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Opinion & Analysis

Five Questions About Jimmy Walker

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Jimmy Walker came out of nowhere. We can all agree on that, right?

A player who needed a majority of the 2000s to make it up to the big leagues and combined for four total top-10s between his first three years on the PGA Tour from 2008-2010 has now won FIVE TIMES in two seasons and vaulted into the world’s top 10.

Walker has indeed been a fast riser, but on every other subject about his play there seems to be more ambivalence, from his place in American golf to his chances at the big events to his future.

I look at the big questions about Walker with my own takes on each subject.

Is Walker the most promising American player?

No chance.

Walker is 36 years old and just a couple of seasons away from an age where professional golfers generally face a steep decline. Of course, that chart is an average rather than a sentence, but even if Walker continues peak performance past the age-38ish drop-off, he could maybe do so for a half-decade at most. The greatest late bloomer of this generation, Vijay Singh, only made it to 45 before his steep decline, and another age-less wonder, Phil Mickelson, jumped off his performance cliff at age 43.

Contrast that with guys like Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler who could have decades before they decline and still haven’t reached the average peak golf years for a pro. Dustin Johnson also has nearly a decade of prime years left.

Magically decrease Walker’s age by 10 years and maybe we could talk.

Fine, can we now call Walker the best American?

If the definition is the American with the most ability in the present (based off a recent but large sample of results), it’s fair to put Walker’s name in the hat but nothing more than that.

Walker’s five PGA Tour wins since the beginning of the 2013-2014 season are two more than any other American, but not all wins are created equal. Walker’s five victories have all originated against weak or average fields, which speaks to an inflated total that would significantly decrease when given a competition adjustment.

We also tend to overrate wins and treat them as the only barometer to measuring a player’s greatness. Victories only represent a player’s best few weeks, why wouldn’t we look at their full list of performances when evaluating them?

With this greater scope, we can look to top-10s (which generally represent contention) and made cuts for help. Walker does come out pretty well here with 15 top-10s in 37 events and an 89 percent made cut rate since 2013-2014.

But let’s compare to the Americans placed higher than Walker in the World Golf Rankings. Johnson has 11 top-10s in 23 events and a 78 percent cut rate, Watson marks off 12 top-10s in 26 events with an 88 percent cut rate, Spieth is 13 for 35 with an 89 percent mark and Jim Furyk is 12 for 26 with zero missed cuts.

Looking at this non-win set of performances, Walker maybe comes in third and that’s without adjusting his schedule, which has been quite a bit easier because of his appearance in former fall series events along with his avoidance of Arnold’s and Jack’s Invitationals.

If his five wins came against mostly solid fields, his bigger slate of quality victories might allow him to jump everyone here. As that is not the case, I can’t justify calling him the best American.

Is Walker an elite golfer?

Elite is a pretty arbitrary word, and I like it to mean something truly special, so when you ask me about “elite” golfers in the world, I’m thinking creme of the crop where only about the top-5 are considered.

Walker doesn’t fit under that definition, but if we use a more lenient one, maybe a top-15 or top-20 player, the American qualifies.

After all, he is currently No. 10 in the World Golf Rankings and as noted above, his record in non-victory weeks has been pretty solid and speak about a player who does well besides his wins.

Some people believe he needs to win a major to be considered “elite,” but if we are going by that stipulation, Luke Donald wasn’t “elite” when he had the best season of any player in 2011.

For the first time, I will answer in the affirmative. Jimmy Walker, under this lenient common definition, is elite.

Will he win a major?

It’s too bad Walker has so little experience in the majors (just 10 starts), because the 2015 courses are very well set up for him.

Augusta, with its favoritism toward long hitters and great putters, is a great fit for Walker, who is near the top in both categories. He doesn’t hit it as high as you would think, but Walker can still loft it up there pretty well.

As I noted before, Chambers Bay, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits all appear inviting to big hitters and great approach players. Walker is certainly the first and, as much as his putting gets the hype, his transformation from a mediocre approach player to an excellent one is the main reason behind his sudden arrival.

Walker has absolutely no control on where the ball will go off the tee, though, (he straddles 175th position in Driving Accuracy and Distance from Edge of Fairway), which could be a little detrimental at Whistling Straits.

I’d say he has a good chance this year, but golf tends to delay deserving major championship winners. If Walker’s decline starts around age 38, I don’t think he wins a major.

But if he can get about a half-dozen more cracks at Augusta in or near his prime, he will snag a Green Jacket.

Can Walker continue winning at this clip in future years?

