THE US Open was largely forgettable for Australia’s top-ranked golfer, Jason Day. A battle to break 80 in the opening round led to a weekend off, but for Australian golf fans the better Day-related news came earlier in the week when the former world No.1 revealed plans to return to his home country to play for the first time since 2013.
While not showing his hand entirely, Day was emphatic he would be returning.
“I’m thinking about playing either the Australian Open (November 23-26) or the PGA Championship (November 30-December 3). I haven’t decided which event yet but it will be one or the other,” Day told Australian Golf Digest’s Evin Priest.
It’s terrific news for whichever tournament lands his signature and for the golf public of either Sydney or the Gold Coast.
Yet equally quick to strike were the cynics, who have lengthy memories. Day did, after all, declare at the same time last year that he’d be back only to withdraw in October citing his back injury. That came two years after he withdrew from all travel home due to a back injury that prevented him from flying to Australia, yet there he was teeing it up at Tiger Woods’ tournament in Florida a week later.
Is Day golf’s equivalent of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf?’ Do we need to temper our enthusiasm that our most recent Major champion is finally coming home until we actually see him striding the tarmac?
“Injuries and the birth of my second child is why I haven’t been able to get back for the Australian Open, or Australia in general, over the past three years but I’m planning on going back this year,” Day said. “I miss Australia every single year and I’m really excited about getting home.”
For a few years now, I’ve been concerned that Day has risked becoming the current generation’s version of Steve Elkington. The parallels are obvious. Both had eyes only for America in their fledgling days, both met and married Americans and established lives in the US, and both would win the US PGA Championship. Elkington returned home to claim the Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in 1992 but was burned three years later by the Australian Open’s narrow promotional focus on Greg Norman and John Daly at a time when Elkington was the reigning US PGA champion. After that, unicorn sightings became as common as Elkington ones in Australia.
Day has no apparent axe to grind with his homeland, but it is a strained relationship. My fear is he is losing touch with the country that gave him his start.
The reasons behind his repeated absences are legitimate – most of all his desire to be present at the birth of his daughter in 2015 – but equally legitimate is any sense of disbelief Aussie golf fans feel at news that Day intends to compete at home. ‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’ is a common refrain.
Compare the frequency of Day’s returns home to Adam Scott’s and there’s no contest. Scott never misses an Aussie summer. Again, there are life comparisons. Both effectively live overseas (although Scott retains a residence on the Gold Coast), both are married to non-Australians, both have young children, both play the American circuit and both have family living in Queensland.
Does Scott feel a duty of obligation that Day does not? Perhaps. Scott’s closeness with Greg Norman saw him as the natural successor in the ambassadorial role the Shark took on for so long. So it’s possible Day sees this as Scott’s cross to bear.
Regardless, I have a novel idea for Day when he does come home. Why limit yourself to one appearance? I know the various state-related interests often preclude it with star signings – and the ridiculousness behind that situation is a column for another time – but Ohio to the east coast of Australia is a long way to travel for a single tournament.
Jason, it’s time to double-down and invest in your loyal and patient home followers. They’ve been waiting.