Day overcame long odds, injuries to win first major

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2015, 10:00 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – It’s hard to imagine now looking at images of a smiling, athletic young man with the photogenic wife and precocious young son running about that there was a time when this dream could have just as easily been a nightmare.

On Sunday at the PGA Championship, with the azure hues of Lake Michigan as a back drop, Jason Day completed a journey that started with the Australian fittingly perched on the deep end.

“It’s been pretty well documented that Jason could have been on the wrong side of the tracks. It could have easily gone the other way, and he would have been in a totally different spot,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie and longtime swing coach. “He wouldn’t have been standing on the 18th green at Whistling Straits. He’s come a long way to be here today.”

It’s roughly 9,800 miles from Kooralbyn – a small country town, which is Australian for remote, about an hour west of the shimmering beaches of the Gold Coast – to Sheboygan, Wis. But for Day it’s the metaphorical distance he’s traversed that matters most.

The trek began 14 years ago not long after Day’s father, Alvin, died of stomach cancer and the gangly 12 year old decided, as many children do in times of crisis, to act out.

He got in trouble, hung out in the wrong circles and alarmed his mother, Dening, enough that she took a second job, scraped together just enough money and sent Day to the Kooralbyn International School, a sport specific institution where she hoped he’d find a purpose.

Things didn’t go well at first between Day and Swatton, who was Kooralbyn’s golf instructor at the time. Day was angry and obstinate, Swatton was methodical and entrenched to the point he painted lines on the sidewalk at Kooralbyn that were exactly one yard apart to teach students how to correctly pace off yardages.

“We had a little disagreement initially, but from that day forward he dedicated himself to being the best player in the world,” said Swatton, who evolved into something of a surrogate father for Day. “He put more hours in and worked harder than anyone else.”



And like that Day went from obstinate to obsessive. Swatton once told Day to work on a certain chipping drill and went off to work with other students. When he returned hours later Day was still working on the same drill.

It was the type of single-minded focus that left unchecked could wreak havoc, but under proper supervision could be harnessed and honed to produce frighteningly impressive results even from a player who Swatton concedes wasn’t even the best golfer at his academy.

To a point, Day’s climb followed a predictable script, with numerous amateur titles followed by just a single year on the Web.com Tour before he quickly ascended to the Big Leagues.

But things weren’t as easy for Day on the PGA Tour.

He played two full seasons before his first Tour victory and found himself bouncing on and off the disabled list with alarming regularity.

Day was sidelined with a thumb ailment (2014), back issue (2014), ankle injury (2013), wrist problem (2007) and, most concerning of all, a debilitating bout with vertigo that flared up at the U.S. Open.

It became standard fare to start each interview with Day by asking about his health, so much so the normally affable player waved off your scribe last year on the practice range at the Tour Championship.

“Don’t even ask,” he glared before offering a smile, “I’m feeling fine.”

But if he’d become weary of dealing with doctors, it was the increasingly loud drumbeat of his play in major championships that had truly begun to wear on him.

“I guess you can take me off the best players without a major [list] now,” he said on Sunday after winning the PGA Championship.

It was only fitting that Day completed his Grand Slam quest at Whistling Straits, which was the site of his first near miss at a major when he tied for 10th at the 2010 PGA.

There were runner-up showings at the 2011 Masters (which may have hurt the worst considering the inexplicable Australian drought at Augusta National) and U.S. Open.

He finished third at the 2013 Masters, which was won by Adam Scott, and was again runner-up at the U.S. Open later that season.

But the ultimate blow may have been at last month’s Open Championship where he began the final round with a share of the lead, but Day missed a 25 footer for birdie at the 18th hole that would have earned him a spot in the playoff won by Zach Johnson.

“He was disappointed that he didn’t get it done [at St. Andrews], but it was a matter of looking at what he did really, really well at that golf tournament,” Swatton said.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then it’s easy to see how Day used yet another disappointment to fuel what turned out to be a historic week at Whistling Straits.

After making birdie on his final three holes to win by one shot at the RBC Canadian Open, Day led by two strokes starting the final round at the PGA where, paired with the best player in the world (Jordan Spieth), he picked apart the course and the leaderboard like a guy who already had a six-pack of Grand Slam titles on the shelf.

He birdied four of his first seven holes to pull away from the field and put the finishing touches on what turned out to be a three-stroke victory with a towering 4-iron into the par-5 16th hole for what was essentially a walk-off birdie.

“A lot of tears. This one means a lot. We’ve come so close so many times,” Swatton said. “He always wanted to get better and his goal was to be the No. 1 golfer in the world.”

While he's not No. 1 yet, his dream of winning a major has come true, and it all materialized alongside a dusty hill in Kooralbyn not long after Dening Day took a gamble, and a second job, on a young man who could have gone either way.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.