JA­SON DAY – GOLF SAVED MY LIFE

I WOKE UP ONCE IN A GUT­TER IN FRONT OF OUR HOUSE AF­TER BLACK­ING OUT FROM DRINK­ING.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS -

The for­mer World No.1 opens up to Brian Wacker about his trou­bled past, his mother’s can­cer and his ef­forts to re­gain his ma­jor-win­ning form.

The for­mer world num­ber one opens up to Brian Wacker about his trou­bled past, his mother’s can­cer and his e orts to re­gain his ma­jor-win­ning form.

Ja­son Day has achieved his dreams of be­com­ing a ma­jor cham­pion and reach­ing No. 1 in the world. But the 29-year-old Aus­tralian is only just get­ting started. As some­one who grew up idol­is­ing Tiger Woods, he wants more vic­to­ries, more dom­i­na­tion. When his game is on, he’s ar­guably the best in the world. He can over­power cour­ses o­ the tee, hit tow­er­ing laser-like iron shots and pos­sesses one of the best short games on tour.

It all al­most never hap­pened for him, though. Had his abu­sive al­co­holic fa­ther Alvin not died of stom­ach can­cer when Day was just 11 years old, he says he likely wouldn’t be where he is to­day. The 2015 US PGA cham­pion may be en­dur­ing a mini-slump in 2017, but af­ter over­com­ing so much to be­come one of the world’s elite, you can bet your bot­tom dol­lar he’ll be con­tend­ing in ma­jors again very soon.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, Day opens up about his rise to the top, the good and not-so­good mo­ments along the way, bat­tling in­juries, win­ning the US PGA cham­pi­onship and how he can re­gain that form af­ter a rocky 2017.

Your dad was an al­co­holic and abu­sive, but you’re close with a lot of your fam­ily. How do you de­scribe your child­hood?

I ob­vi­ously had a rough up­bring­ing in the sense of my dad be­ing abu­sive, drink­ing. But it’s weird, it’s al­most like I don’t al­low my­self to think about it be­cause I get emo­tional when I do, so I think it’s a mech­a­nism where I just block it out. I lit­er­ally can’t even re­mem­ber what my dad looks like. If I try to pic­ture him right now, I can’t. I couldn’t even tell you what he looked like. But at the same time, I do have happy mem­o­ries from child­hood of my mum and sib­lings. In that sit­u­a­tion, and af­ter years of ther­apy, you just end up block­ing all that out, al­most eras­ing it be­cause you can’t func­tion oth­er­wise. What role did golf play in your up­bring­ing?

It saved me, re­ally. I got in trou­ble a lot as a kid – get­ting into fights... there was drink­ing. I woke up once in a gut­ter in front of our house af­ter black­ing out from drink­ing. It wasn’t good. Golf was an escape for me. It was some­thing I was good at, too, and it gave me mo­ti­va­tion. I re­mem­ber read­ing Tiger Woods’ in­struc­tion book, ‘How I Play Golf’, and that re­ally in­spired me. Golf def­i­nitely saved my life though. I don’t know where I’d be oth­er­wise, and I wouldn’t be where I am if my dad hadn’t died [of can­cer] when I was 11, which is weird to say, but it’s true. Who knows where I would be?

What was one of the darker mem­o­ries of your child­hood that you do re­mem­ber? To this day, I still can’t stand man­gos. I won’t eat them. Grow­ing up in Aus­tralia there are loads of mango trees and a lot of kids eat them. But I re­mem­ber my dad be­ing mad at me, pun­ish­ing me for swear­ing at my sis­ter, who told on me. There was this mas­sive rain­storm one night and it was dark out­side and as pun­ish­ment he made me stand out­side un­der this mango tree. It’s all muddy and dirty and all these rot­ten man­gos are all around me, I’m get­ting soaked and I’m just get­ting eaten alive by all the mos­qui­tos and bugs. It was ter­ri­fy­ing – you’re a kid and it’s dark out there and the weather is a big storm. My mum wanted to let me back in the house but he said ‘no’ and made me stand out there for quite a few hours. I still can’t stand the taste of man­gos to this day.

