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BY JA­SON DAY

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page -

THERE’S AN EASY “HI, MATE” OPEN­NESS AND HU­MIL­ITY TO JA­SON DAY.

The28-year-oldAus­tralian­call­shim­self“abor­ing­per­son,”equat­ing­golf’sother20-some­thingsto“the­p­op­u­larkidsin­school . . . I’m just the nerd in the back.” Day’s at­tempt at a re­cent press con­fer­ence to ex­plain his com­bi­na­tion of power and touch – “Jor­dan Spi­eth and Rory McIl­roy had a baby, and I was it” – was slightly, though charm­ingly, off. It’s why he lets his wife, El­lie, do his tweet­ing. But Day’s warmth is the rea­son his as­cen­sion to World No 1 last Septem­ber, shortly af­ter win­ning his first ma­jor cham­pi­onship, at Whistling Straits, has been a pop­u­lar one in the cad­die yards, equip­ment trail­ers and tour­na­ment of­fices of pro­fes­sional golf, and es­pe­cially among the tight group of play­ers and fam­i­lies who, like the Days, reg­u­larly travel and try to nor­malise tour life in a lux­ury RV. “Ja­son has a sweet na­ture that’s pretty laid-back, even when he’s got to be in­tense,” says fel­low Aussie and friend Ge­off Ogilvy.“Most play­ers, es­pe­cially the re­ally good ones, aren’t like that.” by jaime diaz photographs by wal­ter iooss jr

Day is un­like his peers in an­other, seem­ingly op­po­site way. From age 10 to 13 in a rough side of Rock­hamp­ton, a Gold Coast town north of Bris­bane, Day got into a lot of fist­fights.Though many took place in school­yards, they were still the gasp­ing, des­per­ate kind that ended when one party quit or got hurt, although the stress of a quick re­match could loom.

It’s not the back­ground of most pro­fes­sional golfers. As Lee Trevino, a brawler in his pub­lic golf years in Dal­las and El Paso, told Golf Di­gest’s GuyYo­com,“Think twice be­fore throw­ing the first punch, be­cause you’re mak­ing a big com­mit­ment.” It’s true that the first time By­ron Nel­son saw Ben Hogan, the fel­low 13-year-old was box­ing against an­other Fort Worth cad­die named Joe Boy. Chi Chi Ro­driguez fought for so­das in the streets of San Juan, Ian Woos­nam and Fred Funk boxed as kids, and Este­ban Toledo was once a tal­ented pro­fes­sional fighter. But these days, fight­ing has pretty much been drummed out of golf.

Day fought mostly as a re­sult of the vi­o­lence in his home. Ear­lier this year, he re­vealed on David Feherty’s tele­vi­sion show that his fa­ther,Alvyn, was an al­co­holic who phys­i­cally abused Ja­son and his mother, Den­ing. Not long af­ter Alvyn’s 6-year-old son showed im­me­di­ate tal­ent and en­thu­si­asm for hit­ting shots with a 3-wood re­cov­ered from a garbage dump, the fa­ther be­gan tak­ing Ja­son to lo­cal ju­nior tour­na­ments and ap­ply­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary pres­sure to per­form.At 11, Day says,“If I played bad golf, he’d beat me up.”

When Ja­son was be­ing bul­lied in school, or, as the only Asian kid in his class (his mother is Filipino), was taunted with racial slurs, he dreaded his fa­ther find­ing out. “He’d tell me,‘If you don’t fight that kid to­mor­row, I’m go­ing to beat you up when you get home,’ ” Day says.“So I’d get in a fight.”

Alvyn died of stom­ach cancer when Ja­son was 12. Not sur­pris­ingly, the left­over tur­moil and anger within his son, now with­out a strong au­thor­ity fig­ure, led to an aim­less pe­riod of drink­ing and more fight­ing.

Day says he doesn’t re­mem­ber much about those days.“Maybe I’ve blocked it out,” he says.“I look back on the in­flu­ence my dad had on my life and ca­reer, and I just try to take the best parts of what he had.”Although on “Feherty” he said, “Ev­ery now and then I think about him and ab­so­lutely hate him.”

But Day re­calls, and some­times draws on, the sen­sa­tions of be­ing in those early fights.“Any­thing can hap­pen, so you have to con­trol your at­ti­tude and stay strong,” he says.“An­other per­son is try­ing to hurt you, and you’re try­ing to hurt them, so if you make a mis­take, you’re in trou­ble. My dad was the way he was, but he also gave me a motto: never say die. Just to keep push­ing and push­ing, fight­ing un­til the end. He put it in my head that you’re al­ways go­ing to fight, and you’re al­ways go­ing to beat them. At the same time, my mother, who is the hard­est worker I know, told me that the best thing about me was that I never give up. If I have an ex­tra gear, that’s where it comes from.”