I don’t see a massive decline in Walker’s fortunes. It’ll be difficult to keep up a victory every seven events, though.

First off, Walker’s schedule will likely toughen up a bit going forward. I’m not a psychic, but once you get to Walker’s level you tend to focus on the majors more and build your schedule with better fields to peak for those four events. You also eschew lower tier tournaments that you don’t need to play anymore (i.e. the former Fall Series events), because you can get enough starts in the bigger events.

Secondly, Walker’s one win per every three top-10s is a pretty unsustainable rate. Mickelson, despite his reputation, is one of the greater closers in the history of golf and his career rate is 1 win per every 4.13 top-10s. Woods’ is 1 per every 2.34, but that is for the greatest closer of all time.

Walker has done a great job on Sundays, but unless we expect him to become one of the greatest closers of all time, this ratio will plummet fast.

In the next couple of years, Walker will add to his win total at a slower rate. After that, aging might get the better of him, but we’ll see.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Seemingly Mundane

    Apr 7, 2015 at 12:54 am

    So yes the article feels a bit like a hit piece. I would suggest you have a peer proof read your work first before posting since you say that it was not intended as such.

    So Walker is 36, right now, this season (since 2004 doesn’t matter to the author by his own admission) Walker is still playing lights out and leading the FedEx Cup and that is all that matters. Since when is ball trajectory a marker of a great player?? Very strange. The first player that comes to mind for me with a lower ball flight is Sergio. Stats must mean next to nothing obviously as Walker continues to buck the stat trend…..

    What grates on me more is how many times he uses “like” in his replies here, holy cow,

  2. MASSIVE MIKE!

    Apr 6, 2015 at 12:25 am

    jimmy who? Oh yes, I’ve had some of the best naps of my life when walker is playing because he’s so boring!

  3. MASSIVE MIKE!

    Apr 6, 2015 at 12:21 am

    Useless dribble!

  4. Nick

    Apr 5, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I’ll just leave this here for anyone interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Levi

  5. NoThanksKev

    Apr 5, 2015 at 11:27 am

    My favorite part of this article is how the author analyses “the quality” of Walker’s victories in depth, but fails to provide his readers the same detailed information when discussing the Top 10 finishes and made cuts statistics of Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, and Jim Furyk. What did the field quality look like where these #’s were pulled from? While Jim Furyk consistently posts great #’s in these two categories, why do we ignore the fact that he did so while blowing multiple 54 hole leads and failing to close? I highly doubt that Furyk left these events feeling satisfied posting a Top 10 or even Top 5 finish. Having said that, I would also say that Jim Furyk has had an amazing career & he deserbes nothing but respect from his fans & critics alike. Has anyone ever asked a Tournament sponsor to remove their name from the trophy because they weren’t satisfied with the overall quality of the Tournament Field? I didn’t think so.
    We then receive another gem concerning Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler who are apparently dominating the Tour and have more than a decade to continue to do so. In reality, Spieth, Koepka, and Fowler combine for 4 Official Tour victories. With 4 victories to his credit, Patrick Reed certainly has proven his Elite status amongst his peers, but is still 1 victory short of Jimmy Walkers tally. While I would say all of these players are great and display even greater signs of promise, until they post more W’s than Jimmy, I cannot put them on his level. If golf were measured by potential alone, Tiger would have passed Jack by now, and we all know that this is not the case.
    I don’t know why this article was written, nor have I yet been able to find an overall theme, but I do know that Jimmy Walker deserves credit for his amazing run, an attempt to criticize his victories is fruitless, and that there is no statistical category that will ever remove his name from the 5 trophies that his name is etched upon.

  6. Aaron

    Apr 3, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Jimmy Walker’s career reminds me of Tom Lehman’s.

  7. Dan

    Apr 3, 2015 at 8:35 am

    First off, ease up on this kid. He’s a kid.

    Second, I commend any college kid who takes the initiative and puts his passion to use in the real world.

    I think the title is misleading because the article really isn’t about Jimmy Walker, it’s about the statistical possibility of a 36 year old late bloomer.

  8. Chris S

    Apr 3, 2015 at 5:11 am

    +1

  9. Big Tom

    Apr 2, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    Who is Kevin Casey and why would anyone care what he has to say? I find the premise of this article quite offensive because it was written by a nobody whose opinion, when combined with a quarter, is worth exactly $0.25.

