US PGA Championship 2015: Jason Day draws on Open agony in quest to scratch that major itch

Australian finds new conviction and winning form from 18th-hole pain on last day at St Andrews

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The Independent Online

Those early minutes in the immediacy of defeat, when the eyes are still ablaze and adrenalin is pumping out words by the bucket load, are uniquely revealing.

This is sport in the raw before the brain coats reaction in rational thought. Jason Day had seen his Open ambition fall inches short on the final green at St Andrews last month. Another foot and he would have been in the play-off, and who knows, maybe travelling to the final major of the season this week with the Claret Jug in his luggage.

As Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman rolled the dice one more time down the opening hole, Day addressed a few members of the Australian press in the media tent adjacent to the first tee. Frustration, disappointment, even anger were the dominant emotions. Yet again he had played well enough to claim his maiden major, kept Jordan Spieth on a leash in the penultimate group, and here he was explaining away failure by just one stroke over four long days.

“I really did the right things to give myself the opportunity at getting into the play-off and having a shot. I really want to have that shot at immortality. It’ll soon come my way. I’ve just got to be patient with it, and keep doing the things I’m doing now. It will happen.”

 

Day is arguably the most patient twentysomething (27) in sport. In the 20 majors he has contested since making his debut at St Andrews five years ago, Day has posted nine top 10s. In six of those he has finished in the top five, and in three was bettered only by the winner. A week after the Open he claimed his second PGA tour win of the season in Canada. It was no coincidence. Day believes he found something on that last day at St Andrews that allowed him to convert in Canada – and he might yet repeat at the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits this weekend.

“The last round of the Open Championship I felt different,” he said. “I don’t know what changed but I felt more calm. Everything was kind of slow-paced. I played phenomenal golf at the Open, only three bogeys all week and all in the second round. I took that form to Canada, and an understanding of the importance of getting the finer details correct, the little things with my caddie that put my mind at ease. After that it’s just about the confidence you have.

“We talk about how hard people work and stuff like that but the last bit of the puzzle is up here [points to head], having the belief and confidence that you can do the stuff other guys do on Sundays. The more I stay out here, the more I realise it’s all about the head rather than the game itself.”

The course, a 7,800-yard links-style monster on the shores of Lake Michigan an hour north of Milwaukee, is another that favours the long hitters, which brings Day, third in the PGA Tour driving stats, into obvious contention. At the US Open in June, he was just three off the lead when he collapsed with vertigo during his second round. But he stayed the course, edging his way further up the leaderboard on Saturday before falling to ninth, exhausted, on the final afternoon.

It seems Day has been battling fate since adolescence, losing his father at 12, flirting with booze and behavioural issues in his early teens before finding golf. Now married with a son, Dash, and another child on the way, all that is missing is that first major.

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“All of those little hiccups along the way, you would say, with major championships just falling short or not doing enough or all of those things, are just setting me up. Hopefully later on down the road it becomes a lot easier for me to finish it off the way I need to.

“I just want to be the best I can be while I’m on this Earth and while I have the opportunity to play golf. I want to show the people that I’m not going to quit, I’m not going to stop fighting until it’s over, and that’s probably the way I’m going to play the rest of my life. That’s kind of the way I was raised. My dad used to say ‘never say die’ all the time, and that’s what I remember every time I play golf is I’m going to keep fighting. Even though I may be 72nd dead last coming up, I’m going to keep fighting because I know there is one little thing you can learn each and every day to try to get better at your profession.”

Day partnered eventual champion Martin Kaymer around this course on championship Sunday five years ago. A double bogey at the ninth effectively ended his chances. The experience was banked. By increments that attitude is taking him closer to nirvana. Perhaps the shore of Lake Michigan is to be his entry point.

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