Interview with Chris Walker, 2012 Speedgolf World Champion
(photo courtesy of Wood Sabold)
On October 26-27, elite speed-golfers from around the world will visit Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for the 2nd-Annual Speedgolf World Championship. The 36-hole competition is held at the resort’s Bandon Dunes and Old Macdonald courses.
The reigning champion is Chris Walker, Woodlands, Tex., a former member of the Notre Dame golf team who now plays professionally on mini-tours. At last year's championship at Bandon Dunes, Walker shot 76-77 with a total time of 1 hour, 50 minutes and 28 seconds. BandonDunesGolf.com blogger Nick Martin recently caught up with Walker for an interview.
What sets Bandon Dunes apart from other courses at which you've competed?
I have competed at Bandon Dunes in both Speedgolf and regular golf. The thing about Bandon is there are times I don’t even feel like I am on planet Earth. Bandon is so secluded that there isn’t much distraction, besides the scenery. It’s is a special place to me, especially after winning last year’s world championship there. At Bandon, regardless of how you are playing, there is always a moment where you look out to the ocean, and for that split second you are absolutely at peace with the world. How can a moment like that not make Bandon a place unlike any other?
Do you have a favorite course at Bandon Dunes?
I have played all four 18-hole courses. Each is unique in its own way. But for me, it has to be Bandon Dunes. It’s where I won my first world title and it will always be special to me.
When you compete at a new course, do you play at a traditional pace first or is it always at speed?
Practice rounds are where we play at traditional pace. You want to make sure you collect as much information as you can before the Speedgolf event starts.
How have things changed for you professionally since winning last year?
For me, Speedgolf is an escape from the grind of playing professionally on mini-tours. I have new goals that spread across both my regular golf schedule as well as my Speedgolf. It is an exciting time for me to be coming back to Bandon.
Have you done anything differently?
My training regime is more finely tuned toward running, but really that’s about all that has changed.
How do you prepare for an event?
I like to play. Bottom line – I want to be out on the course. A quarterback can only watch so much game film and do so much strength training. They want to be out on the field where games happen. Being on the course allows you to find a rhythm leading up to an event.
Do you prefer a links style course to a different style (e.g. parkland or mountain)?
I would say a link better fits my game.
Does your strategy change based on the style of course?
Always. The key is to keep the ball in front of you and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Not to keep using football analogies, but it’s like when a QB uses the phrase: “I took what the defense gave me.”
In Speedgolf you have to take what the course gives you. You’ll hear golfers say things like “Oh, that’s a green light pin,” meaning it’s an opportunity to be aggressive. Each course presents its own opportunities for scoring. Some easier than others, some harder.
Are you looking forward to the Championship?
I wake up every morning excited that it is one day closer. “Looking forward” would be the understatement of the year. Haha.
What is your training regime?
My training regime consists of daily running, workouts, and golf practice. I generally will try and get Speedgolf rounds in twice a week as my schedule allows.
Do you spend more time at the range or the track?
I spend more time on the range. I am a golfer far more than I am a runner. My Speedgolf strategy will always be to outscore my opponents and gradually bring down my time.
When you go for a run, around town for example, do you carry your clubs?
I never have brought my clubs with me. There is a sports complex near my house where I will do some of my training. A few times I have taken a 10-pound dumbbell with me so I can get the feel of some extra weight in my hands.
When you're training, do you prefer to run on grass exclusively or does it matter?
I always prefer to run on grass. With Speedgolf, I will very rarely be running on anything but uneven grass surfaces.
Is there any comparison or correlation between Speedgolf and the Olympic Biathlon? (The Biathlon is a Winter Olympics event combining long distance cross-country skiing with rifle target shooting)
No doubt. To me, the principles of both are very similar. We are trying to hit a golf ball to a very specific target and a big part of that is being able to control breathing and increased heart rate. It takes very similar skills to that of the Olympic Biathlon.
Do you actively monitor your heart rate while you’re playing?
That has never really been something I watch while playing. I do wear a watch that measures time, distance, heart rate, etc. But for the most part my focus is trying to get the ball in the hole.
Do you ever slow down your pace to keep your heart rate within a certain level or is it just a constant push?
I always tend to slow down as I approach my shot, especially putting. I want to bring my heart rate down enough to be able to utilize a fluid golf swing. I would say putting is the most difficult task when it comes to having an increased heart rate.
What attracted you to speed golf?
Speedgolf is a very freeing experience for me. I have played tournament golf for 14 years now. Most of that time consists of playing in threesomes and foursomes. Rounds can last anywhere between 3.5 to 5.5 hours. For me, Speedgolf is a freeing feeling that I have not really had the opportunity to experience. It is nice to know that I am out there all alone and can go at my own pace.
