Jason Day searching for the light at the end of the tunnel
Australian has faced a tumultuous time on and off course but is coming out the other side
Jason Day of Australia hits a bunker shot during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
For almost half an hour at Royal Birkdale, Jason Day bared his soul to us, a heart-to-heart that gave us warts and all. This season has not been what the Australian planned or wanted, with injuries, burnout and concern about his mother’s ill health all coming together like a perfect storm to send him into a black hole.
Ironically, after letting us into his world, there came a presentation from Peter Dawson, the chairman of the official world rankings, which only served to underscore the fall that Day has taken these past seven months. It was to belatedly present him with the Mark McCormack Award for his dominance of the world rankings throughout 2016.
As Dawson explained, “It’s been won 14 times by Tiger Woods, three times by Rory McIlroy and once by Luke Donald. And, for 2016, we have a new recipient, Jason Day. Jason dominated the ranking last year, 41 weeks at the number one spot.”
For Day, it was an untimely reminder of the journey he has taken these past seven months, falling to number six in the latest rankings and with a season-best finish of tied-second in the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic where he lost a play-off to Billy Horschel. That was as good as it got, and his last two appearances – in the US Open and the Travelers championship – ended in missed cuts.
Bringing us back to the start of the year where his form was indifferent and he seemed nothing at all like the player who had dominated the rankings, Day explained: “I got a little bit burned out at the end of 2016 ... you take the burnout factor and the injuries and just being fed up with it, the pressure of being world number one, and it got to me. The hardest thing in golf is motivation comes and goes, but the discipline needs to be there every single day. And, unfortunately, I wasn’t disciplined at the start of the year as I had been over the last couple of years and the couple of years prior.
“Some days you just wake up more motivated than other days, but you always have to stay disciplined. And if you can stay disciplined within yourself, hopefully the little slump you go through will be at the end and you can start to play better golf. I’ve been working very hard, trying to tick the boxes and hopefully I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Things have changed. He’s not as long off the tee, not as straight either. And where he was sinking putts in his time as world number one, he’s not holing so many now. On that point, none other than Tiger Woods – as a friend – contacted him to talk him through his putting routine.
So, without a win since the Players championship last year – which was his third victory of a stellar early part to the season – Day has arrived here at Birkdale later than he normally would for his British Open preparation.
In the past, Day would arrive at a host venue on the Thursday or Friday of the preceding week. It’s a policy that didn’t exactly bear fruit, as his best finish in the Open is a tied-fourth at St Andrews in 2015.
This time, he was later than usual for a couple of reason. Firstly, he stayed home for his son’s birthday; and, then, a scheduled departure on Saturday, coincided with US President Donald Trump flying into JFK airport in New York. With flight delays, Day decided to postpone his own travel plans by a day and only arrived into England on Monday and paid a first visit to Birkdale on Tuesday.
Can he win? Current form would suggest no; his self believe would suggest possibly.
“You always have to believe in yourself. It’s easier said than done. You can say you want to win, but if you don’t truly believe in it, it’s not really going to happen. You may strike lightning in a bottle once or twice! But I’ve just got to resolve myself to the fact that I’ve worked very, very hard and been disciplined over the weeks ... I’m trying to not give myself too many expectations with regards to coming in here and going to beat everyone else. I’ve got to understand the form hasn’t been great. I’ve got to just try and start with (the) first ball and just somehow find it on Sunday and hopefully I’m in there in contention on Sunday.”