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Jason Day finds himself in an unfamiliar position.
The former World No. 1’s five-year U.S. Open exemption from winning the 2015 PGA Championship has run out and he’s slipped to No. 62 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which means he’s running out of time to climb inside the top 60 and receive an automatic invite.
Otherwise, he’ll have to join the great unwashed at one of several 36-hole sectional qualifying sites across the country. Except Day told members of the press via a pre-tournament Teams conference call ahead of the AT&T Byron Nelson that he wouldn’t attempt to qualify because of – wait for it – a previously scheduled commitment with NetJets.
“To be honest, if I don’t get in I’m not qualifying. I’ve got a scheduled event for NetJets that I’ve got on Monday after the Memorial, so I’m planning on doing that instead of going to qualify,” he explained. “I got to do it the other way around, which I got to play well or win a tournament in the next two weeks.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Day was one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open, and this year’s venue, Torrey Pines, is the site of two of his PGA Tour victories at the annual Farmers Insurance Open. Day, who outdueled Jordan Spieth at Whistling Straits for his lone major, sounded like a man who no longer was obsessed with winning the big ones. (Clearly, he scheduled the corporate day assuming he would be exempt, but one would think he’d try to re-schedule it to give himself one last chance at earning a spot at Torrey, no?)
When Day was asked to clarify if the majors were still important to him, he said, “I just feel like if I do it that way that in my mind my mindset will say, ‘Okay, it’s fine. You can just go qualify next year,’ and I’ll get used to qualifying instead of going, ‘No, I’m not going to qualify. I got to earn my way into that spot.’ ”
He continued: “It’s just that in my mind I’ve got to earn it. It’s like I never wanted to go and play Augusta before earning a spot there. I had plenty of opportunities, but I never wanted to go and play Augusta until I earned my spot, and I ended up earning it back in 2011.”
So, the pressure is on Day to perform and, so far this season, that hasn’t been a good thing for the 33-year-old Australian, who’s in the midst of a crisis of confidence.
“When you have no confidence in your game it’s just really difficult to even think about winning,” Day said.
He explained that at the start of the year his game felt lost. He’s battled a myriad of injuries and began working with instructor Chris Como to make swing changes to prevent injuries and hopefully extend his playing career.
“I was trying to change my swing and putting hadn’t been the same and I got too technical with the putting,” he said. “It’s crazy because I feel like in my good putting days I was the best putter in the world. For me, putting was the middle of my universe, the sun for me. To be able to not have that killed a lot of my confidence.”
As his world ranking plummeted, Day said he had trouble sleeping and stressed over his lackluster results.
“My big thing was I can’t fall outside of top 50. I can’t do that. If it’s not enjoyable for me, I may as well retire. I can’t play the way that I’m doing and beat my head against a wall essentially. But, then on the other hand I’m like, ‘No, you can’t quit. You got to keep pushing, stay persistent, stay positive, patient, keep moving forward, and it’ll come back.’ So right now I’m trying to do that.”
As if Day doesn’t have enough to stress about, he and wife Ellie are about to become parents for a fourth time. He knows he could get a call any day now and no matter how he’s doing in a tournament he will withdraw and head home to witness the birth.
“She’s full term on Friday, so, yeah, I’m on call waiting for her to – we have people staying with her obviously because she is not looking after three kids by herself, so we want to make sure that – I want to make sure that I can get back. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “It might be a good little time away if the baby does come early or if the baby comes on time, you know, that I get to spend at home with Ellie and the newborn and obviously the family.”
Until then, Day said he’s begun to see some positives. He enters the Byron Nelson having missed the cut at his two previous starts, but he’s reunited with performance coach Jason Goldsmith, who previously worked with Day during his peak years, and he’s pushing on in his quest to qualify for the U.S. Open.
“Majors are very, very important,” he said. “They’re more important when I feel like my game is in a position to win. Right now I’m like feel like my game is in position to win if I get lucky. But that’s kind of before last week. What I’ve worked on this week, I don’t know how I’m going to play this week, but for the first time in a long time I feel really good about where my game is at.”
Confidence is knowing your best golf is still to come.
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