Jimmy Walker’s Hobby Takes a Back Seat to His Health

“I don’t do much sun or planet photography,” he said. “I’m not that savvy when it comes to stuff like this.”

His forte is the mesmerizing night sky, where the reach of his reflector telescope stretches to unfathomable distances. Recently, he photographed the long tails of the Antennae galaxies in the midst of a galactic collision about 45 million light-years away. An image of a spiral galaxy in the Virgo Cluster looks like a flattened pink tulip petal on a pond. A hazy shot of the Monkey Head Nebula is tinted with vibrant blues, reds and oranges.

“It’s the looking into the night sky for me,” Walker said. “It’s the art aspect of it for me. Taking the pictures you get and turning them into what they become, no two people can make it look the exact same. I’ve gotten to be pretty good at it.”

Walker, winner of the 2016 P.G.A. Championship, said he became attracted to the hobby about seven years ago, simply with a telescope in his backyard. He began to drive outside the city to avoid the light pollution. Then he started investing in better equipment, better cameras. Using the handle JWalk, he began lingering around online forums dedicated to enthusiasts.

Michael Miller, an astrophotography hobbyist from Arizona, began corresponding with him to share tips about techniques and processing.

“I had no idea he was a professional golfer,” Miller said by telephone.

Few did, until Walker showed up at the 2013 Advanced Imaging Conference in San Jose, Calif. — a gathering of astrophotographers — the same week he won the Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club.

Photo

Jimmy Walker during the second round of the P.G.A. Championship in Charlotte, N.C., on August 11.

Credit
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

“The astrophotography community — we’re all kind of like a bunch of geeks,” said Rob Gendler, a physician in Connecticut who has been doing astrophotography for 25 years. “We don’t get to meet really famous people doing astrophotography.”

That Walker has taken to it did not surprise Lonnie Wege, a former college golfer and longtime family friend who is now a sales manager for Celestron.

“Astrophotography and golf are actually really similar,” Wege said. “You have to have the personality that you’re willing to be really bad at it for a long time before you become really good at it.”

Today, Walker shares a telescope with Miller at the Sierra Remote Observatories near Fresno, Calif. As Miller described it, he typically handles the maintenance and setup of the equipment, and Walker handles the processing of the images, turning raw data into the richly evocative photographs he shares on social media.

The process takes hours, sometime days to complete, and one stray cloud can ruin the effort. Walker’s images have earned him respect from the astrophotography community.

“It’s a high-precision hobby,” Gendler said. “It takes a lot of attention to detail. Jimmy has applied his discipline and hard work and the high expectations of himself for astrophotography, and it really shows.”

A few of his colleagues on tour have taken notice as well. This summer, Miller said, he had been chatting on the phone with Walker about their telescope when an unfamiliar voice in the background asked how they know where to point the equipment to capture their images.

It was Jordan Spieth.

“Jimmy will see things in a second that just come natural to him that I’m totally blind and oblivious to,” Miller said. “He has a real natural talent. He’s very artistic that way.”

Lately, Walker’s hobby has been forced to take a bit of a back seat as his struggle with Lyme disease monopolizes most of his free time. Entering the FedEx Cup ranked 101st, with one top-10 finish this season, in January, Walker was in top form Wednesday, shooting five under par to tie with Rickie Fowler for the top score in a pro-am. A day earlier, he was in Boston to see an infectious disease expert at Harvard.

The illness, which he said had affected him since Thanksgiving, continues to confound and frustrate him.

“I have these episodes — I don’t know when they’re going to hit,” Walker said. “I had three really good weeks in a row and then, bam, this week I just feel awful. It’s a bummer. It’s just kind of the way it goes.”

Though he was disappointed to miss Monday’s event, Walker knows another total solar eclipse will occur in 2024, carving a path across his native Texas.

He will plan his schedule better this time.

“It’s amazing how many people got behind it and it was big news,” Walker said. “It’s cool. Science is cool. It’s cool to see people getting into it, because it’s quite an experience if you can go see a totality and the 360-degree sunset.”

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