After years honing his craft on Sea to Sky fairways and greens, Whistler golf whiz Stewart Walker is heading east.
On Nov. 15, the 17-year-old announced via his Instagram account that he has committed to play NCAA Division I golf at Long Island University, where he will also be studying finance. Walker was impressed by the Sharks’ on-campus facilities and practice courses, which he described as “just unbelievable.” Rapport with head coach Ben Belfield also helped.
“I really found that we just made a solid connection off of the first call,” Walker said of his relationship with Belfield. “He was from England, and my mom [Rhona] is from England, so we sort of have that little connection there.”
Walker’s golfing skills have turned heads for some time on the amateur and Canadian Junior Golf Association (CJGA) circuits. He racked up seven wins this year, most recently at his season finale on Sept. 18 at Golden Eagle Golf Club in Pitt Meadows. Walker might have added even more hardware to his trophy case if not for shoulder and back injuries that caused him to miss roughly a month, including the BC Junior tournament.
Many competitive golfers start young— very young. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both picked up a club around the age of two, and Walker was about two and a half years old when he first found the sport in his hometown of Pemberton. As a young child, he learned the fundamentals at Big Sky Golf Club and was known to get in some extra practice by hitting plastic balls off handmade sand tees at Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
Walker and his family moved to Whistler in 2010 and Nicklaus North has since become his home course. He refers to the director of instruction there, Graham Kehoe, and director of golf Andrew Smart as “pivotal members” of his golf career, in addition to his mom and dad. Although he grew up a local, Walker is no stranger to the wider golf world, having travelled far and wide to play in tournaments across Canada and the United States.
Long Island University’s Post campus counts more than 5,100 undergraduate students, which give it a larger population than the village it’s located in: Brookville, N.Y. has a population of about 2,847. Walker is optimistic that the transition to living there won’t be too jarring.
“The nice thing about Long Island University is, it’s like its own little town,” he said. “It’s gated, it’s private. But I’m definitely excited to be able to take the train into New York and go into some pretty cool places and shows and things.”
Walker believes golf has taught him the importance of mental strength and a positive attitude over the years. When asked, he thought back to a particular Maple Leaf Junior Tour (MJT) event in Chilliwack, where a relaxed mindset helped him shoot 7-under-par on the second day after a brutal 7-over first day.
That same kind of mental toughness has buoyed Walker to recent success, too. He shot 73 and 65 in his Sept. 18 CJGA victory at Golden Eagle Golf Club, with his second-day effort coming one stroke short of his personal course record, 64.
“I always try to just live in the moment, and leave the bad shots behind,” Walker explained. “I’m not going to be able to change the past, so I just focus on the next shot.”
The Whistlerite plans to depart for Long Island next August, and his plans until then aren’t set in stone. Next July’s BC Amateur Championship is still on his radar, a large tournament he has yet to compete in, with a large field of 156 players expected. Morningstar Golf Club, located roughly a 10-minute drive from Walker’s childhood stomping grounds at Qualicum Beach, will be the host course.
But if he were to pick a career highlight, Walker’s mind turns to this year’s 2022 Big Sky Amateur Tournament, which he prevailed in. Despite Big Sky being the first course he ever played on, he had never entered that particular event before, let alone won it.
“It was nice to go back there and win,” he said. “There’s all the same guys that are working there. I call them the ‘pros.’ So it was great to just have that full circle.”