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PGA Championship win brings Jimmy Walker and caddie Andy Sanders full circle

Jimmy Walker hugs caddie Andy Sanders after wrapping up a victory at the PGA Championship.
(Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)

It was an experience too surreal for Andy Sanders to fully comprehend.

Sixteen years ago, he met Jimmy Walker on the 10th tee of the Upper Course at Baltusrol Golf Club because they were both competing in the 2000 U.S. Amateur. They struck up a friendship and played practice rounds together.

On Sunday, Sanders stood on the edge of the 18th green of Baltusrol’s Lower Course, gripping a souvenir flag he took from the stick at the final hole as Walker offered an acceptance speech for winning the 98th PGA Championship.

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With Walker beating world No. 1 Jason Day by one shot, they won the Wanamaker Trophy together, with Sanders carrying Walker’s bag as his caddie.

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“To be here where we first met and then to win a major here, that’s pretty crazy,” Sanders said.

To be sure, being the caddie for the champion is not the same as hoisting the trophy, and there was a time when Sanders dreamed of being in Walker’s spot.

Sanders was a nationally ranked junior golfer, and by the time he met Walker he was a two-time All-American and conference champion.

“Andy was a world beater,” Walker once told PGATour.com. “[Lucas] Glover, [Charles] Warren and [Jonathan] Byrd, all these guys playing on the tour, were the names I heard growing up, and Andy was right there with them.”

The same age, Walker and Sanders saw each other a lot in the ensuing years as they worked their way toward the big leagues. Then Sanders’ life was altered by a sucker punch. He noticed a blank spot in his vision while playing a Web.com Tour event in 2004. He went to the doctor and was told he had multiple sclerosis.

Determined to keep playing, Sanders suffered from vertigo caused by the medication he was taking. The drug side effects ended his career, not the disease itself.

Sanders eventually started caddying, and he and Walker hooked up again in 2007 when Walker sought out Sanders for a putting lesson. That week, Walker won the tournament, and he later asked Sanders to caddie for him full time for the 2008 PGA Tour season.

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They have been together ever since, with the PGA Championship their sixth win in the last three years on the PGA Tour. They were an impressive duo at Baltusrol, with Walker showing extraordinary calm in leading wire-to-wire and holding off Day.

“We both felt great all week,” Walker said in his Sunday night news conference. “We talked about us meeting here and we told that story a few times this week. I know it’s special for both of us. It’s pretty emotional.

“He grinded it out this week. He did a great job. Crowd control was awesome. He read putts great, didn’t let me hit a shot until I was ready. I think we did a great job of communicating and talking shots. We were in sync.”

McIlroy’s putting woes

With world No. 4 Rory McIlroy calling his putting at the PGA “pathetic” after he missed the cut, that part of his game is becoming a sore spot.

He said on Friday that he had hoped to take a couple of weeks off before a week of preparation for the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Now he’s not so sure.

“I just need to figure out what to do on the greens,” he said. “I need to have a long, hard think about that.”

Phil Mickelson played with McIlroy the first two rounds of the PGA and sympathized with his struggles.

“We all have periods where we have mental blocks on the greens,” Mickelson said. “Right now he’s so tentative through impact. He’s just not confident. … You watch him with the driver and it’s the sweetest thing you can imagine. … He’s just not striking his putts with the same confidence he’s striking his driver.”

Olympics excite Harrington

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is getting an unexpected opportunity to play in the Olympics because of three Irish withdrawals, and he plans to take full advantage of the experience, well beyond the golf. He said he and his family will be in Rio de Janeiro for the entire Games.

“The first week will be all business, but hopefully the second week we’ll have a good week,” he said at Baltusrol.

“Table tennis, gymnastics, diving, velodrome, boxing; I’m sure I’m missing out on one or two. I’m just trying to do two things a day the second week.”

Harrington was ranked 150th in the world heading into the PGA, but became an Olympian for the combined Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland team when McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell chose not to play. Harrington will have a teammate in Seamus Power, whom he hasn’t met.

Only in New Jersey?

There was a heavy green screen near the scoring area at Baltusrol. Fans could yell out to the players when they arrived, but they couldn’t been seen. The anonymity seemed to make them all the more bold.

In a rarity, adults and children were calling out for the players’ hats. On Sunday after his round, Colt Knost threw his over and said, “Good luck with that. Pretty gross.” Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, contributed his cap. The caddies tossed over plenty of balls and gloves.

One guy was quite the comedian. “I’ll take a 9-iron if you can’t find a ball,” he said. And later, “I’ll buy that driver for $50.”

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