Jason Day unexpectedly quits the tournament
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.
Hideto Tanihara of the Japanese tour outplayed Jordan Spieth on Wednesday for a 4-and-2 victory at Austin Country Club.
Jason Day is leaving Austin to be with his mother, Dening, who is scheduled for lung cancer surgery Friday at Ohio State University.