Honest Day relieved in more ways than one

By Rex HoggardApril 3, 2017, 5:18 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jason Day is an open book.

It’s not part of any well-crafted media image or a competitive firewall, just the way he is. Unlike many top athletes he’s always figured if he’s upfront with the press and public it will only give people a better understanding of who he is and what he stands for.

Sometimes life on a sodium pentathol drip can be enlightening – like when Day spoke in unabashed terms about his desire to be the world No. 1. Other times, like two weeks ago at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, it can be an emotional marathon.

Six holes into his opening-day match at Austin (Texas) Country Club last month, Day bolted the course and hastily called a press conference. He told the assembled scribes that his mother, Dening, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, that doctors in Australia had given her 12 months to live and that he’d flown her to Ohio and she was scheduled to undergo surgery two days later.

It wasn’t easy – not for Day or anyone else in that room – but it’s his way.

“I always want to be honest with you, the media and the fans,” Day said on Monday at Augusta National where he is preparing for his first start since that Day 1 withdrawal from the Match Play. “I just felt like I was lying by not telling anyone and that’s not me.”

For weeks leading up to his revelation, Day had been asked repeatedly about being unseated atop the World Golf Ranking by Dustin Johnson and his relatively slow start to the season, all along he was wrestling with the much more pressing and personal issue of getting his mother to the United States and into a more optimistic treatment program.

The surgery, which was conducted on March 25 at the Ohio State Medical Center, went well and Dening is well into her recovery. In fact, Day said if she continues to improve she could possibly travel to Augusta National this weekend.


Masters Tournament: Full coverage


“She’s good, she had the left quarter of her lung taken out on the left side; I was with her pretty much every day back home,” Day said after a nine-hole practice round. “She’s in a fair amount of pain but hopefully things are looking up.”

Normally, under situations like this, golf can be a much-needed distraction - an escape from a harsh reality. But for Day, the last few months have been an emotional tug of war.

He wanted to play because that’s what Dening would have wanted. “She’s always wants me to play, that’s all she wants,” he said.

He felt guilty he couldn’t focus on his golf, guilty that he wasn’t there for his mother – who has been such a central part of his life since his father died of cancer when he was 12 years old – guilty because the drive that lifted him to No. 1 world had been replaced by anxiety and uncertainty.

“I’ve felt lost,” he admitted.

Although Day was decidedly more upbeat on Monday at Augusta National than he was two weeks ago at the Match Play, that doesn’t mean he isn’t dealing with the same internal dialogue that has haunted him since January.

Golf is his day job, it’s a dream come true and the result of years of sacrifice, both by Day and Dening, who had to work two jobs to send her son to a sports-specific school when he was a teenager.

He’d said all along that he was trying his best but the results just weren’t there, that he felt his game wasn’t that far from where he was competitively in 2015 when he won five times, including his first major triumph.

But that kind of focus is hard to achieve when your world is being shaken and there is so little you can do to change things.

“There’s been a lot of things go on this year that have been somewhat distracting to my golf; golf was the last thing that I was ever thinking about when this first came about,” Day said. “I’m in a much better place now, being able to be here this year is a special week, not only for me being here but have my mom in safe hands.”

Some professional athletes wouldn’t have been comfortable opening themselves up like Day, worried how they would be perceived or reluctant to show such emotion, but that’s not Day. He really doesn’t have any unspoken thoughts and that personality trait applies in good times and bad.

“I’m human, just like you, just like everyone else,” he said. “It was actually helpful that I could tell everyone and be honest. That’s just the way I am.”

It’s also one of many things that make Day one of the game’s most endearing players.

Getty Images

Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

Getty Images

With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

Getty Images

Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

Getty Images

Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”