By Evin Priest
JASON Day used to be called a choker. Funny, given he attained the mantle of world No.1 this morning.
Casual golf fans who may not have watched every shot labelled him ‘overrated’ after the 2013 Masters, when two late bogeys dropped his two-shot lead on the 16th tee into a third placing.
It came two years after he tied with Adam Scott on his Masters debut in 2011, when South African Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to overhaul them. Critics were given more ammunition when he ran second two months later at the 2011 US Open; and again at the 2013 US Open where he placed – you guessed it – second. Many thought he had inherited too many of Greg Norman’s stumbling traits and believed he wouldn’t win a Major, nor many tournaments at all.
That was, until a career-defining tournament victory in February last year. The 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship will be remembered more for Frenchman Victor Dubuisson’s stupendous par saves than for Day’s validating second US PGA Tour title.
But that didn’t matter for the 27-year-old, for all he took from that victory was how to close a tournament in the face of adversity.
However, said adversity made for sensational TV – Dubuisson rallying from two holes down with two to play to force extra holes.
Then, this happened:
“That (playoff) was the biggest learning experience for me, because I found out I could really push myself beyond the limits I thought I could do,” Day told Australian Golf Digest after his US PGA Championship victory in August.
“I’d played a lot of golf that week and that day. There were a couple of heartbreaks as well – especially in those extra holes because, you know, he was getting up-and-down from a cactus not once, but twice.”
Now with seven victories on the US PGA Tour, Day admitted his resolve had never been tested as hard as it was in that watershed moment in Arizona.
“To go from thinking that you’re going to win on that first extra hole to him coming back twice – it’s all about understanding it and saying ‘okay that happened but now I need to focus on what I need to do and move forward. Who cares about what happened? Yes you had the opportunity to win that hole but you didn’t so you’ve got to win the next hole’,” he recalled.
Day finally ended the dramatic match on the 23rd hole with a pitch to 4 feet for birdie. But the boy from Beaudesert is glad it happened, because it gave him a skill he’ll never forget.
“It’s the struggle and the fun of saying, ‘Who cares? I’m going to get it back on the back nine and just jeep moving forward.’ Because that’s how the best players in the world think and that’s how successful people think and that’s how winning is done.”
Well, Jason, now you are the best player in the world of golf.