Jason Day officially announced himself to the golfing world with a joint runner-up finish at the US Masters, before confirming his status amongst the games’ elite with another second place finish at the US Open.
In a teleconference held with a select group of journalists during early July, Day opened up about a whole range of subjects, including his play in the first two majors of 2011, what he hopes will be a long and exciting rivalry with McIlroy and the improvements in the mental aspect of his game. Day also weighs into the debate about Tiger Woods and what he believes lies ahead for the world’s most recognisable golfer.
Honest and articulate, Day’s words came without fear or favour and gave a perfect insight into the inner workings of a young man who could one day be mentioned in the same breath as the best golfers to ever come out of Australia.
The US Open
Without being rated a serious contender at Augusta, Day chased down the leaders and at the end of the week only one man, South African Charl Schwartzel, stood between him a coveted green jacket.
As a result, Day’s name was being called when it came to identifying the contenders at Congressional for the US Open. Day lived up to the hype and produced an outstanding tournament. Only problem was, he ran into a red-hot Irishman in Rory McIlroy.
“What Rory did at the US Open was quite ridiculous,” Day began. “He went out and lapped the field and he did it really easily and he looked like he was having a lot of fun. We got wiped out at the US Open, but to finish second was great. “
When analysing his efforts at Congressional, Day took most satisfaction out of the fact that he achieved his outstanding result without his “A” game in the all-important final round.
“It was a very tough day. My driver was a little erratic. It was just such a grind for me the whole day. I was battling myself and I was making some really, really good up and downs to get the momentum swinging in my direction
“To play the last 45 holes of a US Open without a bogey is very tough and I was very happy with that achievement.”
Often forgotten is the fact that Day is only 23 years of age with what promises to be a long and successful career in front of him. To perform as he has in the Masters and US Open is a confirmation of his talent and an indication of what might lie ahead.
“Playing great in the first two majors this year has given me a lot of confidence that I’m starting to trust my game a lot better than I did in the past,” he said. “At the Masters I obviously didn’t expect to finish second but I really enjoyed being put under pressure in that certain situation, just to see what I need to do out there.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in my skin and a lot more comfortable out on the golf course in front of a lot of people and in front of a large fan base, which is really special.”
Such is his belief that he can compete in the biggest tournaments on the international schedule, Day has his sights firmly set on golf’s big four events, not just this year but into the future.
“That’s the big thing. We only have four chances each year playing in majors and I’ve had three top 10’s in my first four, and the chance to win the Masters. I’m happy with where my game is right now. But I can’t stop. I’ve got to keep trying to improve every week so hopefully I can win one of the next two majors.”
The new breed: Jason and Rory
McIlroy and Day are a part of the new breed, the next generation to carry the game forward. Will there be a long and exciting rivalry as is the suggestion? Only time will tell. But Day is determined to learn from his young rival and to do his best to challenge McIlroy and the other young guns into the future.
“He learnt from the US Masters very quickly,” Day said of McIlroy and his win at the US Open. “But he’s been a talented golfer from 15 when I first met him and he’s got better every single year.
“He’s going to have multiple wins on the major stage so I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.
“I think the Rory McIlroy generation– if that’s what you call it–the younger kids coming up pushing forwards, are going to inspire a lot of younger guys to push forward as well and to try harder and perform a little better.
“The next generation is very young, but given a little bit of time, three to five years from now there’s going to be a lot of solid golfers.”
The mental battle
Praised for his physical talents, Day identified an area of his game which needed attention and turned to California-based Australian sports psych Neale Smith for guidance.
With the assistance of Smith, a former US Tour player, Day has made enormous strides with the mental side of his game, with the results evident for all to see.
“My mental game is on the right path and every other aspect of my game is heading in the right direction. I would like to get over the line one day (in a major) but I’m not going out at the British and the PGA expecting to win. The moment I go out and expect to win is the moment I won’t perform as well as I should.
“I just need to go out there and keep working hard and play one shot at a time. When I was playing the Masters and US Open I was focusing on what I needed to do out there and that pretty much took the nerves away.
“All I was trying to focus on was what I needed to do to get the ball from here to the hole in the least amount of strokes.”
Ask Day for an opinion and he will give it, so when quizzed as to what he expects from Tiger Woods when he eventually returns from his leg injuries, he was happy to offer a response. Showing tremendous respect for his achievements, Day believes we haven’t yet seen the last of Woods in the big events.
“He’s Tiger Woods. I still think he’s the best player in the world, not going off the world rankings, but just going on what he’s done in the past,” Day said.
“Tiger Woods is 35 right now. Jack Nicklaus won his last major at 46. The best thing for him is to rest physically and mentally. He’s going to be back. Is he going to dominate like he was when he was dominating a lot, I don’t know. But I know he’s going to be back and he’s going to have a lot of good chances to win majors. “
Since turning professional in 2007, Day has yet to play an event on home soil. Having signed on to compete at the Australian Open and PGA Championships, and being a lock for a place on the International Team at the President’s Cup, Australian audiences are about to get their chance to see our newest golfing superstar up close and in person.
“If I can keep playing well hopefully that creates a lot of buzz back home. I think that being a bit younger I can try to bring a younger crowd to Australian golf,” Day said. “I haven’t played there as a professional yet. I haven’t played there for four or five years now and I’m looking forward to getting back, just seeing my mates and spending time with my family and having my family watch me play golf.
“But I’m not going back there just to relax and have a good time. I’m going to knuckle down. I really want to go out and win the Australian Open and the Australian PGA if I can. It would be good to win in front of an Australian crowd.”
Day, currently seventh on the official world golf rankings, will also play a part in the President’s Cup. He is hoping there will be a number of Aussies by his side.
“It’s great to have Charl (Schwartzel) and Louis (Oosthuizen) and Ernie (Els) but the more Aussies we can have at the President’s Cup is going to help a lot. The fans are going to be behind us, it’s a home game. It’s going to be tough for the International side to pull through again but playing on our home course gives us another advantage.”
McIlroy v Day: The early years
All golfers watched spellbound as Rory McIlroy crushed the field in his dramatic victory in the US Open at Congressional GC. Australian Jason Day was one of the few to show some fight coming second in this most prestigious of tournaments. However, few know that back in 2005 they competed against each other in The Dunes’ Medal down on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
The Dunes’ Medal is a 72-hole stroke event played annually in early December each year. The event attracts Australia’s best amateurs and is also one of the 7 tournaments used to select Australian amateur teams. Top amateurs from overseas are regular participants. The tournament is in its 13th year.
Back to 2005, playing against each other for the first time Jason Day won the tournament shooting 276 – 12 under. Rory finished a distant seventh, 8 shots behind Jason. Clearly they were very classy golfers even back then as 16 (McIlroy) and 17 (Day) year-olds. For those interested in stats, the tournament record is 274 – 14 under by Alistair Presnell in 2003 and newly crowned British Amateur Champion Bryden McPherson in 2008.