• SI.com's Ryan Asselta caught up with Jimmy Walker, who opened up about his battle with Lyme disease and so much more.
By Ryan Asselta
April 03, 2019

From 2014-2016, Jimmy Walker was one of the best players on the PGA Tour. He racked up multiple wins, a major title at the 2016 PGA Championship and was statistically one of the most consistent ball strikers in the game.

This week’s Valero Texas Open is a home game for one of the most genuine guys on the PGA Tour, though the last few months have admittedly been rough for Walker.

SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently caught up with Jimmy as the 40-year-old continues his road to recovery from Lyme disease. The 40-year-old Texan is starting to come out of the physical fog caused by it and says his game is beginning to round into form, just in time for the Masters.

Ryan Asselta: This week is a home game for you at the Valero Texas Open.

I know it's a place and an event that's very near and dear to you. Even though the Valero doesn't seem get the attention that some of the bigger tournaments receive, how important are events like this one to the overall health of the PGA tour?

Jimmy Walker: Well, it’s my hometown, and I know they do really good work on the charity side, and they have been a good partner for the Tour. They've stuck with them after getting kind of tossed around in the schedule quite a bit over the last 10 years. I think I’d say they finally got a date that they want, being the week before the Masters.

For players it’s a good week to prepare, even though the golf course doesn’t look anything like Augusta National. It’s a hard golf course. I think it will prep you in that you need to hit some good shots and make some putts and it's always challenging. Scores always seem to be a little high when we get the wind whipping in different directions.

RA: You’re a Texan tried and true. You played at Baylor, you live outside of San Antonio.  You’ve also turned into a Texas grill master. You post some great pictures on Instagram and Twitter from the barbeque. What are Jimmy Walker’s keys to grilling meats?

JW: As I've gotten older, we're spending more time outside cooking and it’s always been something that I've always been interested in. I spend a lot of time having friends over and cooking outside on the Traeger grill.

I'm not a big fan of putting too much rub and stuff on the meat. I like to taste the flavor of the meat, so just some salt and pepper.  And you have to learn how to cook it just the right way. Each piece of meat needs a little something different and that's what's fun about it. Brisket is my favorite cut to cook.

It’s funny, I get more response on social media and Instagram from what I do on the grill than what I do on the golf course. I think that's something that everybody has in common, especially as Americans, you know? The outdoor barbecue and everybody likes good food and I think that that's just something that is very relatable. I hope that's what people see in it.

RA: On the golf course, the last couple of years have been tough. It's been a battle for you coming back after being diagnosed with Lyme disease. What have you learned about yourself during the challenging times?

JW: I've had ups and downs in my career, but this has definitely been tough, especially the last few months. I just haven’t putted very well…what can I attribute that to? I'm not really sure, but I just know that being sick has been rough and you don't really know exactly what it's done to you. I'm working as hard as I ever have and grinding away and I'm just trying to enjoy my job. I've got an amazing job and take it for granted a little bit sometimes. So I'm just trying to just enjoy it again.

RA: You’ve described Lyme disease as feeling like you have the flu and that you just don’t have the energy to go to the course, to practice. How bad were the low times for you?

JW: It’s hard. You have a bad day and everybody gets to see it. I mean, you have to have thick skin, which I do and it's fine, but I mean, I just haven't really enjoyed playing. It's just been tough and I hadn't enjoyed playing for a while, so I'm just trying to get my mojo back and get a positive spin on it.

I was at Augusta the last couple of days and playing and practicing there and getting ready for the Masters, cause it’s something I think I can win and when you’re at Augusta, it's the best job in the world. It can’t get any better than this. I just need to relax and enjoy it and everything's going to be just fine.

RA: While you were recovering, your wife Erin was also diagnosed with Lyme disease. If there were one thing you could stress to people who spend time outdoors and spend time on the golf course, about the disease, what would it be?

JW: It's real. It's out there and people need to be aware of it. Check yourself, especially if you spend a lot of time in the weeds, hitting a lot of shots. I never saw the tick, so you’ve gotta be really careful. They're everywhere. They're all over the country, all over the world. It’s one of the biggest growing diseases there is and there’s not a lot of money put into it. My wife's on the board of the global Lyme alliance and she's become a big advocate for them.

RA: From a golf perspective, how is your game right now?

JW: I see a few things happening.  I’ve made a few putts and my chipping is starting to come back. I think the trouble there is Lyme disease related honestly. I just need some confidence. My confidence took a hit, but I saw some really good stuff the last few weeks and have had some really good ball striking. So I’ve seen some results from the stuff I’ve been working on which is like a little carrot dangling. You know you’re trending in the right way.

RA: When you played the way you did during the 2014, 15’, 16’ seasons when you won multiple events and the PGA at Baltusrol, is the ultimate goal to get back to that level of play?

JW: I'd love to get back to playing like I did 14’ and 15’. Statistically, 2014 was probably my best year on tour. Most top 10s. I was in the in the top 20 of damn near every category on tour. That's kind of what I sit back and look at and try to remember the things that I was doing when I was playing that well.

I know I'm older than I was then, but I don't feel any older. I don't have any physical limitations from the Lyme. So I'm still strong and still feel good and am definitely enjoying life a lot more.  I don't see any reason I can't get back to that level of earlier in my career.

RA: Do you see things differently now or have things in a new perspective because of what you’ve gone through?

JW: I think you do a little bit. It’s just, I haven't been having a ton of fun on the golf course, and when I get off the course, I'm great. I’m great around the house and with the kids and love being home with them.

It's been hard to leave home and it's not that I'm not working at home and practicing, but it's been tough to leave the kids. They’re at a really cool age now and I'm having a blast with them.

RA: I’m curious to get your take on fan behavior on the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy recently said that fans are crossing the line when it comes to heckling players and that only a handful of the top ranked players in the world have to deal with it, while the rest of the players can just go about their business.

What’s your take on what Rory said?

JW: I think that sounds like a real high-class problem to say something like that. I think it's pretty sad. It’s golf and the people that play golf know there's a code. It's more of a gentleman's game and you would hope that the fans would respect that. We all see it though. For him to say only the top players have to deal with it and it's such a burden….Really? Get over it. You’re a great player. You’re making a ton of money off the golf course. Deal with it!

I get a little of what Rory is saying. It’s not a rowdy sport and there’s no physical violence. It’s about clapping and cheering for good play and not booing, so I understand it a little, but for him to say it like that, I just don’t agree with him.

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