LOS ANGELES – Butch Harmon didn’t transform Jimmy Walker’s swing during this marvelous run of victories.
More than anything, he transformed Walker’s thinking.
He turned him into a badass.
“Butch tells Jimmy `You’re a badass!’” says Erin Walker, Jimmy’s wife. “Butch tells him `You’re the man!’ Butch tells him these things all the time.
“When you hear from the best coach who’s ever lived that you’re a badass, you have to believe it. I think that’s where this confidence is coming from.”
OK, if you know Walker, you know he isn’t a you-know-what, not in the conventional sense. Between the ropes, though, Harmon is getting Walker to believe things about himself he never believed before. His work with Harmon is the largest factor in the 35-year-old Walker suddenly emerging as a force on the PGA Tour. Harmon is a significant reason Walker will tee it up Thursday at the Northern Trust Open with a chance to win for the fourth time in this 2013-14 season.
That’s what the confidant closest to Walker believes.
“What’s different now?” Erin says. “It’s got to be Butch Harmon. He’s the reason. Butch didn’t have to change a lot in Jimmy’s swing. He had a good foundation from his old coach. I think it’s just the confidence Jimmy's getting from having Butch Harmon want him in his stable of players, from being able to call Butch Harmon whenever he wants, to have Butch Harmon standing on the range with him. That’s really the only difference from Jimmy now and Jimmy three years ago.”
Walker says he gets a lot of blunt direction from Harmon.
“He sends me motivational texts,” Walker says. “He’s a pretty to-the-point guy. I like that about him. He says it’s all about winning.”
Walker was a talented young prospect coming out of Baylor. He won twice on the Nationwide Tour in ’04, winning the tour’s money title and Player of the Year award. He would go on to battle neck and shoulder injuries and fail to reach the promise so many saw in his swing and game.
Back in 2012, Walker sought out Harmon, asking for help. That first year, Harmon didn’t have room for Walker in his four-player stable. Harmon told Walker he would work with him at his school in Las Vegas, but he couldn’t work with Walker at tournaments.
A little less than a year watching the potential in Walker, Harmon decided to take Walker under his wing as a full-fledged stable member early in the spring of 2013. Given Harmon’s status as the No. 1 teacher in the game, it was a bit surprising to see him take on an aging, winless player.
What did Harmon see?
“I saw tremendous talent,” Harmon said. “But I wasn’t sure how good he believed he was.”
So Harmon went to work on more than Walker’s swing.
“Jimmy needed to believe in himself more than anything,” Harmon said. “We worked on his swing, but it was important to get through to him how good he really was.”
Harmon got Walker to believing that when he stepped inside the ropes, he could kick some butt.
“We’re not drinking any magic potion,” Erin said. “Jimmy’s just confident, and confidence goes a long ways. He feels validated winning. That does amazing things for your golf and confidence.”
Harmon mixes a little tough love with that back-slapping encouragement and bravado. With Walker glowing after the 2013 PGA Tour season, Harmon challenged him. Walker had just finished his best year on Tour, finishing a career-best 28th on the money list. That wasn't good enough for Harmon.
“We didn’t win,” Harmon told Walker flatly. “That’s what we want. That’s why we play golf. It’s all about winning.”
Walker went out and won his first start of the new 2013-14 season.
“You got to know when to kick a guy in the butt, you got to know when to give him a hug,” Harmon said. “You got to know when to give a guy some space, and you got to know when to make him laugh. I treat every player different. Jimmy needed to believe in himself more than anything.”
These days, Walker is radiating with belief.