Day's dream of being No. 1 finally comes true

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2015, 12:44 am

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The statement was made on a conference call on Nov. 27, 2007, or a lifetime ago.

Sitting on his mother’s bed, Jason Day told a pool of Australian reporters: “I want to chase Tiger (Woods) and my goal is to become the No. 1 golfer in the world. That’s been my goal since I was a little kid. If I work hard on what I need to, I’m sure I can take him down.”

He was sharing his goals and ambitions, his hopes and dreams. It was an innocuous comment, one that would hardly garner any attention in today’s look-at-me culture. But no one challenged Woods’ throne, especially not some cocky 20-year-old who hadn’t even played on the PGA Tour, and especially not then, when Woods’ dominance was so oppressive that it stunted the careers of many extravagantly talented players.

After hanging up the phone, he remembered thinking, That might not go over so well, and sure enough, the boldfaced quote made every national newspaper. The next day, Day staggered into coach Colin Swatton’s office at The Kooralbyn International School in Queensland.

“What did I say wrong?” he asked. “Everybody wants to be the best golfer in the world. They don’t want to be second or third, do they?”

“I don’t know anyone that wants to aspire to just be OK,” Swatton replied. “It’s OK to have a lofty goal and want to be the best player in the world. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

TV commentators still ripped him. Fans teased him. His fellow Australians scoffed at his suggestion – “I think the No. 2 spot is available right now,” one woofed – and wondered why the kid would provoke the great champion.

“Everyone kind of laughed,” Day says now, “and that’s OK. That’s the dream that I’ve always had.”

No one is laughing now, of course.


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Day’s six-shot victory here at the BMW Championship confirmed what has been made abundantly clear over the past few months. After a late-summer stretch when the top ranking was passed around more often than an offering plate, Day has emerged as the undisputed No. 1, putting the world’s best on notice with a tantalizing display of power, precision, finesse and determination.

“It’s the culmination of 16 years of work and trust and belief,” Swatton said.

Day finished four days at soggy Conway Farms at 22-under 262, six shots clear of rookie Daniel Berger. It was Day's PGA Tour-leading fifth victory this season, and fourth in his last six starts. Don’t submit your Player of the Year ballots just yet.

This, you see, was exactly what Day had in mind for this season. More motivated than ever, he declared after his playoff win at Torrey Pines that he really wanted to “kick butt” this year and challenge for the No. 1 spot.

At the time, he was dismissed – again.

He wasn’t a good enough closer.

He couldn’t make the putts when it mattered.

He was living in Rory’s world.

Injuries to Day’s back, wrist, thumb and ankle – and a few scary bouts with vertigo – had always provided a convenient narrative for his underachievement, but Day suggests there was a missing piece from his repertoire.

Belief.

Long one of the most talented players on Tour, he won only twice in seven years. With so many near misses in majors – nine top-10s in all before the PGA – he developed a tremendous amount of scar tissue for someone in his age-27 season.

A shame, too, because his mind used to be so clear. As an amateur, he walked onto the course and knew that he was the man to beat. Every Tour pro feels that way to some extent, or he won’t be out here long, but Day said he’s spent the past seven years trying to convince himself.

“How do you believe in yourself,” he said, “when you don’t know what to believe in?”

Yet to hear Day, his career breakthrough came not at Whistling Straits, where he broke the 72-hole scoring mark, but at St. Andrews, where he left his birdie bid on the last a few inches short.

For the first time, he said, “I was letting it unfold and not forcing the issue.”

Now, four wins later, the lid has been blown off.

Now, whatever doubts existed have disappeared, lost in a flurry of birdies during his stirring comeback in Canada, his macho performance at the PGA, his flawless weekend at the Barclays and his relentless attack at the BMW, where he dominated in wire-to-wire fashion and never led by fewer than four shots on the weekend.

Now, he needles Woods – who spent a record 683 weeks at No. 1 – and bounces ideas off of him. They discuss little things, like stress control and course management and handling success, but those tidbits empower him.

“I had confidence,” Day said, “but I didn’t have the ‘I’m going to go out there and beat everyone here’ confidence.”

Of course, golf at this sublime level is leased, not owned. That confidence will be tested, maybe even next week at East Lake. Soon he will wonder how it ever came so easily, how he pounded his driver so long and so straight, how he willed all of those putts into the cup.

For now, though, he just wants to enjoy his golf, and the realization of a dream.

This goal to become No. 1 first materialized when he watched Woods’ game-changing victory at the ’97 Masters. A few years later, before heading to the 2004 Junior World Championship, he asked Swatton: “Do you really think I can be the best player in the world?”

“Absolutely,” Swatton replied. “You’ve just got to listen, be patient, work hard, and eventually you’re going to get there.”

After that victory at Torrey Pines, the then-17-year-old devised with Swatton a four-part plan – with technical, tactical, physical and mental “buckets” – to reach the pinnacle of the sport by the age of 22. He’s nearly six years late, but who cares? He’s there now.

Day was asked Sunday night what the younger version of himself would say to all of the detractors back in late 2007.

“I’d love to say I told you so,” he said, “but that wouldn’t be very nice.”

Instead, he hopes that the statement, the backlash and the eventual fulfillment are a reminder that it’s OK to dream big.

“I always had a vision of me standing on top of the earth when I was a kid,” he said, “and knowing that right now there’s no one on this planet that’s better than me, that’s pretty cool. That out of all the golfers that are in the world playing right now, I’m the best. It’s such a good feeling.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.