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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Rahm, with blinders on, 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.”


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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.

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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.


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“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. 

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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.”


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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.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.


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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1