Stewart Walker continued his impressive season last week with a win at the U19 Canadian Junior Golf Association B.C. Showcase in Chilliwack.
But it’s not the fact he won, that makes this victory impressive, as he’s been doing that all year. It’s how he won—in a four-hole playoff, against older competition—that makes this win stand out.
“It was really fun, I mean shooting seven under for two days is still good, and then having the playoff is always a little different than a regular round, but it’s good to experience it,” said Walker.
Heading into the last hole, Walker, 16, was one shot behind the tournament leader. But a bogey by Vancouver’s Kevin Li opened the door for a chance to tie it up—and Walker made par to force the playoff.
After both golfers made par on the first hole, disaster almost struck when Walker’s tee shot ended up in the bunker on the second. But he managed to get up and down to save par, forcing a third playoff hole.
“The third hole is where I had a pretty decent chance to put it away. It’s a par three, I put my pitching wedge to about 15 feet and lipped out the putt. So that was a tough one,” said Walker.
“It was really disappointing. I think my reaction was just, it was not good. I was like ‘that so should have gone in.’”
Things continued to not go Walker’s way on the fourth playoff hole, where he sliced his tee shot onto a completely different fairway. Fortunately, he was able to once again save par to give himself a chance.
And luckily for Walker, Li had an even tougher time on what would turn out to be the last playoff hole, sending his second shot out of bounds, resulting in a one-stroke penalty and an eventual double-bogey.
“Well, it was obviously good to win, but I wasn’t too stoked about how I won, winning with the other guy going [out of bounds],” said Walker. “But apart from that it was certainly a good win after having a bunch of chances and having some poor shots on the actual round.”
According to Walker’s coach, Graham Kehoe, one of the key reasons for Walker’s continued success this season, even against players two or three years older, has been the mental preparation the two have been working on before each tournament.
“I basically said, ‘Hey listen Stewart, you are going in there and you are the best. And when people are watching you, they are watching you because you’re the best,” said Kehoe.
“And so, we just tried to inspire him with that mantra, with that winning attitude. I wanted nothing but for him to exude confidence. That’s how you win tournaments—you just have to know that you are the best. It’s just that simple, it becomes very mental.”
For Walker, while he’s in the middle of the round, he tries to keep his mind clear and not think too much. But before each tournament, and when a round isn’t going his way, he always keeps Kehoe’s winning mentality in the back of his mind.
“If it’s going well, it’s definitely a thought that I’ll have maybe off the course more and before my next round,” he said. “But if it’s not going well, it’s kind of good to have it in my head to think, ‘I know I can do this shot any day but we’ll try and pull it off.’”
Adding to Walker’s recent success was a second-place finish at the Maple Leaf Junior Golf Tour Odlum Brown Classic at Chilliwack Golf and Country Club on Aug. 3 to 5, where he posted the low score of the entire tournament (all age groups included) with a 65 on day two of the three-day event.
But for Kehoe, a personal best is just another form of motivation he can use to keep pushing the young golfer to new heights.
“I think we are trending in the right direction, and 65 is an amazing score, but anytime he comes to me and says, ‘Hey I shot a 65’ I always say, ‘Well why wasn’t it a 64?’” said Kehoe. “I kind of give him a little bit, but I want to push him. I just need to keep him thinking and understanding that we always need to be progressing.
“What’s going to separate Stewart from the pack is going to be his confidence, his ability to perform under pressure and his ability to be one shot better. It’s what we have to do. It’s a grind.”
Currently, Walker is out in Quebec competing in the Canadian Junior Boys Championships in Sainte-Julie, a tournament Kehoe believes will be incredibly important for Walker’s progression moving forward as he can get accustomed to what the travel-heavy schedules of the NCAA will be like in a few years when he gets there.
“We’re going to have to learn now how to arrive, play a practice round, get accustomed to time zones and get accustomed to new surroundings and then settle down and actually play a golf tournament. So I’m really excited to see how he comes out of this next event because this is his future,” said Kehoe about the next steps of Walker’s training.
“But this is where the work begins. We’ve made all these strides and the struggle as you progress as everything starts to come a little bit slower. He started gym training and his gains were huge and fast—that’s going to start to slow down now.
“So, there is not necessarily new things coming in, it’s just more of the same and I think it’s almost more challenging because we have to keep excited about that. That’s the grind.”