Offseason changes help Walker to fast start in 2017
January 05, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Improving his driving accuracy was a top priority for Jimmy Walker during the offseason. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
KAPALUA, Hawaii – Notes and observations from Thursday’s opening round of the SBS Tournament of Champions, where Jimmy Walker continued his love affair with Hawaii to lead by two shots. For more from Kapalua check out the Daily Wrap-up.
JIMMY’S MINI DRIVER
Jimmy Walker sat down with PGA TOUR stats guru Mark Broadie at the end of 2016 and asked where he could improve on his major winning season.
The most obvious answers were driving accuracy and putting.
And as such the reigning PGA Champion decided to take some drastic action with the longest club in his bag … by cutting it down to 42 inches.
With the shorter stick Walker hit 11 of 15 fairways, or 73.3 percent, Thursday on the way to his leading 8-under 65.
Granted Kapalua’s Plantation course has wide fairways but the Texas resident has hit just 52 percent or less of his fairways over the last five seasons.I just feel like I've got more control. I feel like the golf swing is better at that length for me ...
He found 48 percent last year to rank 183rd on TOUR and in his two events of the new season prior to Maui he ranked 279th at just 42.86 percent.
“Last year I didn't drive it as well as I would have liked to have,” Walker said.
“So I just kind of got to thinking. It was just kind of an experiment. I decided to cut one down and threw some tape on it liked it. It looks weird and sometimes it feels a little weird on the golf course, but I've been playing with it for about three weeks at home.
“I've since had Titleist make me a new one at that length, and I've been enjoying hitting it.”
Walker admitted he has lost a little speed on the ball but countered that the spins rates remained great. He has given up between 5-20 yards of distance but gained more accuracy.
“I just feel like I've got more control. I feel like the golf swing is better at that length for me, and that's where I've always struggled, the longer the club got,” Walker said.
“So that's the thinking. More fairways is what I'm looking for.”
As far as his putting Walker has simplified the issue.
“I think it all boils down to speed. I wasn't getting the ball to the hole enough,” Walker said after leading the field in strokes gained: putting in the opening round. “So that's kind of easy to fix. You just hit it harder. I know I'm a good putter. I just get more aggressive.
“I'm not saying it's a fix, but look at that and say, okay, I think just from where I was missing putts I don't normally miss, my speed was off. So I’m working on that.”
Walker will now attempt to go one better than his runner-up finish at the 2015 SBS Tournament of Champions, hoping to add a third victory in Hawaii after his 2014 and 2015 Sony Open triumphs.
CALL OF THE DAY
Free play-by-play coverage of the second round streams from 4-10 p.m. ET Friday on PGATOUR.COM.
Ryan Moore rocketed out of the blocks on the Plantation course, jumping to 4 under through just five holes as he put together a tidy 6-under 67 to sit tied for second.
The most interesting part was he failed to make a birdie until the ninth.
A hole-out eagle from 117 yards on the par-4 3rd hole was followed by a beautiful approach to 13 feet on the par-5 5th for another eagle, setting up his bogey-free day and leaving him just two behind leader Jimmy Walker.
“I don't think I've ever been 4 under through five holes or whatever and not make a birdie,” Moore laughed.
“It was nice to hole out on 3, and then hit a great shot there into the par-5 and was able to knock that putt in. Yeah, nice way to start the year.”
The Ryder Cup hero, who went within a whisker of winning the TOUR Championship in a playoff with FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy, says he’s as fit as he’s ever been heading into the new year.
“I started doing some great work with a new trainer at the end of the season last year, and that really got me going,” Moore added.
“Got me feeling better. Just little things that were bothering me here and there, and body is feeling better. And having the whole offseason to kind of prepare and get ready for this year, I'm really excited about what I can do out here.”
Jim Herman spent his honeymoon in 2005 cruising around the Hawaiian Islands which included a stop in Maui and a round of golf at the Plantation Course where he fired something “right around par.”
Herman was just an assistant pro in Port St. Lucie at the time, but on Thursday the Shell Houston Open winner posted a 6-under 67 to sit just two shots off the lead and in a tie for second, creating more fond memories at the venue.
“No way I wasn't coming to play the golf course. We got off, rented a car and came over,” Herman recalled of his first look at Kapalua.
“We were first off in the morning and we had a great time. Used rental clubs and just playing with three other gentlemen and my wife rode along with us. We just had a great time. So good memories. I see the pictures on our computer all the time.”
The 39-year-old Herman is a posterchild for never giving up on your golf dreams, battling his way through mini tours and the Web.com Tour for years before finding his place on the main TOUR.
He recalled times in 2001 and 2002 where his bank balance was in the negative, a far cry last season where he claimed $2,091,274.
“Did I ever think I would be here at that time, 2005? This is a long way from there, 12 years,” Herman said.
“I'd like to say that I always believed it but it's a pretty long way from being assistant pro to a tournament winner on the PGA TOUR.
“Obviously, it's attainable and I hope everyone that's out there grinding and trying knows that they can do it; if I did it, anybody can.”
Rookies rocking, Walker in the lead & a set of rentals
World No. 1 Jason Day came through his first round since taking an extended break from a back injury unscathed, shooting a 4-under 69 to be five shots adrift.
Day was last seen on TOUR at the TOUR Championship in September where he was an early WD, a week after also pulling out of the BMW Championship.
The Australian admitted to having some nerves on the first tee but was relatively happy with his return.
“It was actually all right,” he said. “Just didn't putt that great. I had two 3-putts, and that was pretty much it.
“I'd like to obviously tighten it up over the next few days with regards to proximity, but after having three months, I think 3 under is pretty good.”
Rookie Cody Gribble showed nice fortitude to bounce back from a rough start in his SBS Tournament of Champions debut.
Sitting 2 over through three holes Gribble could have easily started thinking of a snorkeling date post-round on the low-scoring layout but fought back with five birdies in six holes to close the front nine.
The Sanderson Farms Championship winner finished with a 4-under 69 to be tied seventh after the opening round.
“You're reeling, no doubt, 2 over after three,” he said. “I pull a wedge. Just can't do that. Just dumb mistakes.
“And then I kind of kept it together. Made a couple putts. It's a good start. Looking forward to tomorrow.
“I still think that I've got some immaturities, but I'm learning and I'm learning fast. Just trying to keep up.”