Six-time PGA Tour winner Jimmy Walker talks about his time playing at the Warrior Open and his passion photographing the night sky.
Six-time PGA Tour winner Jimmy Walker gave back to our nation’s veterans last year by playing in the Bush Institute’s Warrior Open at the AT&T Byron Nelson, presented by AT&T. We reminisce about his time playing with our warriors, his passion photographing the night sky, and some of his favorite barbecue.
Read the episode transcript
00:01 Andrew Kaufmann: Six time PGA tour winner Jimmy Walker is, obviously, passionate about golf, and he’s seen first hand through the Bush Institute Warrior Open, how golf can a big part of a healing process for veterans.
00:12 Jimmy Walker: To be able to come out and hang out with them and play golf with them and show them a good time is the least we could do.
00:21 AK: Jimmy took time out from preparing for the AT&T Byron Nelson on a windy day at the course to chat with us about golf, steak, and photographing the stars of the sky. I’m Andrew Kaufman and this is the Strategerist presented by the George W Bush Institute.
00:39 AK: What happens when you cross the 43rd President, late night sketch comedy, and compelling conversation? The Strategerist, a podcast born from the words strategery, which was coined by SNL and embraced by the George W Bush administration. We highlight the American spirit of leadership and compassion through thought provoking conversations, and we’re reminded that the most effective leaders are the ones who laugh.
01:06 AK: We’re recording again at the Trinity Forest Golf Club, the site of the AT&T Byron Nelson, and we’re joined by six-time winner on the PGA Tour, Jimmy Walker, who also happens to be the leading astro-imagery expert on the PGA Tour. Jimmy, thanks so much for doing this.
01:23 JW: You’re welcome. That is true, by the way. 100% true.
01:26 JW: We’ll talk about that a little more, don’t worry. And our co-host today is Brittany Bane, the communications Director for the Bush Institute in the Military Service Initiative, in particular, one of our experts on the Warrior Open. Britney, thank you for spending some time.
01:38 Brittney Bain: Thanks for inviting me.
01:39 AK: So Jimmy, last year in 2018, you played in the Warrior Open at the Bush Institute, which is a part of the AT&T Byron Nelson, we partnered with them. Can you tell us about that experience in playing with veterans and what that was like for you?
01:53 JW: It was cool, it was a great day. I remember it was a beautiful day, it was hot, but everybody was out, and they had friends and family, and it was just a show support for what a lot of these guys have done to keep our country safe and to keep us being able to live the lives that we live and come out and play the game of golf that we love, and everybody enjoys following. And to be able to come out and hang out with them and play off with him and show ’em a good time, it’s the least we could do.
02:25 BB: And so you played with CJ Geeker and Chris Turner, and Chris Turner’s a guy who’s played twice now, 2015 and 2018. And he’s told us that, specifically, the Warrior Open is really what helped him decide to share his story and get the help that he needed for his Post-Traumatic Stress. Did you guys talk about that on the course about dealing with what was going on in his head?
02:45 JW: We did a little bit. I know that President Bush has guys get up and speak in front of the room, and I think for a lot of them sometimes this is probably the first time that may have ever happened. And I think… I remember Chris Turner said that was… When he got up and did that, that was kind of his release, and that’s what helped really get him over the edge of what he was going through and what he was feeling. So I heard multiple stories from guys like that, that that was a very big moment for them because it’s just not something that they’ve had really ever done. Everything’s kinda in the dark until you actually openly talk about it. When you keep it all bottled up, that’s where it gets tuff.
03:33 AK: Yeah, and those guys are so, so uniquely tied to the game of golf because it’s been a part of their recovery, which is a remarkable thing to get to see.
03:45 JW: Yeah. Golf is just, it’s an amazing game is a game of companionship and morals, and just getting outside and being with friends. And I can’t think of anything better to go do. People of all different skill levels can do it, and it’s a good way to bring people together and get people talking because there’s a lot of time in between golf shots and you’re out walking together, and so you can really make it really productive, I think.
04:15 BB: Yeah, and then the Warrior Open is not the only tournament that you’ve done to help our vets. You also did something to benefit Fisher House recently too, right?
04:23 JW: I did. We put on a golf tournament down in San Antonio. San Antonio, that’s where I live, it’s a big military town, it’s a big… The BAMC and the Fisher House were all there, and we’ve got a lot of bases. So it’s just kind of something that you just try to give back a little bit. My time is always… I’ve got two kids now, and it’s tough spreading yourself thin here and there, and so I try to get just behind a couple of things and that one is very cool. Being able to put those people up while they’re loved has been overseas, or has been hurt doing something in Armed Forces, is there and needs a lot of help. And to be able to put families up at no cost and be with them while they’re recovering, I think is pretty cool.
05:11 BB: Yeah, definitely.
05:11 AK: Fisher House has a great mission and they’ve partnered with us on a lot of our work as well before and they’ve been wonderful, wonderful people.
