Day's Forecast: 'I Think This One Sets Up Best for Me'
By Dave Shedloski
OAKMONT, Pa. – When he scrambled his way to a distant second-place finish behind Rory McIlroy in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Jason Day proved he had the mettle to withstand the itinerant challenges of the championship.
But did he have the game? Five years later, we know the answer.
In his five U.S. Open starts, Day has finished inside the top 10 on all but one occasion, including a second runner-up in 2013 at Merion and last year’s survival test at Chambers Bay, when he battled to the 54-hole lead and ended up tied for ninth despite battling vertigo-like symptoms.
As he prepares for the 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, Day is a different player. He has never started a U.S. Open as the No. 1 player in the world or as a major champion, but those are the changes in his stature since his struggles at Chambers Bay. And even though his first major came with a record-setting performance in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the power-hungry, power player from Australia believes his game is best built for the U.S. Open.
“Usually the course is running very firm. Usually the greens are firm and fast,” Day explained. “I feel like I hit it high, and I feel like I’ve got good touch around the greens … I think this one sets up best for me.
“I’ve been very close to winning a U.S. Open. This is one tournament that is very stressful, and I feel like I strive under stress, and hopefully I can do that this year.”
Not since Ken Venturi endured life-threatening dehydration in the 1964 U.S. Open at sweltering Congressional had a contender performed under more stress in the championship than Day did last year at Chambers Bay. His brief collapse on the final hole on Friday set up a monumental storyline that only became more compelling when he carefully constructed a third-round 68 that paired him with eventual runner-up Dustin Johnson in the final grouping on Sunday.
While the pressure of finishing off his PGA triumph was more acute – he was trying to avoid surrendering his third straight 54-hole lead – his experience at Chambers Bay was much more difficult on him.
“I was battling something that I couldn’t control,” said Day, 27, who still takes medications to fight the virus that caused his dizziness and showed up at Oakmont, a bit ominously perhaps, fighting a head cold. “I was just trying to get through the tournament and hopefully give myself an opportunity at winning the event, which I did. But I just didn’t capitalize on Sunday.”
It’s more accurate to say that he couldn’t capitalize, because of his symptoms. But it wasn’t without its positives. “It was a good experience for me to really understand how far I can push myself.”
What’s happened since then is that he has pushed the competition, including U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth, out of the way in capturing the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. Day has won seven times starting with his victory last July in the RBC Canadian Open, including a wire-to-wire triumph in The Players Championship last month.
His T-27 finish two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament was his first out of the top 25 this year in 11 starts.
In addition to well-honed skills, what Day thinks separates him from his peers at the moment is desire. “I want it right now. I want it more than anything in the world,” he said, his naturally ready smile fading with the seriousness of his words. “All I’m doing right now is focusing on trying to win golf tournaments, and the only way to do that is get the process right.
“Right now I’m driven to win tournaments just because 10 tournaments that I’ve won is not enough. I need to win more.”
That intensity and drive come from within, but further stimulus comes from another source – his son Dash, who has become a familiar figure to golf fans because of his dashes (there is no better description) onto the green after his father wins, which these days is a common occurrence. Father and son recently appeared together on a TaylorMade commercial, and at the end, Dash, 3 years old, says, “I love you, Daddy,” which reduces Day to tears every time he watches it.
But the extra motivation is the message Dash delivers on Sunday. He tells his father to make sure he wins so he can kiss the trophy.
“I don’t know if that adds a little bit more pressure on me or not, but it’s great,” Day says, sniffling slightly, either from the head cold or something deeper inside. “It’s really fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
That makes the stress worth it.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.