While the comeback of Tiger Woods has taken golf’s centre stage, Jason Day has announced himself as the former world No.1 to watch in 2018
When Jason Day won the 2015 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, his team tweeted a photo of the Australian with the Wanamaker Trophy accompanied by the caption, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”
The tweet went viral for its ability to sum up the fact the top candidate for ‘best player never to have won a Major’ had finally shed his unwanted tag.
Day has had to deal with droughts from the beginning of his already remarkable career. There was the four-year gap between his breakthrough US PGA Tour victory at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship and win No.2 – the 2014 World Golf Championships–Accenture Match Play.
His most recent winless streak, however, was perhaps the most turbulent. But it’s what made his recent victory in a marathon sudden-death playoff at Torrey Pines taste so sweet.
Between a four-shot victory at the Players Championship in May 2016 and the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, the Queenslander went 20 months without a win anywhere in the world.
In that time, he suffered a back injury that forced both his withdrawal from the 2016 FedEx Cup Playoffs – in which he held a strong position – and a premature end to the season. As Day was trying to get back on track in the early part of 2017, his mother Dening was diagnosed with lung cancer and the initial prognosis was terminal.
He announced the news in a tearful press conference held minutes after withdrawing mid-tournament from the WGC–Dell Match Play in March. Day admitted the emotional stress had prevented him from being able to concentrate – or even assign meaning to practice – and that reflected in a string of lacklustre results that led to him handing over a 47-week reign as world No.1 to Dustin Johnson in February.
After Dening underwent successful surgery for the cancer and was told she didn’t require chemotherapy, Day’s motivation – and results – began to lift. He came within a whisker of winning the Byron Nelson for a second time, missing a short putt to extend the playoff against Billy Horschel, settling instead for runner-up.
He nearly bagged a second Major title at the US PGA Championship, leading during the third round before a puzzling quadruple-bogey 8 on the 54th hole led to a disappointing share of ninth at Quail Hollow.
“I think last year was a good kick in the butt, you know, not really being talked about – and being talked about for the wrong reasons,” Day admits.
And then there was the split from long-time caddie Colin Swatton, the mentor he’d met as a teenager attending Kooralbyn International School. Day arrived at the BMW Championship in September with close friend Luke Reardon on the bag, and revealed the popular ‘Swatto’ was no longer his caddie but would remain his swing coach.
And as if there wasn’t enough going on in 2017, Day and wife Ellie suffered a miscarriage while she was pregnant with the couple’s third child almost as Day was arriving in Sydney to play the Australian Open for the first time in four years.
Day is a fighter, and always has been. His adolescent struggles are well document – while growing up in a poor household in Beaudesert, Queensland, a 12-year-old Day lost his father Alvin to stomach cancer but battled through adversity to make it to the US PGA Tour.
So it was no surprise to see Day as the last man standing in a six-hole sudden-death playoff against Alex Noren at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Although it was his 11th US PGA Tour title, it was the first time he’d won in his first start of the year. Naturally, the 30-year-old is confident 2018 is going to be his best year to date.
“It’s going to be a great year, I’m off to a good start,” Day tells Golf Digest. “To win your first event of the year is definitely a step in the right direction. Everything is feeling nice. I just have to keep preparing the way I have been.
“I feel calm, and ready to get back at it and focus. I’m motived to try get better and better.”
Back On The Horse
At the top of Day’s priorities for 2018 is to add another Major championship. That’s his other drought. Since breaking through at the 2015 PGA, Day has a runner-up and three top-10s on golf’s biggest stage.
But he’s desperate to become the first Australian male to win multiple Majors since two-time British Open champion Greg Norman.
“My biggest goal this year is to win a Major championship,” Day says. “I definitely feel like the game is right there; I’ve just got to keep sharpening and sharpening my game, and hopefully, come April, I’m peaking at the right time.”
Slipping to world No.10 after starting 2017 on top of the rankings, he’s also hungry to reclaim No.1 after admitting to not handling the title’s pressure, commitments and scrutiny very well.
“Everyone has different goals and motivations,” Day says. “I don’t like playing poor golf and last year was a little frustrating. My goal is always to get to No.1, so if I’m not there I’m shooting to get back.
“I got there for 51 weeks, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication because I know how hard it is to get to No.1 in the world and I know the quality of play [required in] fighting to get to No.1. I’m going to have to work twice as hard, I’m going to have to give my life to this for the next 10, 15 years.”
But the good news is Day felt his world-beating form returning during his victory at Torrey Pines – his second at one of the US PGA Tour’s most difficult venues.
“I felt like it was coming back, I think more the mental side of my game,” Day says. “The drive to get back to No.1, and the desire to win. That’s what I had as the No.1 player in the world.
“Last year I kind of lost that a little bit, but this year is a totally different feel and to have that again is great. But when I get my chance, I don’t want to just get back there, I want to dominate.”
Ouch! You won’t believe how Jason Day celebrated Australia Day
IT WAS Australia Day when Jason Day – en route to his 11th US PGA Tour title at the Farmers Insurance Open – was asked how he intended to celebrate the occasion after his second round.
“I’m going to lay on the ground with my legs up with an ice pack on my back,” he said. “That’s pretty much it, unfortunately. The back’s OK. It’s just sore. I just have to deal with it. I’m doing everything I possibly can to keep it kind of settled down. I’m just trying to stay active through the round.
“The weekend’s going to come around and it’s going to bring some nice weather, so that should be good. Hopefully I don’t have to worry about it as much because my back always performs better when it’s hot.”
Day later revealed his chronic back pain stemmed from the set joints in his spine, which through constant swing stress “have grown larger and larger”. “When they get bigger, they get closer to the nerve and when I throw my back out, then I get shooting pains down both legs,” he says.
While it’s concerning news that Day will have to carefully manage his injury indefinitely, he can take heed from good mate Tiger Woods, and even Justin Rose, who bounced back from a disc herniation in his lower back in 2016 to win multiple tournaments.
Day confirmed he will change “a few things” in his swing to relieve some of the pressure on his lower back. “I just gotta keep myself strong,” he said. “I’ve got to keep my core strong and just try and improve, and hopefully I’m here until 40, 45, 50.”