Were you a runner or golfer first?
After you hit the ball, are you thinking about your next shot, or is it more cat and mouse?
It’s funny, for all my golf career I have heard and read about how it’s impossible to stay focused for the 4.5 hours that a round of golf can take. Sports psychologists urge golfers to take the time in between shots to let their mind wander and then refocus before the next shot. Speedgolf completely flips that notion on its head. Not only is it possible to focus for the 40-50 minutes a round of Speedgolf takes, it is a necessity. You absolutely have to be thinking constantly about the next shot. There always has to be a strategy of thinking ahead. Failure to do so, especially at a challenging course like Bandon Dunes, will result in continuous circumstances where the golfer will find themselves in troubled spots struggling to make a par or bogey. Generally, I will spend an hour or so the night before a round of Speedgolf studying a yardage book for the course and formulating a game plan that will allow me to keep the ball in the right spots on difficult holes while being in position to succeed on holes that may present an opportunity to make birdie.
From tee to green, does the hole evolve like it does for a regular round, just at a faster pace?
Yes and no. I would argue that in theory it basically evolves like a regular round. You hit it off the tee, go find it and hit it toward the green. It’s all the same, right? Well, in a regular round, I will have the time to get an exact yardage, know where I want to place the ball, and strategize a specific shot with a specific club to accomplish that goal. In Speedgolf I basically have to make an educated guess with yardage, I have only six clubs, and I am working with a lot less information such as the pin location, etc. What Speedgolf requires from me that a normal round of golf sometime doesn’t is a tremendous combination of feel and creativity. I know I am trying to get the ball close to the hole with limited information and a club that generally does not fly that distance. For me, this is where I come alive and really have a blast. I love creating something from nothing. And Speedgolf will certainly put you in situation where that is necessary.
What do you do when you lose your ball?
Speedgolf has a few specific rule changes in regards to a lost ball. When a ball is lost, the player may drop the ball on the line of entry in which the golfer believes his or her ball to have crossed. The reason the rule is different from the USGA’s rule for a lost ball is because in Speedgolf, the penalty would result in stroke, distance, and time. This is almost like a 3-shot penalty. So for Speedgolf, the rule must be adapted to account for the time factor.
Do you even lose many balls?
It occurs every once in a while. I lost one ball last year in the world championship so it does happen. The key is to realize when to stop searching and move on with your round to conserve time.
How many tournaments do you compete in every year?
Speedgolf-wise, I will do three this year. Regular golf, maybe 20-25 events.
Is there a type or style of golf course layout that is better or more conducive to Speedgolf?
Not necessarily. Every golf course presents its own challenges. That’s what can make Speedgolf unique. If you want lower scores, a more straight forward, flat layout will produce lower scores and faster times. But part of Speedgolf is adapting to the course that you will have to play that week.
It seems that a links course would lend itself more to a Speedgolf style. Is that the case?
On paper, yes. And if you asked the players, they would probably prefer that style of course for Speedgolf. But generally, we’ll just play the course we are giving.
Would you like to see more people in the sport?
Yes. Speedgolf draws on people with both golf and running backgrounds. Everyone who competes brings to the table their own unique skillset that allows them to be successful.
Has Speedgolf influenced traditional style golf in any way – aside from, maybe, pace of play?
I would argue that Speedgolf has increased my ability to be creative in my normal rounds. For many, Speedgolf is proof that you do not have to take a great amount of time to hit a quality shot and shoot quality scores. At our last Speedgolf event in Portland we had rounds of 70, 72, 72, 74, and 75. Plain and simple, those are good numbers no matter what the pace.
Would you like to see golf courses dedicated exclusively to Speedgolf?
If you could design a Speedgolf course, what would it look like?
I would like to design maybe a combination course. Maybe the front nine would be up in the tree line with some narrow, shorter holes. Then once the turn is made the course really opens up into more of a links style. Longer, well-bunkered holes would make for a difficult finish. I like courses that have holes with different personalities. I don’t want to see a bunch of cookie cutter holes. I want to stand on the tee and say, “Wow, this isn’t what I expected to see this hole doing.”
What would be different?
I would make it a point to have a stretch of 3-4 very difficult holes in a row. Something like 8-11. Then right after that, have 3-4 easier holes. That way, in the mind of the golfer, they reach that 8th tee and say “Okay, here is the round right here. If I can grind out there four holes, I will have some birdie opportunities coming in that I can take advantage of.”
What would be the same?
I wouldn’t want to do anything extreme to the terrain. I have played some really hilly courses and I don’t feel like those are conducive to Speedgolf scoring.