Despite injuries, Day optimistic about future

By Rex HoggardJanuary 4, 2017, 12:01 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – In the fall of 2006, those who make the important decisions at TaylorMade Golf had a heady choice – sign little-known prospect Jason Day to an endorsement deal or Anthony Kim?

The company opted for the Australian blue-chipper, perhaps because of Kim’s rough-and-tumble past at the University of Oklahoma. Or maybe it was Day’s potential global appeal.

Whatever the reason, the decision paid off. Although Kim won three times in his first three years on the PGA Tour he hasn’t played since 2012 and has become something of an urban legend, with the occasional sighting only fueling the curious reasons behind his disappearance.

Day on the other hand begins 2017 No. 1 in the world following a three-win season in ’16, he’s won a major (2015 PGA Championship) and is a model citizen with an impressive lineup of endorsement opportunities, including a new clothing deal with Nike that reportedly is worth $10 million a year.

Yet beneath all that momentum and upside was a very real sense of uncertainty on Tuesday when he spoke at the SBS Tournament of Champions.

The 29-year-old hasn’t played on Tour since the Thursday of the Tour Championship in September, sidelined by a back injury that caused him to withdraw from the season finale.


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“It’s been a while,” he smiled on Tuesday at Kapalua.

If there is cause for concern when it comes to Day – and, to be honest, any time someone misses starts because of a balky back there is reason to worry – it wasn’t coming from the 10-time Tour winner.

That’s not his style.

Although he conceded that the last three frigid months cooped up in Columbus, Ohio, was varying shades of “miserable,” he begins 2017 feeling fit and “cautiously optimistic.”

He’s been here before. At the 2015 U.S. Open he suffered from a dramatic case of benign positional vertigo, missed two months in ’14 with a left-thumb injury and withdrew from the Masters in ’13 with an ankle injury.

As impressive as Day has been on the course during his career, his inability to avoid the DL has been just as incomprehensible.

For Day, the cautionary tale of a world-class athlete derailed in his prime by a back injury is no further away than a text message. He grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, basing his unrivaled work ethic on a second-hand book written about the 14-time major champion, and has become a friend and confidant of the former world No. 1 in recent years.

Day has seen firsthand the ravages a back injury can have on even the most talented and conditioned player, but as temperatures dropped into single digits in Ohio the last few weeks he contended there were no foreboding moments.

This current injury, which he described as an annular ligament tear between his L4/L5 disc, can be controlled, Day said. He explained that through treatment and strengthening and a shorter back swing he can keep his ailing back from dictating the terms of his career like it has for Woods, who missed all of the 2016 season following multiple back procedures.

When asked if there was a moment over the past few weeks when he embraced the prospect of his professional mortality, Day said his current bout with his body wasn’t nearly as concerning as the thumb injury he endured in 2014.

“I actually thought I was going to have to quit the game because of the thumb, because I literally couldn't hold the club,” he said. “You can get away with a bad back a little bit every now and then; you can kind of get through it.”

His injured thumb, however, lingered for months, at one point requiring three cortisone injections in four weeks.

“I remember sitting there and they would pull the thumb, so the knuckle could expand and they could inject in between the knuckle,” Day recalled. “It hurt, I mean, like hell, it hurt so bad. I was just trying to get some sort of numbness so I could actually hold the club.”

By comparison, Day’s most recent medical setback only required time and patience, not to mention a healthy dose of perspective born from countless trips to the Tour fitness trailer.

“I feel like you're always trying to say, ‘I feel good and I'm past it,’ but with back injuries, I think you probably look at it, 90 percent of the players probably have some back injury or back symptom that could possibly pop up at any time,” he said.

A decade after TaylorMade bet on Day his upside remains indisputable. Long even by Tour standards with a superior putting touch (he was first in 2016 in strokes gained: putting), Day is still the player with the most consistent and well-rounded game even if all that talent comes with a growing list of concerning medical question marks.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.