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East County Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 1 year ago

Lakewood Ranch grad will have hometown crowd at LECOM Suncoast Classic

He is in his first season on the Tour.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

If Lakewood Ranch's Danny Walker falls a bit behind the pack early in the LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club, local golf fans shouldn't flinch.

He won't.

Walker is used to coming from behind to win.

Lakewood Ranch High grad Danny Walker will play in the Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National. Photo courtesy PGA Tour Media.

The 2014 Lakewood Ranch High graduate took home medalist honors at the Tour Qualifying Tournament Dec. 9 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz. Walker, 23, entered the final round at 18 under par, five strokes back of Norman Xiong for the lead. But Walker closed with a nine under par round, and Xiong shot just three under, giving Walker the one-stroke win at 27 under par.

“Winning was not even in my mind entering the round,” Walker said of the event that guaranteed his status on the Tour. “I did not know where I was (on the leaderboard) until hole 17. I got lucky. I was hitting my wedges and short irons well, and I did as well as I could mentally. The whole week was stressful.”

The win — Walker’s second-consecutive come-from-behind victory, following his Sept. 16 triumph at the Mackenzie Tour’s Freedom 55 Financial Championship at Highland Golf Club in London, Ontario — earned Walker a full season on the Tour. That includes the LECOM Suncoast Classic, which runs Feb. 14-17 in Lakewood Ranch.

Walker said he has played Lakewood National twice before and likes it. It suits his game as it is open and has a “links” feel.

“I like having different ways to play shots,” Walker said. “And not having to go dead straight off the tee. It’s not that narrow.”

Walker said he is excited to visit friends and family while here, though he does not have any ironclad plans yet, other than sleeping in his own bed. He will be sticking around for a month after the tournament, other than playing a few PGA Tour Monday qualifiers, as the next Tour event, the Chitimacha Louisiana Open at Le Triomphe Golf and Country Club in Broussard, La., is not until March 21.

Walker said he does not know exactly how big his cheering section at the tournament will be, but anticipates a few nerves on the course. He will take things one shot at a time, he said, and try not to think about too much else.

Walker enters the tournament after missing the cut at the Panama Championship, held Feb. 7-10 at Panama GC in Panama City, Panama. The first four Tour events were held outside the United States, and Walker said they all presented unique challenges that golfers will not face the rest of the season, like Bogota, Colombia’s Country Club de Bogota-Lagos being 8,500 feet above sea level.

Walker said he has not changed his game much in the transition from the Mackenzie Tour to the Tour, and took the confidence of his two wins with him, but is excited to be playing more typical golf courses again.

It also is not lost on him how rare the opportunity to play professional golf is.

“It hit me last month in The Bahamas,” Walker said. “‘How cool is this?’ It is a relaxing, calming feeling. I am fortunate.”

The hometown hero will attempt to stay that calm at the Suncoast Classic this weekend.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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