  10. Prime21

    Apr 2, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Statistics give us the ability to organize, analyze, and interpret large amounts of numerical data. Armed with this information, we can compare/contrast players’ abilities as it relates to their peers. We may even use these numbers to compare modern day players to those who may no longer play the game competitively. While this comparison may provide a player insight as to their strengths and weaknesses, the numbers alone cannot provide us with enough information to make accurate predictions of future success and/or failure. Because key attributes such as heart, desire, & work ethic, cannot be quantified, predictions excluding these factors provide insufficient data.
    While you touch on your background in journalism, you fail to provide information regarding your athletic background. Have you played competitive golf? Do you play any sports? To me, the information you could supply here, would be just as pertinent to the article as your beloved statistics.
    You state, “Walker is 36 years old and just a couple of seasons away from an age where professional golfers generally face a steep decline.” “The greatest late bloomer of this generation, Vijay Singh, only made it to 45 before his steep decline, and another age-less wonder, Phil Mickelson, jumped off his performance cliff at age 43.” By my calculations this gives Jimmy 7-9 years of potentially great golf. Not knowing his personal training regime, it is impossible to predict if he will have a similar time table as Vijay or Phil, but if he were to keep himself in prime condition, this could extend those 7-9 years out to possibly 12 years. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Jimmy Walker at age 36 is in much better shape than both players mentioned above, which once again, could potentially postpone his decline even further. “Contrast that with guys like Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler who could have decades before they decline and still haven’t reached the average peak golf years for a pro.” While these players are certainly younger than Jimmy, one cannot assume that they will still be playing in 10 years. The potential for a longer “peak” career is just that, potential.
    “We also tend to overrate wins and treat them as the only barometer to measuring a player’s greatness. Victories only represent a player’s best few weeks, why wouldn’t we look at their full list of performances when evaluating them?” To answer your question, the goal of every player when putting a peg in the ground in a PGA Tour event is to win. EVERY player out there would take 10 W’s and 0 Top 5’s, over 4 wins, 10 seconds, and 6 thirds. When a player wins 5 times in two seasons, the results are far from a mere representation of his best few weeks.
    “Walker has absolutely no control on where the ball will go off the tee.” If this were true, how could he possibly post 5 victories in the past 2 seasons? I find it ironic that you bash Jimmy’s driving ability but reference the age-less wonder Phil Mickelson in the same article. Has Phil ever driven the ball with Fred Funk accuracy? How does Phil’s major record look at this point in his career?
    In the “Major” section, you go from quoting statistics to offering personal opinion. Where is this analysis coming from? Does Journalism class at Northwestern provide you with insight into a players potential in Major Championships? “I’d say he has a good chance this year”. “If Walker’s decline starts around age 38, I don’t think he wins a major.” “But if he can get about a half-dozen more cracks at Augusta in or near his prime, he will snag a Green Jacket.” When one begins a sentence with I’d say, or If, they are simply offering their opinion of what could happen. Once again, I do not see anything in your background that gives you a leg to stand on here. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when you have no background in covering Tournament Golf, or playing Tournament Golf, your opinion holds no weight.
    “In the next couple of years, Walker will add to his win total at a slower rate. After that, aging might get the better of him, but we’ll see.” You write an article that you know will NOT be received well by those who are fans of Jimmy Walker. But instead of taking a stand and hiding behind the statistical “evidence” provided in the first few sections, here, you tuck your tail and hide. You should have finished with something more powerful, such as, “He will win again, but as he ages he may not, but in the end I don’t know what’s going to happen so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
    Access to PGA Tour Statistics and the Google search engine allows for anyone to question a player’s ability and/or make predictions about what a player’s future may hold. But after 5 W’s in the past 2 seasons do we really need to? Keep winning Jimmy, even though the statistics say you can’t!

  11. Golfraven

    Apr 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    tough but true. He is cool player though and hard as nails. Great to watch!

  12. Steve Wozeniak

    Apr 2, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Just keep winning Jimmy!!!!! His Coach at Baylor Tim Hobby is one of the best players in Texas and is one of my students. Jimmy was one of his first recruits and he groomed that great swing. So all Butch has had to do the last few years is say nice swing Jimmy, keep it up, easy gig if you can get it!!!!

    Steve Wozeniak PGA
    http://www.stevewozeniak.com

    • Greg

      Apr 2, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      I took a few lessons from Tim Hobby years ago when I lived in Waco. He is truly a great teacher and player.

  13. Duncan

    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Kevin, where do you get the idea that JW doesn’t hit the ball high? I saw him in person at the masters last year and the only one who hit a higher 4 iron off #4 was Bubba. And if you can remember, almost no one could hit it high enough to stop the ball on that green. I was very impressed with the towering bombs that Jimmy hit. I left there thinking he IS one of the game’s best players.

