DELL MATCH

Ja­son Day un­ex­pect­edly quits the tour­na­ment

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Suzanne Halliburton shal­libur­ton@statesman.com

De­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­son Day was strug­gling early in his round Wed­nes­day as the WGCDell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play opened at Austin Coun­try Club.

Day, ranked third in the world, dou­ble-bo­geyed No. 6 and then un­ex­pect­edly con­ceded the match to Pat Perez, who was lead­ing by

three holes. Day pro­ceeded to stun the in­ter­na­tional golf­ing com­mu­nity. As he strug­gled to con­trol his emo- tions, Day wiped back tears and an­nounced he was leav­ing the com­pe­ti­tion to be with his mother, Den­ing Day. She’s sched­uled for surgery Fri­day in Colum­bus, Ohio, to re­move a ma­lig­nant mass from her lung. With the Mas­ters in two weeks, it’s un­clear when Day will re­turn to ac­tion.

The open­ing round in­cluded sur­prises for other top names in the tour­na­ment, too. Both Rory McIl­roy, No. 2 in the world, and for­mer Texas Longhorn Jor­dan

J ason Day needs to be with his mother. Golf can and should come later.

Wed­nes­day served as a graphic re­minder that be­hind the mil­lion-dol­lar purses, the fancy cars and per­fectly man­i­cured golf cour­ses they play, these larger-than-life su­per­stars are real peo­ple with real is­sues just like the rest of us.

Day has a sick mom, and any­one can un­der­stand the need to be at her side.

In an in­stant af­ter the sixth hole in his open­ing match against Pat Perez, Day went from be­ing the de­fend­ing cham­pion here to a son who just wanted to make sure Mom was OK. The world’s No. 3-ranked golfer has won this event two of the last three years, but was over­come with emo­tion as he with­drew trail­ing by three holes.

“It’s re­ally hard to even com­pre­hend be­ing on the golf course right now be­cause of what she has gone through,” Day said through tears. “It’s been very, very emo­tional, as you can tell. I’ve al­ready gone through it once with my dad. And I know how it feels. And it’s hard enough to see an­other one through it as well.”

Day moved his mother, Den­ing, to Ohio ear­lier this month af­ter doc­tors in Aus­tralia di­ag­nosed her with lung can­cer and told her she had only 12 months to live.

She’s sched­uled to have a ¾-cen­time­ter mass re­moved from her lung at James Can­cer Cen­ter on the cam­pus of Ohio State on Fri­day.

The move to the United States was seen as a pos­i­tive; the fam­ily felt hope­ful af­ter meet­ing with Amer­i­can doc­tors that her con­di­tion could pos­si­bly be man­age­able mov­ing for­ward, said Day’s man­ager, Bud Martin.

“So I’m go­ing to do my best and try and be there the best I can for her be­cause she is the rea­son that I’m play­ing golf to­day,” Day said. “And fam­ily is first. It’s just a hard time.”

While the round-robin por­tion comes to a close Fri­day, Day will be at his mother’s side. He came to Austin with hopes of de­fend­ing his ti­tle, but couldn’t fo­cus on the game.

“It’s one of those things that that I think ev­ery­one deals with in their own way,” Martin said. “He and I have been talk­ing about the treat­ment and what’s go­ing on, but I just kind of feed off him and I don’t want to bring it to him. I think it just got the most of him.”

For any­one who has lost a par­ent, the site of Day sit­ting at the in­ter­view ta­ble, strug­gling to com­pose him­self for about 30 sec­onds be­fore he could even say one word, was a re­ally sad il­lus­tra­tion of that feel­ing of help­less­ness that comes with watch­ing a loved one strug­gle in the bat­tle of a life­time.

Would he have come to Austin had he not been the de­fend­ing cham­pion? Martin an­swered, “Ab­so­lutely.” Would he have con­tin­ued had he not been down three af­ter six holes? That’s a ques­tion only Day can an­swer.

But nei­ther an­swer re­ally mat­ters.

Golf is his liveli­hood, but some­times a life’s pas­sion has to take a back­seat to what’s most im­por­tant, and to many of us, that’s fam­ily.

God­speed, Ms. Day. world, who could emerge as his coun­try’s best chance to win a ma­jor tour­na­ment in Amer­ica. Can he? “Sure, he can,” said 17-time PGA Tour win­ner Jim Furyk, who halved his match with Mat­suyama when the lat­ter’s 8-foot birdie putt to win the day skimmed the cup.

“You don’t get to that rank­ing in the world and not have the abil­ity to do so.”

Mat­suyama has been the sen­sa­tion of the golf­ing world this year, win­ning four times and fin­ish­ing sec­ond twice in six starts to climb in the rank­ings higher than any pre­vi­ous player from Ja­pan, al­though Ai Miyazato reached the heights of No. 1 in the women’s rank­ings in 2010.

