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Notebook: Lessons learned in a Champions Tour Pro-Am
02 Oct 2019
by AmateurGolf.com Staff

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Kyle Rector of AmateurGolf.com
Kyle Rector of AmateurGolf.com

Show up to a Champions Tour Pro-Am, and the equipment slung over a caddie’s shoulder isn’t always indicative of his player’s status in the game, at least in terms of whether he is an amateur or a professional.

Where journeyman Champions Tour player Mark Walker is concerned, you can add time spent over the ball (little), time spent warming up (none) and general level of enthusiasm (high) to that list.

Walker, 51, has successfully Monday qualified into 10 Champions Tour events over the past two years, making the cut in eight of them. To get into this weekend’s Pure Insurance Championship, Walker had to advance from a 7-for-2 playoff at the Monday qualifier at Bayonet Black Horse, just down the road from Pebble Beach, site of the tournament proper.

The Pure Insurance Championship is the third consecutive Champions Tour event for which Walker has qualified, and even though he had rounds of 76-73 to miss the cut, it was another step in a journey that is starting to turn heads.

Walker appeared Kyle Rector’s on radar the day before the Pure Insurance Championship, at the Legends and Leaders Pro-Am. Despite the fact that Walker was toting a nondescript carry bag, which contained a literal mixed bag of equipment, Rector quickly realized that this would be his pro for the day. Rector is the digital director for AmateurGolf.com, the man behind the camera and the brains behind our company’s social media.

“The mental fortitude of someone like that,” Rector said of his takeaway from a day spent with Walker at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. “This guy, nothing shakes him. He’s very calm, he’s almost numb on the golf course.”

Walker didn’t start playing golf until he was in high school in Burleson, Texas. He has worked as a bartender and lawn-maintenance worker in addition to making 65 Korn Ferry Tour starts from 2000-2015. His best season, performance-wise, was in 2003, when he made eight cuts in 22 events, which included three top-25 finishes. That was the year he shot 29 on the front nine during the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, which he names in his player bio as his biggest thrill in golf.

In 2015, Walker finished in the top 10 at the Nova Scotia Open, his best-ever finish. He cashed a check for $21,043 that week, which amounts for a good percentage of his career $108,461 on the developmental tour.

Large parts of Walker’s story don’t necessarily align with the players normally chronicled on these web pages. He played no amateur golf to speak of, instead testing his game in mini-tour events to gauge his talent level.

Then again, his game does align, at least in places.

There are a lot of things you notice playing with the top echelon of players, even at the amateur level. Rector, a semifinalist at this summer’s SCGA Match Play who bowed out of the tournament at the hands of Tim Hogarth, the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, has been in those trenches.

“These guys get the ball started on the right line every time, it keeps them out of trouble, and it’s just the putting,” he said. “The putting is just incredible. You can tell that’s something in their game they’re always working on.

“Talking about Tim Hogarth, that’s why he can continually win a match-play event because he just gets himself on the green and knows how to putt. In Match play, that’s how you do it. Mark Walker for instance, he’s out there with the long putter.”

It took three holes for Walker to get used to Monterey Peninsula’s greens, but once he did, the birdies flowed. Here’s hoping his Champions Tour career follows the same pattern.

Check out the video below for Rector’s full download of his day alongside Walker.

• • •

BIG CHANGES COMING FOR NCAA ATHLETES: Where talent is concerned, the line is blurry between high-level amateurs and professionals. Where money is concerned, the line is about to dissolve completely, at least in California.

Beginning in 2023, a new law passed in California this week will allow college athletes to use their likeness for monetary gain. This, of course, goes against the NCAA’s long-held standards that student-athletes cannot profit from their athletic ability.

Yet to be determined is how California schools will cope. Where golf is concerned, the big question is how the new law will affect USGA rules on amateur status.

• • •

ALL IN A WEEKEND’S WORK FOR SHEPHERD: Erica Shepherd competed in her fifth and last U.S. Girls’ Junior in July. The two-time USGA championship (who won the 2017 Girls’ Junior) has since begun her freshman year at Duke.

In the span of those transitions – junior golf ending and college beginning – Shepherd, 18, also made two cuts on the LPGA tour. Most recently, Shepherd played the weekend at this past week’s LPGA Indy Women in Tech near her Greenwood, Ind., hometown.

This marked the third straight year Shepherd had made the cut in the Indianapolis-hosted LPGA event and she turned in a career-best tied for 39th finish with rounds of 70-74-70-70 for a 4-under 284.

"The past two years, I've kind of blown up the last day, so just to stay steady and try to go as low as I could today," Shepherd told The Daily Journal. "It worked out for me today. It's sad that this is the last year for it, but it was a good three years."

Next year’s event will move to South Florida.

Shepherd also made the cut at the Marathon LPGA Classic in Ohio in July. That was right before her Girls’ Junior finale.

Life moves fast for Shepherd, and this time, the Indy Women in Tech start fell on the eve of the Windy City Collegiate, Duke’s second start of the fall season. Shepherd was due to play 36 holes at Glen View Club in Chicago the following day, and another 18 holes the day after that.

Shepherd finished T-35 at the event while Duke took fifth.


• • •

TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH

Timuquana Cup, Timuquana CC, Jacksonville, Fla., Oct. 4-6
The skinny: This annual invitational field consists of 40 of the top mid-amateur players in the country, along with 20 of the top seniors and 18 more super seniors. Timuquana is a championship-caliber venue, having most recently hosted the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball this spring. Last year, Joe Deraney, U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up, won the Timuquana Cup directly after winning the Carlton Woods Invitational in Texas. It was one of the most notable back-to-back performances of the year.

• • •

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: On hallowed golf ground

The annual Crump Cup took place at Pine Valley Golf Club this week, and remains perhaps the most exclusive amateur event in the game. Scott Harvey on teeing it up there:

“We’re very fortunate to be able to come here, and there is the respect that everyone has for a venue like this and for each other. This tournament is full of not just good players but they’re all good people. And the matches are played in such a way where everyone wants to win, but it’s a friendly atmosphere.

“This is similar to Augusta. You’re walking on hallowed ground.”

Get the full Crump Cup recap here

• • •

TWEET OF THE WEEK: Cross-handed grip for the win

Oklahoma sophomore Patrick Welch helped his team to the Nike Golf Collegiate win this week. Click here to read more



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