Seven wins from 17 starts may have made Jason Day golf’s undisputed world No 1 after a spell when that title was shared around a fair bit, but a catalogue of disappointments prior to that purple patch have been the real making of the Australian.
“It’s been a great 10 months that I’ve had,” admitted Day as he savoured adding the Players Championship to the RBC Canadian Open, US PGA Championship, The Barclays, BMW Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC Dell Match Play during a blistering run of form. “But the years prior to this 10 months were the foundation to set me up to this point.”
He is referring to him having earned a reputation as a “nearly man” after twice coming close to winning The Masters, finishing second, third and fourth in the US Open in four years and also letting an opportunity to become Open champion slip from his grasp at St Andrews last July.
“I had to fail a lot to learn a lot about myself and learn a lot about my game to really kind of propel me forward to be in a position like this,” added Day after opening up some daylight between himself and both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy at the top of the world rankings with a four-shot victory at TPC Sawgrass.
Now with 10 PGA Tour titles to his name, Day joins McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players to reach double digits in victories on that circuit before turning 29. Pleased though he is about achieving such a feat, the 28-year-old has now developed a taste for winning and is determined to keep his foot on the pedal.
“I look at 10 PGA Tour wins, and I say to myself, ‘that’s not enough’ and it isn’t enough for me. I want more than 10 as that number is not a lot,” admitted Day. “I look at Tiger and he’s on 79 and Phil ([ickelson with 42] is up there as well. I also want to leave my footprint in this game that has given me so much. I want to be able to be looked on as one of the greats in the game and I have the opportunity to do that right now.”
Of all the aforementioned disappointments Day suffered before finally seeing all that talent start to reap rich rewards, last year’s Open Championship looks as though it proved to be the big turning point in his career. He shared the lead heading into the final round at St Andrews and was still in contention before leaving a 25-foot putt short at the 72nd hole to miss out on the play-off won by Zach Johnson.
“It just flat-out sucks losing and that week something changed,” said Day as he reflected on his latest triumph, one that matched Woods (twice), Tom Watson and Johnny Miller in recording multiple wire-to-wire wins in a season, having also achieved one of the toughest feats in sport in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. “I think I said to myself, ‘you’re ready to finally do this’. The whole week I felt calm and played some great golf. From there it just kind of kicked on, and I haven’t stopped.
“I think a lot of it had to do with belief. Col (his caddie Colin Swatton) would say, ‘a lot of people think you have so much talent and think you’re going to be a great player one day’, and I just could never believe it. I never had that belief in me to really think that about. Then, over the years, I’ve slowly built my career and slowly built the way that I play the game.”
It is perhaps inevitable that Day’s current run of form is being described as “Tiger-esque”. That it was Adam Scott, Day’s countryman, who should be saying that, though, carries considerable weight. “It’s that thing I always try to explain how good you feel after one win, and I try to imagine how good Tiger felt just playing about five years into his pro career having won like 50 events, and imagine how you’d feel confidence-wise, and Jason must be kind of feeling something like that at the moment,” said Scott. “You can see there’s that calmness inside him, calm confidence, and the way he’s walking around, he’s got that kind of unbeatable look about him.”
It’s way too early, of course, to suggest Day is going to dominate the game like Woods once did. And those wondering whether Spieth is going to be permanently scarred by his Masters meltdown or starting to pick holes in McIlroy’s game are doing so at their own peril.
Right now, though, golf certainly has a worthy No 1 and he has no intention of relinquishing that title. “I’m in it for the long haul,” declared Day. “At the end of my career I want to be able to look back and know that I incrementally got better as the years went on. If I can focus on that, then I will.”