No Ja­panese male golfer has ever won a ma­jor, but don’t rule it out.

They’re fig­ur­ing things out over here, and I don’t mean the Tex-Mex. Mat­suyama fin­ished in the top seven of the last two Mas­ters.

So can Tani­hara hope to be that good?

“Well, I’m get­ting old,” said the 38-year-old who fin­ished fifth in the 2006 Bri­tish Open and was peak­ing be­fore a shoul­der in­jury side­lined him. But he hasn’t lost his sense of hu­mor.

Af­ter Tani­hara knocked off Spi­eth, he was good­na­turedly razzed by lo­cal tele­vi­sion re­porters about de­rail­ing the home­town fa­vorite.

From his back pocket, he yanked out his yardage book with the Texas flag as its cover that he bought in the ACC Pro Shop the day be­fore and said, “I’m home, too.”

Golf is huge in Ja­pan, the sec­ond-largest mar­ket in the world af­ter the United States.

More than 10 mil­lion go crazy over the sport on about 2,500 cour­ses where land is at a pre­mium, some­times driv­ing sev­eral hours to get on a course and buy­ing up to $3 bil­lion in golf equip­ment each year al­though it’s more re­stric­tive for women and chil­dren.

Sonoko Fu­nakoshi, a Los Angeles-based free­lance writer and one of 14 Ja­panese writ­ers work­ing for nine out­lets here, said the in­tro­verted Mat­suyama and 25-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who ranks 109th in the world, were huge ri­vals as ju­niors and said Ishikawa is still more pop­u­lar “if you ask any­one walk­ing down a street in Ja­pan. Hideki doesn’t make a smile. He can’t say good words.”

The Ja­panese will never run out of good words for the leg­endary Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, the col­or­ful, gui­tar-play­ing su­per­star who won more than 110 pro­fes­sional ti­tles and was so de­tailed he used to take a per­sonal chef with him to Amer­ica.

Get­ting ac­cli­mated to Amer­i­can food is just one ad­just­ment for the Ja­panese, who have to con­tend with dif­fer­ences in cul­ture and lan­guage.

Mat­suyama has done quite well as one of the tour’s best ball-strik­ers even though he doesn’t have a swing coach and took a ton from watch­ing video­tapes of Tiger Woods’ 1997 Mas­ters vic­tory.

As pop­u­lar as golf is over there recre­ation­ally, it still pales in public in­ter­est to soccer and mostly base­ball. Ja­pan has sent 55 play­ers to the ma­jor leagues, eight of whom are still ac­tive.

So is Tani­hara as em­braced in his land as, say, Ichiro Suzuki?

“Maybe,” Tani­hara said, laugh­ing.

He fol­lows base­ball avidly and was sad­dened when the U.S. beat Ja­pan on Tues­day night in the World Base­ball Clas­sic. He once played base­ball as a catcher in his ele­men­tary school days be­fore turn­ing to golf. Why did he switch?

“My fa­ther made me play golf,” he said.

Tani­hara is very emo­tion­less but steady on the course. He even snuck in a quick smoke af­ter the fourth hole. But he was very play­ful in the in­ter­view room and ad­mit­ted he’s hop­ing to qual­ify for the Mas­ters by reach­ing the top 50 in the world rank­ings.

The Ja­panese golfers went 1-0-2 Wed­nes­day and opened some eyes to an Austin Coun­try Club gallery that may get to know them bet­ter if they keep win­ning.

“I played a re­ally good op­po­nent,” Spi­eth said. “He plays a sim­ple game. Goes from Point A to Point B. He only made one mis­take all day.”

Way back in 2006, a South Korean named Yang Yong-eun be­came the only Asian-born golfer to win a ma­jor, com­ing from be­hind to nip Tiger Woods and earn him­self the tag “The Tiger Killer.”

So does Wed­nes­day’s vic­tory stamp Tani­hara as “The Jor­dan Killer”?

“It’s only once,” Tani­hara said wisely.

Jor­dan Spi­eth (yelling “fore” af­ter hit­ting a way­ward tee shot on the sixth hole) strug­gled through much of Wed­nes­day’s open­ing round. Spi­eth bo­geyed Nos. 8, 12 and 15 be­fore con­ced­ing his match to Hideto Tani­hara on the 16th hole.

PHO­TOS BY JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Hideto Tani­hara of the Ja­panese tour out­played Jor­dan Spi­eth on Wed­nes­day for a 4-and-2 vic­tory at Austin Coun­try Club.

MATT HAZLETT / GETTY IMAGES

Ja­son Day is leav­ing Austin to be with his mother, Den­ing, who is sched­uled for lung can­cer surgery Fri­day at Ohio State Univer­sity.

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