed since Walker was racking up wins en route to a spot inside the top 10 in the world rankings, but he turned up at Baltusrol Golf Club in danger of slipping outside the top 50 for the first time in nearly three years. Such are the consequences of going more than a year without a victory and 11 starts without a top-10 finish.
But Walker rekindled his 2014 form in Thursday’s opener, spinning a 5-under 65 that included six birdies and gave him the early lead at the season’s final major.
It’s not a cure-all, but it certainly qualifies as a start.
“It’s just ebbs and flows of golf. Just haven’t been scoring,” Walker said. “Just a lot of even par to a couple under golf, and it’s equated to a bunch of 20th-place finishes this year.”
Walker’s strong opener is even more surprising given his play in the previous three majors. He missed two cuts, hadn’t broken 70 and was a cumulative 32 over par across his last 10 rounds in majors dating back to Whistling Straits.
For Walker, the prime culprit for his recent struggles is clear. After finishing second on Tour in strokes gained putting last season, he has slipped to 55th in the same category this season and simply hasn’t rolled in the mid-range putts required to contend on a consistent basis.
“They just haven’t been going in. For whatever reason, they just haven’t,” he said. “I hit a lot of good putts and they all look like they have got a good shot. For whatever reason, they lip out or quit breaking. I just haven’t been making a whole lot.”
Despite slipping down the rankings this summer, Walker believes he turned a corner last week at the RBC Canadian Open, where a final-round 68 led to a T-14 finish, his best result since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.
“I felt like personally, I did a lot of things right, and that’s what I’ve been kind of looking to do that I haven’t been doing,” he said. “So I felt like I was ready to go, I honestly did this week.”
Walker admits that his current plight is far from ideal, especially considering he hasn’t factored in any Ryder Cup discussion two years after entering the PGA Championship with his spot at Gleneagles already secured.
But one week can make a big difference – especially at an event with major implications. It could even help Walker leave “stale and stagnant” behind him.
“Sometimes it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It’s tough,” he said. “You feel like you’re killing yourself and you’re giving it all you’ve got, and you’re just not seeing it. Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off. But over time, I think it will.”