Day overcame long odds, injuries to win first major

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2015, 10:00 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – It’s hard to imagine now looking at images of a smiling, athletic young man with the photogenic wife and precocious young son running about that there was a time when this dream could have just as easily been a nightmare.

On Sunday at the PGA Championship, with the azure hues of Lake Michigan as a back drop, Jason Day completed a journey that started with the Australian fittingly perched on the deep end.

“It’s been pretty well documented that Jason could have been on the wrong side of the tracks. It could have easily gone the other way, and he would have been in a totally different spot,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie and longtime swing coach. “He wouldn’t have been standing on the 18th green at Whistling Straits. He’s come a long way to be here today.”

It’s roughly 9,800 miles from Kooralbyn – a small country town, which is Australian for remote, about an hour west of the shimmering beaches of the Gold Coast – to Sheboygan, Wis. But for Day it’s the metaphorical distance he’s traversed that matters most.

The trek began 14 years ago not long after Day’s father, Alvin, died of stomach cancer and the gangly 12 year old decided, as many children do in times of crisis, to act out.

He got in trouble, hung out in the wrong circles and alarmed his mother, Dening, enough that she took a second job, scraped together just enough money and sent Day to the Kooralbyn International School, a sport specific institution where she hoped he’d find a purpose.

Things didn’t go well at first between Day and Swatton, who was Kooralbyn’s golf instructor at the time. Day was angry and obstinate, Swatton was methodical and entrenched to the point he painted lines on the sidewalk at Kooralbyn that were exactly one yard apart to teach students how to correctly pace off yardages.

“We had a little disagreement initially, but from that day forward he dedicated himself to being the best player in the world,” said Swatton, who evolved into something of a surrogate father for Day. “He put more hours in and worked harder than anyone else.”



And like that Day went from obstinate to obsessive. Swatton once told Day to work on a certain chipping drill and went off to work with other students. When he returned hours later Day was still working on the same drill.

It was the type of single-minded focus that left unchecked could wreak havoc, but under proper supervision could be harnessed and honed to produce frighteningly impressive results even from a player who Swatton concedes wasn’t even the best golfer at his academy.

To a point, Day’s climb followed a predictable script, with numerous amateur titles followed by just a single year on the Web.com Tour before he quickly ascended to the Big Leagues.

But things weren’t as easy for Day on the PGA Tour.

He played two full seasons before his first Tour victory and found himself bouncing on and off the disabled list with alarming regularity.

Day was sidelined with a thumb ailment (2014), back issue (2014), ankle injury (2013), wrist problem (2007) and, most concerning of all, a debilitating bout with vertigo that flared up at the U.S. Open.

It became standard fare to start each interview with Day by asking about his health, so much so the normally affable player waved off your scribe last year on the practice range at the Tour Championship.

“Don’t even ask,” he glared before offering a smile, “I’m feeling fine.”

But if he’d become weary of dealing with doctors, it was the increasingly loud drumbeat of his play in major championships that had truly begun to wear on him.

“I guess you can take me off the best players without a major [list] now,” he said on Sunday after winning the PGA Championship.

It was only fitting that Day completed his Grand Slam quest at Whistling Straits, which was the site of his first near miss at a major when he tied for 10th at the 2010 PGA.

There were runner-up showings at the 2011 Masters (which may have hurt the worst considering the inexplicable Australian drought at Augusta National) and U.S. Open.

He finished third at the 2013 Masters, which was won by Adam Scott, and was again runner-up at the U.S. Open later that season.

But the ultimate blow may have been at last month’s Open Championship where he began the final round with a share of the lead, but Day missed a 25 footer for birdie at the 18th hole that would have earned him a spot in the playoff won by Zach Johnson.

“He was disappointed that he didn’t get it done [at St. Andrews], but it was a matter of looking at what he did really, really well at that golf tournament,” Swatton said.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then it’s easy to see how Day used yet another disappointment to fuel what turned out to be a historic week at Whistling Straits.

After making birdie on his final three holes to win by one shot at the RBC Canadian Open, Day led by two strokes starting the final round at the PGA where, paired with the best player in the world (Jordan Spieth), he picked apart the course and the leaderboard like a guy who already had a six-pack of Grand Slam titles on the shelf.

He birdied four of his first seven holes to pull away from the field and put the finishing touches on what turned out to be a three-stroke victory with a towering 4-iron into the par-5 16th hole for what was essentially a walk-off birdie.

“A lot of tears. This one means a lot. We’ve come so close so many times,” Swatton said. “He always wanted to get better and his goal was to be the No. 1 golfer in the world.”

While he's not No. 1 yet, his dream of winning a major has come true, and it all materialized alongside a dusty hill in Kooralbyn not long after Dening Day took a gamble, and a second job, on a young man who could have gone either way.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.