05:19 JW: Yeah.
05:20 AK: Was there a moment in your life that really tied you closely to veterans? Was there a specific catalyst to this passion?
05:29 JW: I don’t know, my dad, when we moved down to Texas, he took a job as a… He was a food broker, and he stocked all the bases around Texas, South Texas. So I ended up playing a lot of golf. I played a lot of golf on the military courses, and got to meet a lot of people that were active duty and retired people and so I’ve been around it a long time now. So that’s kind of the basis of it, I guess, I’ve just known a lot of people that have gone through it.
06:00 AK: One of the unique things about the Warrior Open is that you have to play golf with the 43 third president chirping at you as you’re trying to line up your shots. Was that… Did he say anything in particular to you to mess with your game?
06:11 JW: No, he and I are on a pretty good… We’re on a pretty good rapport. He always calls me “Cuz” when he sees me, the Walker connection, but…
06:19 AK: Ahh that’s right, “Cuz,” it took me second.
06:22 JW: He always calls me, “Cuz” every time he sees me. “So long ‘Cuz,” but he was pretty… He was great with all the players. He had a quip for everybody, as you guys all know what he does and it’s fun to get to see him out there, and just in a normal setting.
06:40 AK: Yeah, it’s a unique… They have a unique relationship and getting to see that away from all the cameras sometimes is…
06:44 JW: Totally.
06:45 AK: It’s a unique…
06:47 JW: I’ve hung out with in my hand full of times now and I can’t say enough about the guy, just a class act 100% all the way.
06:55 AK: He always loves having all the pros out here just ’cause he recognizes how important golf is and just getting off the couch and being with your friends and being with other guys that have been through the same experience. He recognized the importance of that and is so grateful for the time that you guys spend with them, sharing that love of this game.
07:11 JW: I agree.
07:12 BB: Yeah, the vets love it. And they still talk about the pros they play with.
07:15 JW: That’s good.
07:15 BB: It means a lot to them.
07:18 AK: So on another serious topic, one of your other big passions is probably not when you thought it was gonna be when you were younger, but it’s Lyme disease. And really has… How did that… It’s something you were diagnosed with pretty recently, within the past four years or so, right?
07:33 JW: Yeah, last couple of years for sure.
07:35 AK: And how did that affect your life? And you almost had to kind of like a warrior, had to recover and get back to doing what you do best after an incident.
07:44 JW: Yeah, it took its toll physically and mentally, and probably still struggle a little bit of the after effects, for sure. But I feel a lot better than I have in a long time, and I progressively just getting better and better and more and more comfortable, and it’s a new me now, and life’s kinda… It’s a new normal. It’s nothing drastic or anything but there’s just been a little bit of taking a little bit to get used to. So, the worst part was not being able to play with your kids, when you were at home and just had no physical energy to do anything honestly. It was all I could do to go out here and work and play golf. And I think I struggled… My golf game struggled because I’m a guy that’s always been a little bit… I needed to… I like to practice and practice helps me and it was just something I couldn’t do for the better part of two years, and I think it started showing. And now that I’m back at it, it’s just a matter of piecing all the pieces back together and shooting good scores. So, we’re close.
08:46 AK: Good. Yeah, “A new normal” is a phrase we hear a lot, is people just adjust to life changes and the golf is a great way to recover from those changes. One of the… Also interesting with your Lyme Disease story though, is that your wife was also diagnosed with it. How do ya’ll lean on each other as two folks with the disease that I guess, I don’t know how rare it is, but you don’t meet that many people that have it.
09:10 JW: It’s not that rare, it’s 300,000 cases a year that go diagnosed, and the undiagnosed, it might be double that honestly. So it’s a big deal and early detection is key. I’ve lived with it for about a year before she found out that she had it, and she was the only one that didn’t get tested, she made the kids get tested. And and she didn’t do it and I said, “You go get tested” ’cause she was starting to get these weird headaches and migraines, and we were getting all these tests done and couldn’t find anything wrong. And I’m like, “You gotta go get tested,” and sure enough, boom, she had it. And so leaning on each other, I think, for a while there, she wondered what was wrong with me, she didn’t really know, and she didn’t understand. And then when she finally… When she started to feel bad and she could really start to comprehend what… A lot of the things that I was going through, our symptoms were different, but she understood. And I understand what she was doing and what was happening to her. So it’s not fun, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.
10:15 AK: How long did you go before you got a diagnosis? Like how long were you feeling the effects?
10:19 JW: It’s hard to say because I don’t… I never saw a tick bite or anything like that, so I don’t know. I just know that it was probably about six months of really feeling bad before I got something figured out, before I got that kind of diagnosis and started down the process of treatment and I was on treatment for the better part of a year and a half.
10:40 AK: And it mostly sapped your energy? Is that…
10:43 JW: Just life draining.