At what point did you think golf could be a ca­reer for you?

Prob­a­bly around 2004. I’d won all the big tour­na­ments in Aus­tralia and got in­vited to play in the Call­away World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship at Tor­rey Pines. I had never even been out of the coun­try at that point and that was a sort of a ‘Who’s Who’ of golf. That tour­na­ment has such a his­tory of all the big names hav­ing played and won there. My coach and cad­die Colin Swat­ton was the only one there with me that week, and I re­mem­ber us talk­ing like ‘OK yeah, I can do this’.

You have a close-knit group of peo­ple around you and every year you have a team meet­ing at the end of the year. De­scribe the one in 2012. That was a real turn­ing point in your ca­reer, wasn’t it?

Peo­ple think you get up and go play golf and it’s just all you. Well I have a cad­die, coach, trainer, agent, wife, who­ever is on that team. In 2012, it was tough. Our first child, Dash, was born that year and he wasn’t an easy baby. He was scream­ing a lot and my wife El­lie had post­par­tum de­pres­sion. In the meet­ing, ev­ery­one was at­tack­ing me be­cause I wasn’t putting in 100 per cent and even though they’re there to tell me the things I need to do, I didn’t want to hear it. I just sort of cut it short, checked out. I didn’t want to lis­ten to any of them. It got a lit­tle tense, and that was tough be­cause one of the peo­ple in the room is also my wife. We all had to step away. I’d had enough. But once that hap­pened I started work­ing harder. At the end of the day, I have to want it. I feel like no one can beat me if I want it.

You’ve had a num­ber of in­juries or mal­adies in your ca­reer – an­kle, thumb, back, the ver­tigo. What was the most frus­trat­ing or the tough­est of them? My thumb was prob­a­bly most con­cern­ing. I ac­tu­ally thought I was go­ing to have to quit golf be­cause I lit­er­ally couldn’t hold the club. You can get away with the back a lit­tle bit every now and then, you can kind of get through it. It was more con­cern­ing be­cause it was new,

‘I WOULDN’T BE WHERE I AM IF MY DAD HADN’T DIED OF CAN­CER WHEN I WAS 11, WHICH IS WEIRD TO SAY, BUT IS TRUE’

and when some­thing is new you don’t know how long it will take. But now, it’s not re­ally been a con­cern be­cause I know ex­actly what’s go­ing on. We get an MRI and all these scans at the end of every year. So with the L4-L5 disc, there’s ac­tu­ally more space there. The bulged disc is gone. And nor­mally when you have de­gen­er­a­tion of a disc, it usu­ally slowly gets worse. For some rea­son, mine’s got bet­ter. With my thumb I had three in­jec­tions in four weeks, and it just never got bet­ter. That’s a lot of cor­ti­sone in­jec­tions. I re­mem­ber sit­ting there and they would pull the thumb, so the knuckle could ex­pand and they in­ject it in be­tween the knuckle. And it hurt, I mean, like hell, it hurt so bad. I was just try­ing to get some sort of numb­ness to it so I could ac­tu­ally hold the club.

Was the phys­i­cal or the men­tal as­pect more di cult once you came back?

Men­tal, for sure. Be­cause when you’re in­jured or com­ing back from in­jury you never re­ally fully trust your­self phys­i­cally. You can think you’re fine and all that but it takes a while be­fore you ac­tu­ally know it, for your brain to ac­tu­ally process it.

De­scribe the big­gest mo­ment of your ca­reer.

The walk up 18 at Whistling Straits. To be able to make that walk, have a three-shot lead, know­ing I’d fi­nally won a ma­jor, that was ob­vi­ously pretty spe­cial. But to be able to share that with Col (Swat­ton) and cry in his arms, and my wife and fam­ily. It was this great sense of not only re­lief, but an over­whelm­ing feel­ing be­cause of every­thing I’d gone through – the in­juries, stu‹ from my child­hood. It all just came flood­ing out.

