NORTON, Mass. – In bullet-point fashion, Jason Day’s season has been a year of dramatic contrasts.
In order, he has won a World Golf Championship and endured three cortisone shots, a grip change, a bout with vertigo and the slings and arrows of the kind of internal dialogue that is always accompanied by a healthy dollop of doubt.
What began as a breakout season for the would-be world beater, punctuated by his victory at the Match Play Championship in February, cascaded into a collection of visits to the doctor’s office and more than 2 ½ months on the DL.
Pain and rehabilitation Day can deal with. He’s had plenty of practice in a career dotted with injuries ranging from his ankle to his wrist and now his thumb. What compounded the problem was all the free time that he suddenly had to endure.
Along the lines of idle hands and whatnot, Day spent a good amount of time lamenting his plight and wrestling with the predictable demons.
“The stress was tough. Just not knowing if you’re going to play again. Your mind wanders and you think, ‘Is this the end for me?’” Day said.
Deep stuff for a 26-year-old, but he has come by his anxiety honestly.
For weeks at a time, Day’s ailing left thumb refused to heal and with each passing checkup, the progress and long-term prognosis continued to stall until he decided to stop waiting and worrying.
Day hired a new conditioning coach who created a program to protect his fragile thumb. His swing coach, Col Swatton, had him weaken his grip to alleviate the pressure of repeated swings. Day’s “ball count” jumped from about 50 range balls a week before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to nearly 500, and he opened with rounds of 69-65 at the PGA Championship on his way to a tie for 15th place. Two weeks later at The Barclays he held a share of the lead through 54 holes before finishing two shots behind eventual champion Hunter Mahan.
On a perfect fall Saturday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Day stormed out early with a front-nine 31 and will take another lead into a playoff Sunday. Although he’s only midway through this event – which finishes on Monday – and it is Ryan Palmer who is tied with him atop the leaderboard, the reasons to be optimistic go well beyond his second-round scorecard.
That he’s playing PGA Tour golf, albeit not entirely pain-free, is reason to exhale. That he’s vying for his second title in as many weeks is something that he thought might never happen again.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Day, who led by as many as two strokes before making a mess of the par-5 18th hole on his way to a second-round 68.
It’s the kind of golf many expected from Day when he collected his second Tour title earlier this year at the WGC-Match Play and the kind of run that made him a can’t-miss prospect when he turned professional in 2006.
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson could be forgiven if he gave the Presidents Cup staple - an Ohio resident by way of Queensland, Australia - the nod on Tuesday with one of his wild-card picks. Day has everything a captain with too many options would want, except for the wrong passport to join the U.S. side in Scotland.
But as impressive as Day’s play has been the last month, it is his growing confidence that may vault him atop the FedEx Cup standings on Monday. After a season of doubt and doctors, the swagger, and a healthy bit of perspective, has returned.
“Sunday last week was the best I’ve ever seen on a Sunday,” Swatton said. “You could see he was confident.”
Always considered a singular talent, if there was a knock against Day before this season it was his play on Sundays when tournaments, often of the major championship variety, were on the line.
In a twisted way, Day’s bout with a bad thumb has seemed to put that second-guessing into perspective. After facing the possibility of life after golf, those 5-footers for birdie on the back nine with hardware hanging in the balance no longer seem to weigh as heavily on him.
Consider that on Sunday last week at The Barclays, Day played his last six holes in 2 under par and closed with a 68, which would normally give the 54-hole leader a better than average chance had it not been for Mahan’s heroics.
After contemplating the end for weeks at a time, it seems Day still has a few bullet items to add to what has already been an eventful season.