Although he hasn’t been in a fight since he was 13 – “I would suck at it now” – Day knows there is a hard­ness from those days deep within. He ac­cessed it in win­ning the WGC-Match Play in 2014 and 2016, and in his in­sis­tence dur­ing those mano-a-mano bat­tles on mak­ing op­po­nents putt short ones that might nor­mally be con­ceded.

The in­creased self-aware­ness that has been part of Day’s growth as a player is re­flected in a lex­i­con that clearly sees tour­na­ment golf as a psy­cho­log­i­cal bat­tle. He favours terms such as “fight or flight,” “in­stant” ver­sus “de­layed” grat­i­fi­ca­tion, “be­ing com­fort­able with be­ing un­com­fort­able,” avoid­ing “self-sab­o­tage,” and the need to “walk to­wards the fear” to de­scribe his feel­ings and thoughts dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

At Bay Hill, where he hung in and came from be­hind to win on the strength of his short game – he did the same thing a week later at the Match Play, par­tic­u­larly in beat­ing McIl­roy in a tense semi­fi­nal – Day ad­mit­ted the stress of mak­ing up for poor ball-strik­ing pre­sented a test he used to be un­able to pass.“It’s so un­com­fort­able, you feel like you want to run away,” he said.“Times like that are where you go, ‘I can’t fo­cus on run­ning away. I have to face this straight on. I’ve got to fight for this win.’ ” B LIB­ER­AT­ING BREAK­THROUGH reak­ing through has been lib­er­at­ing and energising. See­ing what’s pos­si­ble, he has stepped up ef­forts in ev­ery area. Un­der trainer Cor­nell Driessen, the 6-foot, 86-kilo­gram has fo­cused on strength­en­ing his core for greater speed and to guard against more in­jury to what has been a trou­ble­some lower back. Cad­die, coach and fa­ther fig­ure Colin Swat­ton guides Day through the tech­ni­cal and men­tal chal­lenges, as he has done since Ja­son was 12. Day has also in­creased his tex­ting cor­re­spon­dence with child­hood hero and friend Tiger Woods, say­ing “If you’re go­ing to pick a brain, it would be his.”

And if you’re go­ing to pick a power player, it would be Day. Em­ploy­ing driver club­head speed in ex­cess of 120 miles per hour (193kph), at Whistling Straits he be­came the first player to shoot 20 un­der par in a ma­jor. But Day’s big­gest im­prove­ment over the past 18 months has been with his now-fa­mil­iar high-tech mal­let put­ter. Ac­cord­ing to statis­ti­cian Peter San­ders, be­fore Day’s vic­tory at the Cana­dian Open last July, Day’s make rate on putts in the cru­cial range be­tween four and 10 feet was be­low the PGA Tour av­er­age of 60 per­cent. But that rate has risen to over 70 per­cent, gain­ing Day about 2½ strokes per tour­na­ment.

His goals? As many wins as pos­si­ble, mul­ti­ple ma­jors, in­clud­ing the ca­reer Grand Slam, and sur­pass­ing Greg Nor­man’s 331 weeks at No 1 (Woods’ record of 683 is ap­par­ently unas­sail­able). In short, Day is all in.

“I’ve never been so com­mit­ted to my­self,” he said be­fore win­ning the Play­ers for his 10th PGA Tour vic­tory.“I’m mo­ti­vated to ex­tend the gap be­tween me and No 2. I’m go­ing to work as hard as I can and see where it goes.”

Day’s prospects dra­mat­i­cally im­proved when his mother mort­gaged their home and used her hus­band’s life-in­sur­ance

pol­icy and a loan from her brother to get Ja­son away from his be­hav­iour in Rock­hamp­ton and into the highly re­garded Kooral­byn board­ing school – with a first-class golf pro­gramme whose alumni in­cluded Adam Scott – sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres away.There, Day and Swat­ton con­nected, with the trou­bled ado­les­cent hav­ing “a mo­ment of clar­ity” to sup­press the re­bel­lion he was feel­ing for au­thor­ity and de­fer­ring to the teacher.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, Day demon­strated the ob­ses­sive work ethic of a young man hun­ger­ing for ap­proval and val­i­da­tion. In­spired by Woods’ in­struc­tion book, How I Play Golf, Day be­gan ris­ing at 5am to prac­tice and play be­fore classes.