Whose game pushes you the most when they’re on?

Rory McIlroy, Dustin John­son and Jor­dan

Spi­eth are prob­a­bly the three. They’ve sep­a­rated them­selves a bit. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Rory. When he’s on he can be un­beat­able with the way he drives it so far and straight. His game is pred­i­cated on his driv­ing so if he’s hit­ting it well o the tee, he’s go­ing to have wedges into every­thing and when his iron play is on it’s laser-like. He just gets in a zone. His game is prob­a­bly most sim­i­lar to mine and chal­lenges me most.

How would you de­scribe your re­la­tion­ship with your coach and cad­die Colin Swat­ton? How does that work?

I wouldn’t be where I am to­day with­out him. No doubt. He’s my coach, cad­die and early on was in some ways a fa­ther fig­ure be­cause he’s older than me, has lived a lot of life ex­pe­ri­ences. I’ve known him since I was 12 years old. He’s like fam­ily. He is fam­ily at this point. He’s very good at his job, analysing all the data and dis­sem­i­nat­ing it down to me and it’s worked great. It can be di„cult wear­ing two hats but he does it well and hav­ing a coach on the course is some­times re­ally help­ful for me. But he also knows when to just be a cad­die and be in that role.

Adam Scott of­ten goes back to play in Aus­tralia. You don’t go as of­ten. Why?

I’d love to go back more and try to as much as I can. It was tough at the end of last year be­cause of my back. Get­ting on a long plane ride to Oz prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been the smartest idea at that point, as much as I love be­ing there. But I do go back when I can and re­ally look for­ward to it be­cause I spend most of my time these days in Amer­ica. My fam­ily come to Amer­ica as well, but I love Aus­tralia.

How has your mother’s bat­tle with can­cer aected you this year? When some­one has can­cer and you don’t know whether or not they’re go­ing to sur­vive, it’s tough. Plus, with my mum, she sac­ri­ficed a lot for me to be in this po­si­tion. I didn’t want to fo­cus on golf. I didn’t want to be on the golf course, be­cause I knew she was at home. My sis­ter and my mum were in Amer­ica, but they’re in a coun­try that is not their home, they’re at my place and they don’t drive on our side of the road, so they don’t have a car to get any­where. They’re by them­selves. There’s a lot of wor­ry­ing about their liveli­hood and the health of my mum. And now that she’s much bet­ter and she’s heal­ing, my mind is in a bet­ter place.

The un­for­tu­nate thing about life is that ev­ery­one is go­ing to pass away at some point, and it never gets eas­ier as you get older, be­cause once you get older it seems like more and more peo­ple you know pass away. Hope­fully at the end of your life­time you’ve changed peo­ple’s lives. And my mum has def­i­nitely im­pacted not only my life, but my sis­ters’ lives and I’m sure she’s im­pacted other peo­ple’s lives through the sto­ries that I’ve told. I can’t imag­ine go­ing through what she was feel­ing like, rais­ing three chil­dren by her­self, not work­ing, not hav­ing much money, and mak­ing the sac­ri­fice or de­ci­sion to go, ‘OK, I’m go­ing to forego my daugh­ters’ col­leges, and put my boy in the golf academy, take a sec­ond mort­gage on the house, bor­row money from my aunt and un­cle’. That was a big sac­ri­fice for her. So ob­vi­ously every­thing I have is due to her de­ci­sions back then giv­ing me the op­por­tu­ni­ties now.