    • Kevin Casey

      Apr 2, 2015 at 12:51 am

      Hey Duncan,

      That must have been a cool experience! I feel like that’s subtly a really good spot at Augusta.

      Anyway, I didn’t say that Walker wasn’t a high ball hitter. Going back to my words in the article: “He doesn’t hit it as high as you would think, but Walker can still loft it up there pretty well.”

      I said that he does still hit it pretty high, just not to the height you would think. What does that mean? Well, clubhead speed/driving distance correlate a lot to ball flight. with the fastest swingers/longest hitters tending to possess the highest ball flights and slow swingers/short hitters possessing the lowest ones (there are certainly exceptions both ways, though).

      Walker is top 20 on Tour in driving distance, so you’d expect him to be roughly top 20 in ball flight height, but the stats show something different. The main metric we look at here is PGATOUR.com’s “Apex Height” tabulation. This stat shows the average peak height of a player’s ball flight on a number of drives throughout the year. Not perfect, but gives us a good measurement of whose golf balls reach the greatest height in flight.

      Looking over the last three years, Walker has been something like 65th, 25th and 110th in the category, which speaks to a player who has a high ball flight but not to the top 20 distinction one might presume.

      That being said, that stat could be skewed if Walker purposefully flights his ball down more than the average PGA Tour pro. If that is the case, he could be a really high ball hitter whose Apex Height numbers drop because of these intentional knockdown drives. But I don’t know that is the case with Jimmy for sure without some sort of database.

      The Apex Height stat is an average and the Tour offers up the player’s highest Apex Height among the sample, and Walker’s is really high. Walker’s average Apex Height in 2015 is 104’6″ (65th in that category) and his peak in 2015 has been 154’9″ (maybe top-10 in that category). That could point to my theory about Walker flghting the ball down more than the average pro. Or it could show that Walker can reach massive heights but struggles to consistently sky it up there. Or that peak number could be a fluke.

      What all of this is to say is that the data is kind of limited here, and from that protracted set, the conclusion is that Walker is a high-ball hitter but not to the extent his distance would suggest (top-20). Everything else is just conjecture.

  14. Ben

    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    This is a solid, well thought out piece that does a good job of letting the facts speak for themselves. Because it was written in this way, it rises above the simple emotional response. If your gonna attach it, at least bring the same amount of data and research.

    • Prime21

      Apr 2, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      While statistics are given throughout the article, referring to them as research is quite a stretch. If the facts, as you call them, truly were to speak for themselves, there would be no reason for his sections to end with statements of opinion (If….I’d say….I don’t think….). Considering the author is questioning Jimmy Walker’s abilities as well as his potential for future success, he had to know that his article would be “attached” by any JW fan who happened to read it.

  15. Nelly11

    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Tough Crowd. Jimmy Walker has won 5 times in the last 17 months at the top of golf, winning almost $3.5 million this year alone and this thing is littered with negativity and talk of an imminent decline. Really? I hope articles like this continue to fuel his amazing career.

    I’m a big fan of his game, he has it all. I hope to follow at the Tuesday practice round and perhaps even pick up a thing or two watching him to help my game. Amazing talent.

  16. The dude

    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    KC…..hater

    Keep winning JW!!!!

  17. Kevin Casey

    Apr 1, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Definitely wouldn’t disagree with that general sentiment there. When I say his wins are against mediocre or weak fields, I am putting it to the incredibly high PGA Tour standard. And Walker has had some great finishes against some of the world’s toughest fields (top 10s at three majors and the Players last year).

    I feel like this article is being misconstrued as me being a Jimmy Walker hater. I am not. Really good player that I think will stay at or near his current level of performance for at least the next couple of years. And I think he has a decent shot of hanging on to his prime past the general decline age.

    I just don’t think he will continue to win at this same clip or is the top American, both incredibly high standards some have put on him. It’s not negative, it’s realistic.

    • devilsadvocate

      Apr 2, 2015 at 10:32 am

      I feel where u are TRYING to come from…. But dude read your article… A little rough don’t u think? I don’t know about you but I have seen this guy on the very top of the FedEx cup points list for most of the last two seasons and I watched a couple of his victories in which he won by a large margin… Pretty obviously an elite player right now imho

  18. Erlybrd

    Apr 1, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Regardless of what this columnist says, Jimmy Walker is playing great against tough competitions and scoring lower than everyone more often than not. Sure all careers have ups and downs, but let’s hope he will keep his good play for many more years to come.

    • Kevin Casey

      Apr 1, 2015 at 8:37 pm

      Whoops, meant to put the above reply here.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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