Un­der Swat­ton, Day de­vel­oped a game rem­i­nis­cent of Nor­man’s in the sta­bil­ity, com­pact­ness and speed of his swing, the height of his ball flight, and his skill with the short game and put­ter. Day dom­i­nated his age groups in Aus­tralia, and in 2004 he trav­elled to San Diego and was a win­ner in the Call­away Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships. By 18, he had turned pro, and in 2007 he joined the Na­tion­wide Tour. In his first year, he fin­ished fifth on the money list and qual­i­fied for the PGA Tour. He fa­mously said,“I can take Tiger down.” (Says Day to­day:“When you’re that young and you’re full of con­fi­dence, you don’t say the great­est things.”) D MEN­TALLY FRAG­ILE ay ap­peared to have been res­cued. But his past made the road ahead com­pli­cated and con­fus­ing. “Any­time he was given good feed­back, it was so un­fa­mil­iar to him, he didn’t like it,” Swat­ton says.“He still strug­gles with com­pli­men­tary stuff.”The kid who had grown up be­ing crit­i­cised wasn’t sure he was good enough. On the PGA Tour, amid the game’s best play­ers and the tough­est set­ups, Day be­gan to ques­tion him­self and proved men­tally frag­ile.

From 2008 through 2013, Day won once in 129 PGA Tour starts. His lone vic­tory came in the By­ron Nel­son, where, with a one-shot lead, he hooked a mid­dle iron into the wa­ter on the 72nd hole and made bo­gey but sur­vived when Blake Adams did the same thing.

At the 2013 Mas­ters, Day ar­rived at the 16th tee on Sun­day with a one-stroke lead but ad­mit­ted later,“My body just froze.” Two con­sec­u­tive bo­geys led to a third­place fin­ish be­hind Scott.As the win­less years went by, Day fought com­pla­cency, burnout and fre­quent in­jury. Be­fore his first Mas­ters in 2011, in which he tied for sec­ond, Day was giv­ing se­ri­ous thought to quit­ting the tour.

“He wasn’t hav­ing fun, and he was search­ing,” Swat­ton says.“Count­less times on the range and on the golf course, we’d have these con­ver­sa­tions, and he’d ask, ‘Why do you think I don’t win more?’ I would al­ways say,‘Jase, you will win more of­ten when you want to win more.’ I’m sure he thought, Yeah, what the hell does that mean?”

In essence, Day was still in a fight – but this time with him­self.Again, he didn’t quit.

“I had to go through some­thing like that to ex­pe­ri­ence what it is to fail, and fail hard,” he says.“Even though I hated it, I needed it in my ca­reer.”

“We were both so young, fig­ur­ing ev­ery­thing out,” El­lie told pga­tour.com last year.“Peo­ple al­ways thought he was so ma­ture, but he did re­ally im­ma­ture things back then. He played video games all the time. He was still throw­ing golf clubs, and I’d see him cussing on the golf course. He had phases where he would al­most give up.” To­day, El­lie says,“He’s a ma­chine.” At the end of 2012, a year in which Day’s ad­just­ment to the birth of his son, Dash, co­in­cided with his worst ca­reer fin­ish on the FedEx Cup points list (daugh­ter Lucy ar­rived in Novem­ber last year), Swat­ton, El­lie and long­time man­ager Bud Martin all told Day he wasn’t work­ing hard enough.“Ja­son’s nat­u­rally a hard worker, so that pissed him off,” Martin says,“but it needed to be said, and he took it the right way – as a chal­lenge.”

Day be­gan us­ing the prin­ci­ples of Fo­cusBand, which mea­sures brain ac­tiv­ity and cog­ni­tive func­tion.A rou­tine that be­gins when Day ar­rives at his ball and fea­tures stand­ing on the tar­get line with flut­ter­ing eyes shows Day how to use the “right brain” hemi­sphere that can ac­cess “the zone” and what that feels like – and how to repli­cate it.

When Day en­coun­tered ver­tigo in the sec­ond round of the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, fall­ing on his fi­nal hole, he shot rounds of 68-74 on the week­end de­spite the lin­ger­ing ef­fects to fin­ish T-9. Day took it as a pos­i­tive, say­ing the ad­ver­sity “helped me to see how far I could re­ally push my­self.”

In the next ma­jor, the Open Cham­pi­onship at St An­drews, Day had a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to get into a play­off but left it short. On the plane to Toronto for the Cana­dian Open, Day re­alised that he had played with great con­sis­tency – his only three bo­geys com­ing dur­ing the wind­blown sec­ond round – and pos­sessed a new seren­ity.“It felt like it changed me and the way I look at my­self,” he says.When he got off the plane and into the limo, Day told Martin,“I’m go­ing to win this week.”

The day be­fore the tour­na­ment, Day sat down with film­maker Kevin Fo­ley (brother of coach Sean Fo­ley) to talk about his life.“He was still raw from St An­drews, and his eyes looked right through me and burned into the cam­era,” Fo­ley says

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