Andrew Walker’s bumpy road from prodigy to pro success winds through Torrey Pines
Lofty expectations are tough to meet.
However, despite a turbulent past few years, former phenom Andrew Walker is starting to see more clearly a path to professional success, which continues this week at Torrey Pines in the APGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Invitational.
Walker, 24, was born in South Africa and has been playing golf for as long as he can remember. His family moved to Michigan when he was 5 years old and he started competing in tournaments a year later. He dabbled in multiple sports growing up, but had the most love for golf.
In 2013, Walker, at age 14, became the fifth youngest person to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Championship — and the youngest-ever African American to do so. Tiger Woods — Walker’s idol — first played the U.S. Am at 15 and won it three times. Walker immediately drew comparisons to Woods, as he donned a straw hat that resembled what Woods wore during his ’94 U.S. Am triumph. Walker, however, was mimicking his father, not Tiger, with his choice of headwear.
Still, Walker had Tiger-like expectations at The Country Club and was disappointed to shoot 76-77 and miss out on match play.
“He did set the bar high and people will have expectations for him,” Filmore Walker, Andrew’s father, told the Boston Globe at the 2013 U.S. Am. “But he has high expectations for himself. And I think that’s what drives him.”
That mentality served Andrew Walker well in high school. He was Michigan Mr. Golf three times and won consecutive state championships, in 2015 and ’16, playing for the Lakeview Spartans.
He’d be a Spartan after high school, too, with his distinguished young career bringing him to Michigan State University.
However, he’d endure various obstacles in East Lansing.
Walker broke his wrist freshman year and was in a cast for nearly 12 weeks. Since then, he’s dealt with a reoccurring cyst that randomly flares up several times a year, causing him to shelve his clubs for days at a time. Walker believes the cyst stems from his wrist injury, though doctors haven’t determined that. In college, he’d play through the pain, not wanting to let his team down, sometimes gripping the club with just one hand — and he got “pretty good at it.”
On top of that, he battled swing issues and short-game yips.
“Had a lot of ups and downs (at Michigan State),” Walker told GolfChannel.com. “It wasn’t my most consistent play. I had some good moments, but I had some bad moments. And it was a lot of chasing and like trying to find out why I wasn’t quite improving.”
Once labeled a prodigy, underachieving on those expectations added extra pressure — but Walker embraced it.
Though Walker had a sporadic college career, he planned to turn professional after four years. Then, COVID hit. He was granted an extra year of eligibility and took advantage of the opportunity, posting his best season.
“My five years (at MSU) went exactly how they were supposed to,” Walker said. “I learned a lot about life and a lot about golf in college.”
The next stop on Walker’s golf journey was the PGA Tour Canada. In February 2021, he made it through Q-School, prevailing in a 3-for-2 playoff.
“(Qualifying) was kind of the first step into achieving what I want to achieve eventually in this game,” he said.
Walker, though, would again face adversity.
Off the course, he had a “tough” adjustment to the lifestyle of a professional. For the first time, he was tasked with booking flights, hotels, cars — worrying about his financials, in the process — and spent a lot of time alone. Meanwhile, that translated on the course to missing six of eight cuts. He earned $1,234 that season.
Following the 2021 Canadian season, Walker played two APGA Tour — a non-profit circuit dedicated to diversifying golf — events and immediately found comfort there. He failed to regain Canada status for ’22, so he decided to play the APGA Tour full-time, rather than attempt to play internationally.
“I quickly learned that the APGA was really something special,” Walker said. “Not only what they’re pushing, but the group of guys that are out there are all out there with comparable backgrounds … Looking back on my golf career, I was very used to being with a bunch of other people who aren’t necessarily like me in terms of background.”
On some of the world’s most famed courses, Walker’s game finally started to turn a corner. And in August at Baltusrol, Walker earned his maiden professional win.
“Something I was chasing for so many years since I had gotten into college was holding the trophy at the end of the tournament and saying, ‘Nobody played better than me this week,'” Walker said. “To finally be able to break through and be able to breathe that sigh of relief. Like, yes, I did it, the work that I’m putting in is paying off. And I’m still capable of winning, even at the professional level now.”
Though the road to victory was bumpy, Walker’s hardships helped him find the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The only way you can learn is from failure,” he said, “and learning from failure is learning is how you manage to succeed and learning that has been a big part of my journey in golf.”
There will likely be more hardships in Walker’s golfing career, but maybe that sets up more success as he chases his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.
Near the end of 2022, Walker’s cyst acted up again, just ahead of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, so he decided to have it aspirated. Since then, it hasn’t been an issue, but there’s still a 50% chance the cyst will return. The procedure, however, cut into his preparation for Q-School and he played poorly that week.
He’s set to play another full year on the APGA, kicking off the season this weekend at Torrey Pines, at which the winner will receive a sponsor’s invitation to the Honda Classic. Last year, he almost Monday qualified for the PGA Tour’s World Wide Technology Championship, and in 2023 will play multiple qualifiers for both Tour and Korn Ferry Tour events.
Despite all his trials and tribulations, Walker’s dreams have never been dashed. And they certainly won’t be now, as fulfilling his lofty childhood expectations is right there for him to take.
“(Playing on Tour) is definitely a realistic thought that I have right now,” he said. “I don’t think I’m that far off from getting to play at the highest level.”