The stats sug­gest your ap­proach play has gone o the boil and putting has dipped. Is that a con­cern or have you just not played enough com­pet­i­tive golf? Back in 2015 and 2016 I didn’t want to fin­ish in sec­ond place. I wanted it more than any­thing in the world. I got a lit­tle bit burned out at the end of 2016, and had a cou­ple of in­juries as well. My back was re­ally let­ting me down and I was very dis­ap­pointed in that. You take the burnout fac­tor and the in­juries and just be­ing fed up with it, the pres­sure of be­ing No. 1 was di„cult, as well. It got to me lit­tle bit. The hard­est thing

‘I THOUGHT I WAS GO­ING TO HAVE TO QUIT GOLF BE­CAUSE OF THE THUMB IN­JURY – I LIT­ER­ALLY COULDN’T HOLD THE CLUB’

in golf is mo­ti­va­tion comes and goes, but the dis­ci­pline needs to be there every sin­gle day. Un­for­tu­nately, I wasn’t as dis­ci­plined at the start of this year as I had been over the last few years, be­cause a lot of the work that went into win­ning in 2015 and 2016 hap­pened the years lead­ing up to it. The mo­ti­va­tion will al­ways come and go, and that’s some­thing that you can’t al­ways con­trol. Some days you just wake up more mo­ti­vated than oth­ers, but you al­ways have to stay dis­ci­plined. If you can stay dis­ci­plined within your­self, hope­fully the lit­tle slump will end and you can start to play bet­ter golf. Say­ing that, I’ve been work­ing very hard. I’ve been try­ing to tick the boxes, and hope­fully I can see a light at the end of the tun­nel.

What have you worked on, specif­i­cally?

I was hit­ting a boat­load of driv­ers and 2-irons, work­ing a lot on my wedge and short game, re­ally. My putting has been re­ally o€. My speed’s been re­ally di‚cult this year. I was ex­plain­ing it to some­one, I think it was Sean O’Hair. When you’re read­ing a putt and have con­sis­tent speed, it’s easy to see one line all the time. But when your speed is o€, there’s a mas­sive dis­tance variance that you’re look­ing at and it’s not con­sis­tent. If it’s not con­sis­tent, you’ll see three di€er­ent lines – you’ll see a high line, the right line and the low line – and it’s very di‚cult to trust what line you’re hit­ting when your speed is way o€. So I worked a lot on lag putting, try­ing to get my speed down, be­cause if I can get my speed down, then the ac­tual line it­self will come back to neu­tral and I’ll be able to read the putts more con­sis­tently and hole more putts. So I did a lot of that.

You haven’t played a lot this year, so is it a case of just get­ting more com­pet­i­tive rounds un­der your belt to re­gain form?

If you take 2015 and 2016, I hit it long and straight, I hit my iron shots a lot closer and I holed every­thing. And this year it’s not as long, it’s not as straight. My iron shots aren’t as close, and I’m not hol­ing as many putts. So it’s a per­fect for­mula for not hav­ing a good year. I’ve just got to keep work­ing at it. The hard­est thing is be­ing able to take your own ad­vice some­times. It’s so easy to give ad­vice out. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s very, very di‚cult to take your own ad­vice some­times. And my ad­vice is to be as pa­tient as pos­si­ble and just keep tick­ing the boxes, and hope­fully the work pays o€ in the long run.

How close are you to re­cap­tur­ing the form that won you a ma­jor and made you world num­ber one?

You need re­ally good bal­ance in this game to play as you’d like to play. Like in any sport, you need bal­ance o€ the course and on the course to be able to do the right things, think prop­erly, be dis­ci­plined enough, be able to play against the best play­ers. It’s re­ally di‚cult to play against these guys, and it makes it very, very di‚cult to win when you’re try­ing to bat­tle other things. So I’m happy now, but also a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in how things have pro­gressed. But I have to un­der­stand I’ve got to give my­self a lit­tle bit of lee­way, know that golf is a marathon, and hope­fully at the end of my ca­reer I’m in some way at the top, some­where I’ve never even thought I’d be. Like I said be­fore, I’ve just got to be pa­tient and let things hap­pen, be­cause I hon­estly be­lieve good and big things are com­ing. I’ve got to just trust it and keep work­ing hard.

40

Day and Adam Scott com­bined to win the 2013 World Cup. Day failed to make the week­end at the 2017 US Open.

Day col­lapsed with ver­tigo at the ‘15 US Open. McIlroy’s is the game Day ad­mires most.

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