A round with Jimmy Walker

2015 07 Pro Am Walker

There's nothing quite like almost shanking your first shot of the day, when your playing partner is world No.12 and five-time PGA Tour winner Jimmy Walker, to remind you of a brutal, irrefutable truth:

There is a reason, Michael, why you write about golf instead of play it for a living.

Even so, an invite to play in yesterday's Scottish Open Pro-Am at Gullane alongside Ryder Cup star Walker was too good to resist. How many people can say they've that been able to do that? I'd have been mad to pass it up.

I was invited to play by David Connor of VisitScotland, the staging partner of the championship, with our fourball completed by US golf writer Stephanie Wei.

Nervous? You bet I was. Never mind Jimmy, David is off three and Stephanie played on the women's golf team when she studied at Yale. By comparison, my greatest golfing achievement is winning nearest-the-pin at the RICOH Women's British Open media day in 2014. I've still got the bottle of champagne.


Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open - Previews

It didn't help that the last time I hit a ball before yesterday was just over two weeks ago when I played 100 holes in a day at Kingsbarns Golf links with my colleague Tom Lovering in aid of Yorkhill Children's Charity. By the end of that epic day, I had sworn off playing golf for at least a month, so it was with a combination of excitement and terror that I accepted David's invite.

Now, I've played in pro-ams before - they're an occupational hazard, to be honest - but nothing on the scale of yesterday.

As well as having Walker alongside us, we had Matt Kuchar up ahead and Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson following directly behind. Between them, those four guys have a combined world ranking of 59. For me, that's a good front nine.

We started on the par-3 third - the members' fourth - which is 169 yards from the back tees but only 140 for us mere mortals. A nice, easy 7-iron then. Only there was nothing either 'nice' or 'easy' about the shot I hit. Having stupidly elected not to go to the range or warm up before heading out into the course - the golf equivalent of hitting the pub on an empty stomach - I managed to squirt a game effort clean out of the heel, a fraction from the hosel and off towards the thick stuff on the right.


Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open - Previews

I was 20 yards off-line but, on the plus side, didn't hit anybody. I recovered well, though, and managed to hack out a pitch to the back of the pin. My efforts even elicited some polite applause from the 50 or so people around the green. Turns out the Scottish golfing public aren't only knowledgeable; they're a nice bunch, too.

After a slow start, I finally got into a rhythm by the time we got to our fourth hole, the sixth. A short-ish, downhill par-4, it is driveable for the big hitters if, as was the case, the wind is behind you. Being sneaky long off the tee - he's averaging 301 yards per drive on the PGA Tour this season - Jimmy fancied his chances of reaching, so we had to wait for the green to clear up ahead.

By the time it came my turn to hit, the group behind had caught up with us... which meant I had quite an audience for my shot. Luckily, I knocked a good 3-wood down there just short of the bunkers on the right. "Nice shot, man" came the American accent from behind me. It wasn't Jimmy, though. It was Rickie Fowler. (Memo to my future grandkids: prepare to hear that story rather a lot).


Gullane Wei

Jimmy and his caddie Andy were great company throughout the day. Hang around the golf scene long enough and you'll hear plenty of stories of players who don't treat their pro-am partners especially well. One particular tale involves a multiple major winner from the UK who, a number of years ago, allegedly once greeted his teammates with the line: "Hi, I'm *name withheld*. I don't like to talk and I don't look for balls. Have a good day." To think he got knighted...

Jimmy, though, was the model playing partner. Friendly, chatty and very, very funny - he does a superb Scottish accent - it was a pleasure to spend some time in his company and a privilege to watch his game up close. You can't help but be struck dumb by his effortless, smooth swing. It's all tempo and timing. And the noise when he hits it - put it this way, it's not a sound I'm accustomed to hearing on the golf course. It's the best bits of a crack and a snap combined. Just brilliant.

He told me that he's enjoying Scotland but hasn't really tried any of the local 'delicacies'. No haggis, no black pudding, not even a can of Irn-Bru. "It's funny, people here always say, 'You gotta try our food, it's amazing'," he laughed as we walked up the 11th. "But when I ask where's good to go, they say 'There's this great Thai place' or 'Check out this Indian restaurant'." He also bought into the spirit of the organisers' 'Tartan Wednesday' by wearing a pair of plaid slacks. "I think it's the Black Watch tartan," he revealed. I decided not to tell him that there are at least four or five different Walker tartans that he could have taken his pick from instead.


Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open - Previews

We talked, too, about other sports - he's a big San Antonio Spurs fan - and about his season so far. He's currently second on the FedEx Cup standings, second only to two-time major champ Jordan Spieth, and it was interesting listening to him list the places he has played since January: Riviera (his favourite course on tour), Sawgrass, Doral, Augusta, Colonial, Chambers Bay, Torrey Pines. The names just casually rolled off the tongue, just another reminder of how cool a living these guys make.

Almost 7,000 people turned out to watch the pro-am and it felt like the vast majority of them were concentrated around the superb par-3 12th (below). I flushed a 7-iron to the back left of the green, about 20 feet from the flag which, again, elicited some polite applause from the spectators. That's something I could definitely good used to. In fact, I plan on suggesting to the boss that we employ a small band of folk to come and stand around our desks to give us a courtesy cheer every time we file a piece of copy...


12th Wei

I managed to save my best for last, however, holing a 50-foot putt on the second, our 18th. That's not an exaggeration for the sake of posterity, either. It was Jimmy who called it at 50 feet so that's good enough for me. It was a nice way to finish, particularly given the hosel-rocket I'd attempted with my first shot of the day.

Although we didn't trouble the prize board, I think we all have a good account of ourselves. Jimmy must have been four or five-under, whilst Stephanie, David and I all played pretty well.

But don't get me wrong. I won't be giving up the day job just yet.

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