10:44 AK: Yeah, it’s a tough…
10:45 JW: Just sucks the life out of you. It’s horrible. And it’s different for everybody, but for me, that’s what it was. I didn’t want to take a nap, but I just had the life sucked out of me, and that’s as good as I can say it. If I was a writer, maybe I’d have something better for you.
11:00 AK: Well, the stars speak to you. As an astro-imagist, I think what I really wanted to ask you more than anything else coming in is, what do you think when you heard they’d taken a picture of a black hole, recently?
11:10 JW: Well, I heard that, and some caddies told me about that and I said, “That sounds interesting”. ‘Cause to see a black hole, you’d have to look at the center of a galaxy or some other far, far away place. I’m like, “I don’t think we can see that,” but somehow they figured it out with all the instruments and all the telescopes across the world, and to physically, actually be able to see it, it’s really cool for it to be theory and to be proven, and then all of a sudden, for a long time and then all of a sudden be able to like see something visually, it just puts it into perspective for people in the masses and I think it’s cool for the… It’s great for funding and just sparks science which I thinks cool.
11:51 AK: How did you get into that? As you don’t… I guess, as a golf or you’re spending a lot of time looking up the… No, you play golf during the day. How did you get into that?
12:00 JW: Yeah, just I had a telescope for the backyard that my wife got me for Christmas, and then I learned how to hook my DSLR camera up to it. And then started taking it out of town, where it was darker and got prettier pictures, and then I learned that you could do it remotely from really nice spots across the country. And so it just kept growing and growing and growing and my love for it, and the artistry of it. And now, it’s currently in Chile.
12:28 AK: Interesting.
12:29 JW: Yeah, we just moved it down, there.
12:31 BB: Cool. So there’s nothing like the stars in the Texas sky.
12:34 JW: There’s some good spots.
12:36 BB: And I understand you’re a fellow Baylor Bear, Sic ’em.
12:38 JW: I am.
12:39 BB: And you and your wife, you live in the hill country. So what is it about Texas that keeps you guys here?
12:46 JW: I think when we got married and she was gonna come move down here, I think she was a little homesick from Utah and Utah is an amazing place. We now have a spot up there as well, but there’s nothing like I think the Texas Hill Country: So laid back and as Texans, we all know how we treat each other and the pride that we have in our state and our land, and it’s really second to none, I think. And I think she’s really fallen in love with the people and the culture and the way of life. It’s really fun where we live, and we’ve got so many good friends and we all like to do stuff outside and keep moving and running, and we don’t sit on the couch much, we’re always doing something.
13:32 JW: Yeah. That too me is the prettiest part of Texas, the Hill Country.
13:35 JW: It is, where we live is gorgeous. From our second floor, you can see you’ve got… You can see 30-40 miles, it’s really pretty.
13:45 BB: Amazing.
13:45 JW: Yeah.
13:47 AK: One of the things that we love to ask our guests as we… A lot of the guest on the show come from so many walks of life, from former current government leaders to professional athletes like yourself. One of the things that we love to ask is “What does no one asks you that you wish they would?” You’ve done a lot of these interviews and people are always coming up and probably asking the same things. What should we be asking that no one ever asks?
14:08 JW: I don’t know. I only really run one social media account that I let everybody kinda check out and I pretty much put my whole life on there, with the exception of my kids. I kind of keep the kids out of it, I don’t want their face plastered all over the place. And sometimes I feel like people are like, “Do you even hang out with your kids ’cause I never see them?” I’m like, “Yeah, I do a lot. My phone is riddled with pictures.” But I don’t really know, I put myself out there and my account’s pretty real, so my life pretty much an open book with the exception of a little bit of private family stuff. So all questions are fair game.
14:48 AK: And that’s @JimmyWalkerPGA on Instagram, is that right?
14:52 JW: That’s correct.
14:53 BB: It’s a lot of barbecue too, any favorites?
14:56 JW: South Texas, I’ll cook anything. Anything that’s tough meat, I’ll slow cook it and it’ll taste pretty good.
15:05 AK: Do the guys on tour expect you to bring them some meat or is that…
15:08 JW: I cooked for a couple of weeks ago in San Antonio. I’ve been hosted a party there every year for the golf tournament, and a bunch of guys get to make it over. And this year, and I actually cook for everybody, and I think it went off pretty well.
15:17 AK: Well nice.
15:18 JW: Yeah.
15:19 AK: Well, Jimmy, thanks so much for doing this, spending a few time… A few minutes with us today and looking back at last years Warrior Open. And we really appreciate the work that you do with veterans and hope that we’ll see about it at next year’s.
15:29 JW: You’re welcome guys, thanks for having me, thanks for having me on. Appreciate it guys.
15:36 AK: If you enjoyed today’s episode and would like to help us spread the word about the Strategerist, please give us a five-star review, and tell your friends to subscribe. We’re available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all the major listening apps. If you’re tuning in on a smartphone, tap or swipe over the cover art. You’ll find episode notes with helpful information and details you may have missed. The Strategerist was produced Ioanna Papas at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. Thank you for listening.