Brett Walker reached back for the confidence he has felt when he’s playing well to finish in a tie for eighth at last month’s PGA Professional Championship and earn a trip to his first career major, this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C.
For Walker, an assistant pro at Sunnybrook Golf Club in Plymouth Meeting, it’s the sense of what he calls “calm capability” that allows him to handle the stressful situations in competition, something that he’d like to repeat on the challenging Ocean Course at Kiawah beginning Thursday.
“I feel that my game sets up well for this venue,” Walker said late Tuesday in a telephone interview after completing his practice round. “I think I can compete, and I think I can score well out here. So I’m just trying to get confident and comfortable with the course and the different shots and the lines that I have to take, just working on all facets of my game, making sure that’s all feeling good.
“I want to go out there and try to have the same confident feelings that I have when I do play well at tournaments. I’m trying to recreate that type of stuff in my practices and trying to get that sense of calm capability, of confidence, that has gotten me to this point, trying to recreate that for this week.”
Walker, 29, is part of the “Team of 20,” the number of PGA of America club professionals who will compete in the championship, and one of 10 first-time participants.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Ukiah, Calif., Walker was active in sports as a youth with a dream of playingat the highest level, especially in basketball, in which he was a 1,000-point career scorer at Ukiah High School. But he gravitated toward golf, a sport he took up at 12, and walked on to the golf team at New Mexico State.
Since graduating in 2015, Walker has adopted a seasonal approach as a golf professional, “working at a golf club in the wintertime in Florida and then a golf club up north somewhere – Chicago, New York or Philadelphia,” he said. He is in his second season at Sunnybrook.
Walker stopped off at Kiawah Island last week on his drive from Florida to the Philadelphia area and played 45 holes. He returned Saturday and played 18-hole practice rounds Sunday and Monday, nine holes Tuesday, and was planning on at least nine holes Wednesday. His practice partners have included Ryan Palmer, Scottie Scheffler, and Lanto Griffin.
He said the extra time on the course has helped him deal with the different wind conditions on the Ocean Course, which may be stretched out as long as 7,876 yards for the PGA.
“I think the course is going to play tough at times,” he said. “It will yield some birdies for sure. It will yield a lot of birdies on the downwind holes, and you can still make birdies on the into-the-wind holes. It’s about making a confident decision on the wind and then trusting your stroke and your swing to put yourself in the right position to give you some quality looks at some birdies.”
Walker, who tees off for his opening round Thursday at 9:06 a.m., will have quite a rooting section: his parents, brother, girlfriend and her parents, and Sunnybrook first assistant pro Brad Sanders. He said his plan for the championship is to “100%, enjoy the process, enjoy my time here.”
“It’s awesome to be a part of this,” he said. “I just want to go out there and have some fun and play to the best of my ability and really enjoy being out there with the best players in the world. Being in that same context is an honor, and I’m real excited to be in that same context.”