Jason's journey: Day learned to succeed by failing first

By Rex HoggardAugust 30, 2015, 11:55 pm

EDISON, N.J. – For a time, unraveling the mystery of Jason Day had been an exercise in psychology.

To observers far and wide he was a bona fide five-tool guy from the moment he arrived at the PGA Tour doorstep in 2008. So much talent, so much desire, so many ways to come up painfully short.

Long even by bomber-circuit standards with decent touch and unfiltered confidence, the meteoric rise we’ve come to expect from such phenoms was slow at first, with his maiden Tour victory coming in 2010, and then seemingly nonexistent.

He came up short to history at the 2013 Masters when Adam Scott became the first Australian to slip into one of the coveted green jackets, an accomplishment many thought Day was destined to achieve.

He was squeezed by the tight confines of Merion at the 2013 U.S. Open, slowed by vertigo at this year’s national championship at Chambers Bay and stunned when his birdie putt at the 72nd hole last month at St. Andrews missed its mark.

For all the power and potential there was something missing, some unquantifiable element that stood between Day and his destiny. That is, until he arrived at Whistling Straits last month.

At the PGA Championship Day overcame the Sunday pressure that had become such a firewall to his major hopes, the season’s best player in Jordan Spieth and arguably the year’s most demanding golf course to break through a grass ceiling that, in retrospect, was of his own making.

In short, student had become teacher.

The Barclays: Articles, photos and videos

That missing element, however esoteric, no longer stands between Day and what he hopes to accomplish, as evidenced by his commanding victory on Sunday at The Barclays.

“It's just something that you have to fail,” said Day, who finished his week in New Jersey a half dozen shots ahead of runner-up Henrik Stenson after a final-round 62. “You fail and you learn. The moment that you start thinking about, 'I can't close, I can't close,' that's when you start not believing in yourself. That's the worst thing you can possibly do.”

Whatever the missing pieces, Day acquired them honestly, through hard work and even harder losses.

Since that heartbreak at the Home of Golf in July, Day has finished first (RBC Canadian Open), 12th (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), first (PGA Championship) and first (The Barclays). During this “dog days” run through the late summer, he’s played his last five events in 73 under par against some of the season’s deepest fields.

Day’s four victories this season are double his career total before 2015 and yet, at least statistically, there are no elephants in the room that would neatly explain the change in his championship fortunes.

Putting is the simplest of answers, but that would be a gross oversimplification considering that he’s always been one of the circuit’s better putters.

Maybe a more detailed explanation would be dramatically improved lag putting, like when Stenson gave Day something to look at on the leaderboard on Sunday, moving to within two strokes with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14. Your new FedEx Cup front-runner answered by rolling in 61 feet of birdie putts at the 14th and 15th holes.

On paper it would explain how Day, who hasn’t ranked outside the top 30 in strokes gained-putting the last five seasons, is second on Tour in putts outside of 25 feet this year, converting 10 percent from that neighborhood.

That improvement, like most things in Day’s ascension to world No. 3 – he can overtake Rory McIlroy at No. 1 next week at TPC Boston depending on a wide range of scenarios, but one milestone at a time - was not by accident.

“We changed the way he was doing his lag putting,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie and swing coach. “We’ve always worked on lag putting, but we upped the ante a little bit and started putting into the hole from 25 or 30 feet instead of just putting to a mark, that way you get more focused on making the putt instead of just getting it close.”

He made plenty when it counted on Sunday at Plainfield Country Club, adding a 27-footer for birdie at No. 10 to his bombs at the 14th and 15th holes, but it was a 5-footer for par at the 13th hole just as Stenson was closing the gap that was the turning point according to Day.

It’s simply human nature that fans remember the walk-off birdie putt from a mile away but rarely talk nostalgically about the gritty par save somewhere on the back nine. Those small battles, however, are a fundamental part of Day’s transition from perennial also-ran to preemptive favorite.

“He was trying too hard to win before. I think he was just getting in his own way,” Swatton said. “Now, he’s allowing those wins to come to him. He’s not trying to force things and make it happen, not hitting the shot that he wants to hit but the shot that he needs to hit.”

As elementary as that might seem, evolution, call it a competitive maturity, is the only explanation that makes sense considering where he started in ’08, filled with potential yet lacking the extra gear that champions find.

“It's not easy, I can tell you that,” Day admitted. “Even though it may look easy, it's not easy. I'm still nervous. I still had thoughts on the front nine, Am I going to win it? But over the years it's starting to become a lot easier.”

Maybe it just seems easy because for so long Day made winning, and conversely losing, look so hard compared to the show he’s putting on now.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.