Jimmy Walker: “I couldn’t play, I couldn’t practice. Everything fell apart”

2016 US PGA champion Jimmy Walker reveals all about his battle with Lyme disease, losing his PGA Tour card, and a possible career resurgence thanks to LIV Golf.

It started in late 2016 at the World Cup in Australia. I got down there and I felt like I’d picked up a bug.

It went away but then it came back again. I kept going through these cycles. One week feeling good, the next feeling bad. Tired all the time. I started to realize something was wrong. I went on a hunting trip in the fall of 2016. There’s a good chance that’s where I picked it up.

I felt relief once I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. When you figure out what’s wrong, you can be treated. I never saw a tick or a bite. I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. It was a mystery.

Jimmy Walker was diagnosed with Lyme Disease soon after winning the 2016 US PGA Championship.

It took a toll on me physically and mentally. It felt like I had to get my brain rewired. It destroyed my game. I struggled with chipping and got the yips for a while. Chipping was a main part of my game. When that went, it was virtually impossible for me to perform. It sapped so much energy. I couldn’t practice like I used to. It was a storm of events. Then the confidence goes and I got depressed. Everything fell apart.

The impact on family life was the hardest part. My kids would say, “Play with me, Dad.” I literally didn’t have the energy to do so. I remember I would fall asleep at the end of their bed every night as I was reading them stories. That’s how exhausted I’d be and there wasn’t really anything I could do.

It took the best part of two and a half years to see improvement. I’m feeling great now. I’m looking after myself, with the help of my wife, but still taking it slowly. To play four rounds of golf is really exhausting, but it’s worth it when it makes you happy.

Jimmy Walker with past US PGA Champions.

I walked away from golf last year. I didn’t tell anybody or do a press conference, but I was done. I was in the process of taking a major medical with the PGA Tour. I was looking forward to not doing a damn thing. Maybe doing TV. My wife even took on a full-time job in interior design.

My old caddie then said, “I’m hearing the PGA Tour might be getting the LIV guys off the career money exemption list.” I was looking at it and thinking, I’m going to be real close to top 50. It turned out to be true. I feel blessed. It’s a huge opportunity. I want to take advantage of it. 

I believe I can win big again. I’ve done it before. I feel the confidence swelling. I went back to my youth and thought about what all my old coaches taught me about golf, and it’s working. They are the best teachers in the world. I’m driving a lot better and the putter is starting to feel good. And I’m hitting further than I ever have before. 

It’s still really taxing to play. To play well takes everything out of me. But I never knew if I would even get back to where I am now. I’m just really enjoying it. Rooming with my new caddie has been brilliant, too. I’m having fun.

It’d just be amazing to win again, after all I’ve been through. I feel content because I’ve got that PGA exemption in the back pocket, and I remind myself that many of the top players don’t have the Major win that I have. But I’d love to give you that interview if I won again. That would be great. I’m just taking it one day at a time.

Jimmy Walker is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour. He was speaking to Jack Martin

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