CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The swagger turned into sulking, and that had a lot to do with the scores. They were not as low, and the game was not as easy. The glory that came with reaching the top of the game didn’t quite match the hype.
Jason Day was certainly appreciative of all he had accomplished, a five-victory season in 2015, followed by three more wins in 2016, including the Players Championship. Some $35 million in prize money.
But as Day, 30, captured the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow, it is interesting to note that the win was just his second in the two years that have passed since his wire-to-wire win at TPC Sawgrass stamped him as a solid No. 1, a position from which he didn’t appear to be falling from anytime soon.
“I got burned out being No. 1,” Day said after his final-round 69 held off Aaron Wise and Nick Watney by two strokes. “It’s easy to get burned out in a position that you’re in the spotlight. It can be demanding at times. You’ve got to give time to people and sometimes you don’t get a lot of time to yourself.
“Last year was a good kick in the butt, not playing great and then seeing a lot of the other guys succeed. There was no jealousy there or envy. I know what it takes and feels like to win and be in that position, and it was more disappointing emotion that came over me last year saying that I feel I’ve got all this talent. For me to not work as hard as I should be and to be selfish in that mindset — well, I’m burned out, it’s OK to have an off year. That really bugged me.”
Day was 14th in the Official World Golf Ranking entering the week, the lowest he had been since late 2013. And that’s with a victory earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first win since the 2016 Players.
This was his 38th worldwide start since that win, and there were all manner of issues that cropped up. Back problems that have plagued him since the time he was a teenager caused him to withdraw from tournaments in consecutive weeks on the final day toward the end of 2016. He had family issues in 2017, including a health scare for his mother; late in the year, his wife, Ellie, had a miscarriage.
So the tie for 60th at last year’s Players, the missed cut at the U.S. Open, along with other struggles were all part of a bigger picture.
“When you reach the top, reach the world ranking that you want to attain, and on top of that you’ve won a major championship, you’ve won all the tournament you’ve always dreamed of winning, what’s next?” said Tiger Woods, who might be one of the few who was ever able to deal with all that comes with such success.
Woods texted Day on Saturday night and encouraged him to close out the victory. The two have been close for several years, with Day reaching out for advice and Woods offering up his wisdom.
“For Tiger, I’ve always looked up to him as a role model on the golf course,” Day said. “For him to be able to be there for me when things are good and bad is key in my career.”
It wasn’t always pretty Sunday. Day twice made consecutive bogeys — including at the 14th hole, where he hit his tee shot in the water — but both times followed up quickly with birdies.
The latter instance came at the 16th and 17th holes, the first two holes of what is referred to at Quail Hollow as the “Green Mile,” the tough finishing stretch that also includes the 18th. That gave him a two-shot cushion and his 12th PGA Tour victory.
Day, who is from Australia but lives in Columbus, Ohio, said watching highlights of LeBron James’ game-winning exploits for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday morning did not hurt his plight as he struggled through some tough moments on the course.
“To be clutch like that, it’s a lot of heart,” Day said. “It was probably a good thing that I watched LeBron’s buzzer-beater this morning instead of last night. That was awesome to watch and hopefully I could pass that along in my game today.”
Now Day is projected to move up to No. 7 in the world, with eyes on No. 1 again. Plus, this week heads back to TPC Sawgrass, a venue where there are more good vibes.
Woods noted that Day’s ascension and attempt to stay on top came with a family that includes two young children; several of the other top, young players have yet to experience all that fatherhood entails.
“That’s one of the things I think he should take away from it is he did it under different conditions, different times in his life, and now he’s got a taste of it, he wants it back again,” Woods said. “That’s cool to see. He’s willing to gets his hands dirty and again and do all the legwork off the golf course away from the tournaments, the hours upon hours of countless practice that we have to log in. He’s willing to do that again.”