Jimmy Walker – the PGA Champion with His Eyes on the Stars
August 2, 2016
With his first win of a major at the 2016 PGA Championship, Jimmy Walker is one of the most in-demand interview subjects in the world right now. Needless to say, the waiting list is rather long. Fortunately, as we happen to know a long-time friend of Jimmy’s, Celestron’s own sales manager Lonnie Wege, we were able to get not just the inside scoop on his rise to golfing fame but also into another activity he cares deeply about and in which he has achieved quite a noteworthy reputation: astroimaging.
Celestron: How do you know Jimmy Walker?
Lonnie: I have known the Walker family a very long time. We all grew up in Oklahoma City and shared a common golf course in the 70’s and 80’s. Jim Walker (Jimmy’s dad) and I played college golf together back when woods were actually made out of wood. We kept in touch over the years and played golf together on numerous occasions.
Celestron: How did you first find out that Jimmy was interested in astronomy?
Lonnie: Through a common friend, I found out that Jim’s son was doing “astrology” - as my buddy put it. This of course perked my attention, so I called Jimmy to see what he was up to. Fortunately, it was astronomy, and Jimmy had just bought his first CGEM DX to start doing astro imaging. He was eager for knowledge at the time, and I gave him as much help as I could. He soon was beyond my abilities to help, so I suggested a trip to Bucksnort to meet John Davis. Jimmy knew John’s work, so he was eager to meet him. John had no idea who Jimmy was but he was OK with this.
When I introduced the two, I mentioned that John was the creator of the Jimmy Neutron TV series. Jimmy laughed and said, “My nickname on tour is Jimmy ‘Neutron’ Walker.” John then asked him, “On tour? Are you in a band?” Jimmy replied back, “A professional golfer, really. I guess we were meant to meet each other.”
Celestron: So with Jimmy’s status as a golfer sky-rocketing, are you still able to see him much?
Lonnie: Jimmy and I get to see each other when there’s a tour stop in Texas. I watched him shoot 63 on the last day of the Byron Nelson Tournament this spring. That was after a night of BBQ and beer with Jimmy and a big group of Oklahoma and Texas friends. His schedule keeps him pretty busy, but we will get together again this fall because Jimmy also enjoys shooting pistols, as does his dad. This is a Texas thing, and we love it. More competition!
Celestron: Sounds like you’re pretty good friends. You must be pretty pleased about Jimmy’s 2016 PGA Championship victory?
Lonnie: Jimmy winning the PGA is pretty special. As a lifelong golfer, this is something you dream of, but can only imagine. When you practice putting, you have probably told yourself a thousand times, “OK, this putt is to win the PGA. Smooth stroke, head down, and follow through to the hole.” The putt Jimmy had to win the PGA was a putt he had made since he was a little kid. I knew he would make it when it actually counted.
So, yes, we shared similar lives growing up. I was the Surrey Hills Junior Champion, and so was Jimmy. We played golf 24/7 and grew up hoping one day we would have a chance to win a pro tournament, let alone a major. About my junior year in college I learned that I wasn’t going to make a living playing golf. On the other hand, Jimmy learned in college that he would be making a living with the game. So, in a way, he is living what my dream was as a kid.
When his last putt dropped at the PGA tournament, I knew he fulfilled a lifelong dream. He also made his very proud papa see something that was wonderful. Jimmy learned the game from his dad. What a gift to give a parent!
Celestron: So just how deeply involved is Jimmy in astro imaging?
Lonnie: As I said, our common friend Bobby Bailey told me what Jimmy was up to. Bobby and I have also known each other since high school, and we all played Surrey Hills G.C. in Oklahoma City. I would put golf trips together, a benefit of me being a golf rep for Nike at that time. I had Bobby and Jim join me for some fun rounds of golf. I lost money to those two, but it was all great fun.
Bobby called me one day and told me to call Jimmy and talk to him about that astrology stuff you do. Jimmy was already hooked by the time we talked. He had a CGEM DX and was already doing some great stuff. Once he met John Davis, he was off and running. He now has 4 APODs, with probably more in the works.
I remember going past his house last year to pick up a golf bag for David Shen, the principal owner of Celestron. This was during The Valero in San Antonio, and he was in the lead after the second round. When I got to his house, I expected a little bit of golf talk. But no, he said, “Come look at my raw data I did last night. Look at the background detail. This was done from my backyard.” He was leading a PGA tour event, but his mind was on his raw data. Now that’s someone with serious dedication to astro imaging!
Celestron: You’ve obviously spent some time observing with Jimmy. Do you have any stories that stand out?
Lonnie: I have one very vivid memory observing with Jimmy. We were at Bucksnort and Jimmy had his rig banging away, and I had a CPC doing some visual. I really like double stars, and had found a nice tight pair in the southern sky. Probably about a 3 arc second split, but seeing was good, and the pair really looked great.
Jimmy was really impressed - he rarely looked through a telescope…he pretty much does imaging. He spent a good 10 minutes on that pair. Now every time I see him, he wants to do some visual stuff. Even though he does a good deal of imaging, most is inside his bus running a remote observatory. Actually seeing objects under a dark sky - that was something he rarely gets to do.
We have a standing appointment to do some dark sky observing. That will be when he isn’t winning tournaments, raising kids, and meeting his numerous sponsor obligations. Maybe it will happen one day…
Celestron: What do you think makes Jimmy such a great ambassador for both golf and Celestron?
Lonnie: Jimmy could do anything he wants in his spare time, and he chooses astronomy. He’s a great husband and father, very well spoken, and immensely intelligent.
I worked for a strong sporting goods brand that was made on successful celebrity endorsements. Making a great basketball shoe is one thing… getting Michael Jordan to endorse it is quite another. You and I, and pretty much everyone else, identify brands with people. Everyone wants to emulate their favorite star. When Jordan wore Nike basketball shoes, every kid wanted to do the same. Were they better shoes? Maybe. But if they’re good enough for MJ, then there good enough for me.
Not only is Jimmy a great golfer, but he is also a great imager. Four APOD’s…not many can say that. So…. famous, a great person, a top notch imager, and he’s talking about the hobby in front of big audiences.
Did you see the interview he did with Charlie Rose? Almost a third of it was about astro imaging! Most articles written this week touched on his hobby, as well as several others articles written the last couple years that were written specifically about his astrophotography work. When people see a great athlete and a great human being so passionately interested in something they may not have known about - like astro imaging - that they can learn to do as well, it’s only natural that many will want to try their hand at it.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me that seeing the Celestron logo on the golf bag make them go look at our website to see what we sell. Jimmy is good for the hobby; he will help make it grow. And better yet, he wants to help us. This is his relaxation; a hobby he loves. And yes, people will say, I want to be like Jimmy. I want to do astronomy; that looks really cool. Making astronomy “really cool” is how it can continue to grow - and Celestron right along with it.