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Justin Rose meets biggest fan at THE PLAYERS Championship

4 Min Read


Mike Walker, 77, gets moment of a lifetime in final trip to America

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Mike Walker wears a card on a lanyard around his neck. The card reads: I may have memory problems. I might have difficulty communicating with you and can become anxious. Please be patient with me.

    The card, which includes his wife Ann’s name and number, could save his life, but that didn’t mean Walker, 77, wanted it in the picture when he met Justin Rose at THE PLAYERS Championship on Thursday. Walker pulled the lanyard over his head, leaving his collar pulled up around his neck as he beamed at the camera.

    “That’s a secret badge, is it?” Rose said as he discretely patted the older man’s collar back down, a gesture that wouldn’t have looked out of place between a son and his father.

    They were at the end of a visit that lasted some 20 minutes.

    Chad Ramey opened with a 64 in calm conditions, with Collin Morikawa just a shot behind him. Rose, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last month, shot 3-under 69. But every tournament is made up of countless moments that never show up on the scoreboard.

    The meeting between Rose and Walker was one of them.

    “Yeah, obviously it gives you kind of, I guess, a bigger perspective … when he's going through some maybe tough health challenges,” Rose said. “For people who are still kind of making each day count and living in the moment and still getting joy out of the small things in life, whenever you have a meeting like that, it hits home. Certain things that are lessons to us all.”

    Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects an estimated one in nine people age 65 and over. Although he keeps his hidden-disabilities card close to the vest, Walker still remembers things. Ask him how old he is, and he’ll tell you he’s 77. “But I’ll be 78 coming up on the third of April,” he said.

    He became a Rose fan a quarter century ago, when the then-17-year-old holed out at the last to tie for fourth place at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Walker, an accountant from the east coast of England who got down to a 5 handicap, watched with great admiration, albeit from afar, as Rose collected 11 victories on the PGA TOUR, including the 2013 U.S. Open and 2018 FedExCup, and 11 on the DP World Tour.

    Their meeting Thursday was bucket-list stuff, and Walker fought back tears as he soaked up the moment on the grassy hill just outside the scoring area.

    “This is my dad’s last trip to America,” said Sophie Walker, a onetime Ladies European Tour player turned Sky Sports commentator – and Mike Walker’s daughter. “They’re going to stop traveling so far. This is their fourth PLAYERS Championship; they wanted to come to this to say goodbye to it.”

    To set up the meeting, Sophie spoke to her boss at Sky Sports, Jason Wessely, who contacted the PGA TOUR’s Huw ap Simon. “I just said, ‘Is there anything we can do to make him feel more comfortable out here?’” Sophie said. “We just thought we were going to get a couple of tickets, and Huw said, ‘Who’s your dad’s favorite player?’”

    Sophie, 38, reached her competitive peak with a runner-up finish at the 2010 Women’s Scottish Open. These days she is a presenter, TV analyst, and coach, and had helped some with the Rose Ladies Series, a women’s professional tour in the U.K. She knew Rose, and the meeting with him was arranged.

    It all went off better than anyone could have expected. Sophie and Rose hugged before Rose introduced himself to Mike and wife Ann. They talked about golf, life back home in England, and Florida.

    A former handicap secretary at his club, Mike would take Sophie out to the course, buy her a Coke, and send her out to the practice putting green. Now the roles are reversed, Sophie driving the golf cart as they played Mystic Dunes Golf Club outside Orlando earlier this week, making sure her dad doesn’t lose the card around his neck, and otherwise orchestrating every last detail of his final trip to America, his last PLAYERS.

    “I’ve always admired the way he played,” Mike said of Rose. “He’s a family lad, as well. He’s a class act.” Where would he put the photo of himself with his favorite player? “By the TV back home. Big.”

    Rose went to meet the media, and Sophie, Mike and Ann had the rest of the afternoon to do with what they pleased at TPC Sawgrass. THE PLAYERS was off to a smashing start.

    “Right,” Sophie said, looking at her father. “I think we better get you a beer.”

    Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.