Jason Day knows that he is fortunate to be playing this week’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas. After all, starts in limited-field events amongst the world’s best golfers don’t come as readily as they once did for the former world No.1.
The 33-year-old has played just once since missing the cut at The Open Championship at Royal St George’s in July and after this week is booked in to play only the QBE Shootout prior to the Farmers Insurance Open starting Australia Day, 2022.
If not for an invitation from CJ Group’s director of sports marketing, Brian Kim, Day’s layoff would have stretched out even further, his status as the world’s No.79 golfer evidence of a player whose physical struggles have now manifested mentally.
Day is one of six Australians and 60 PGA Tour winners in the field of just 78 players who will tee it up at The Summit Club from the early hours of Friday morning ADST but with his 2015 US PGA Championship triumph feeling like a lifetime ago.
At a time when he should be at the peak of his powers Day has decided to adopt a long-term approach, knowing that if he can rebuild his body the confidence will follow.
“I’ve got to really focus on making sure that I handle this body issue correctly,” said Day of the back injuries that have plagued his career in recent years.
“I’ve got to take it easy and I’ve got to be smart about it because if I’m not smart about it, then it could be short lived.
“I’m trying to take the right steps because if I can do that right now and do the right things, hopefully that will extend another 10 to 15 years of my career.
“I’m trying to play the long game right now. If results come quicker than expected, great, but I’m outside the top 50, I’m not currently in the majors other than the PGA and I’m outside the WGCs.
“I’m to the point where I’m just kind of working on myself personally and then trying to gain results through just the work that I’m putting in.”
The work Day speaks of extends far beyond rebuilding a swing with Chris Como that his body can sustain.
He has replaced the word ‘rehab’ with ‘exercises’ because the reality is that his body needs just as much attention as his golf swing.
When his body fails him so too does the performance on the golf course and that can lead to a downward mental spiral that he is just now finding ways to combat.
“This year was a major struggle for me because my body was just not working for me,” reveals Day, whose current world ranking is the lowest it has been since his breakthrough PGA Tour win at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship.
“Mentally, I wasn’t quite there, either. I just was fed up with it and I just didn’t have the greatest year.
“We all battle demons, especially as golfers. It’s such an individual sport. Even though we do have teams around us, you’re out there battling yourself.
“Just try and discover that golf is not the thing that defines me. If I play bad golf, as long as I give it everything that I can, then it is what it is, the results are the results.
“I just don’t need to have that stress and that anxiety of actually going and performing because everyone else thinks I should be performing the way that they should.
“These last two years I’ve grown a lot as an individual personally because I have stopped battling these things. You learn to go, ‘I’m either going to quit the game because I don’t want to feel like this and it’s not motivating and I’m struggling with it’ or ‘How do I handle it and tackle it head on and be able do it in a healthy way where for the next 10, 15 years, if I want to, I actually enjoy myself on the golf course while competing at a high level?’
“The good thing is that I’m thinking about it differently and I’m not trying to do the exact same thing that got me to No.1 in the world because I know that if I did that, I wouldn’t get there because my body wouldn’t handle it.
“I’ve got to somehow be able to kind of learn as I go along and try and adapt as best I can.”
As for expectations on how his swing and body will stand up to four rounds at The Summit Club, Day is simply grateful for the opportunity to compete.
“Playing the golf that I have been playing over the last two years has been very, very humbling,” Day concedes.
“You get so used to being on a certain schedule, being at certain tournaments and kind of taking it for granted. Not really being grateful to be able to go out there and compete at the highest level on courses, major-type courses and obviously courses like this at The Summit.
“I’m not worried about the performance side of things this week.
“I’m trying to work on my swing, see how it goes under I guess some stress and some pressure and then go from there.
“If it can handle it, then I’ll know that I’m working on the right things.”