Lakewood Ranch grad handled stress of qualifying school. Now comes pressure of playing at home

A professional golfer’s yardage book is the epitome of preparation, giving a tour player every detail needed for optimal results.

For former Lakewood Ranch High and University of Virginia star Danny Walker, his yardage book at December’s Tour Qualifying School had more than just numbers in it.

There were words scribbled to help when adversity inevitably would strike, as it does to nearly every golfer at pressure-cooking tests such as Q-School.

“There were things along the lines of, ‘You don’t have to do anything special. You just have to trust your game and just focus on the moment,’ ” Walker said. “And then, ‘There’s more important things in life than golf.’ Those kinds of things to just keep me more relaxed out there. That was the key.”

The idea to leave himself mental notes in his yardage book came from working with famed sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, whom Walker met during his career at UVA.

Walker said it was the first time he did it, because of how stressful Q-School week can be. But it’s also something he’ll continue to do moving forward.

That’s because Walker won the Tour’s Q-School tournament in December with a 27-under-par 261 total, which gave him a $50,000 payday and fully exempt status for the 2019 Tour season, which comes to the area for the first time with this week’s LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch.

The tournament starts Thursday and concludes Sunday. Tickets are $10 daily or $30 for the week. Children 17 and younger as well as veterans and first responders get free admission.

Danny Walker, who starred at Lakewood Ranch High and the University of Virginia, holds the trophy he won in December at the Tour’s Qualifying School final stage. Walker earned his 2019 Tour card and is playing this week’s LECOM Suncoast Classic, scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 14 through Sunday, Feb. 17. Jason Dill

Area golf fans will get the chance to see future PGA Tour players at the inaugural LECOM Suncoast Classic. The top 25 on the season-ending Tour money list gain 2020 PGA Tour cards.

While the event is part of the tour grind for players, Walker gets the added benefit of having the event near where he lives.

“I’m sure I’ll get a good night’s sleep,” Walker said. “... I’ll probably have the most friends and family supporting me, more than I’ve ever had.”

To get here, Walker needed to navigate December’s Q-School by going low. What turned into a scoring fest in Chandler, Arizona, Q-School issued a couple adverse moments for Walker to overcome to take the next step in his professional golf career.

In the middle of the second round, Walker snap-hooked his drive into the desert. What proved to be a crucial moment to his Q-School performance, he found his ball and avoided a penalty that could have sent him backwards on the leaderboard.

“I turned the corner there. I think I reeled off a bunch of birdies to finish the round and just kind of never looked back after that,” Walker said.

Then in the third round, Walker hit a wedge into the grain and the club stuck in the ground. The result was a jarring feeling to his hand. Walker said it didn’t bother him the rest of that round.

Danny Walker at UVA.jpeg
Former Lakewood Ranch High and University of Virginia golfer Danny Walker will be making his fifth start of the season on the Tour this week. Photo courtesy of University of Virginia athletics

“But then that night, it was in a little bit of pain,” Walker said. “I was kind of worried about it going into the next day. When I was going to bed, I was thinking about that more than the actual round.”

Walker said he didn’t feel the pain after warming up for the final round. Going to bed the night before with his thoughts focused on his hand, instead of the final round, turned out to be for the better.

A slow start saw him at 1 under through seven holes on the final day. Then, wham. He smoothly went 8 under on his final 11 holes to eke out a one-shot victory and cement full status throughout the 2019 season.

After a slow start to the year — two missed cuts in his first three starts — Walker gets a chance to shine at a tournament in his backyard.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.