Jason Day’s season cratered this time a year ago when he was on the sixth hole of Austin Country Club, playing in the opening round of the WGC-Dell Match Play championship.
Day double-bogeyed the hole and abruptly conceded the match to Pat Perez. No one knew that Day was just too emotional to carry on. The defending Match Play champion walked off the course and made a surprise announcement to members of the media.
His voice cracked and he wiped away tears as he talked of how his mother, Dening Day, had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Doctors back in Australia had told the family her condition was terminal. But a doctor in Ohio, where Day lives with his wife and children, said the tumor could be treated with surgery.
On Tuesday, Day happily talked of how his mother’s cancer is in remission. She’s returned to her home in Australia, but is coming back to Ohio for checkups. Day skipped the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this month and picked her up at the airport to take her to her doctor’s visit.
“Obviously, I went through a bit of a struggle last year around this time because of my mother,” Day said. “It was very difficult because I was sitting in front of you guys actually in tears thinking about her.
“She’s the reason I’m the player I am today through her strict rule over the house, but also her work ethic is unbelievable. And it kind of transferred through to me. And with her sacrifices that she made, I needed to make sure that everything was OK. And for her to be healthy and happy, I mean I’m pleased.”
Now, Day acknowledges he needs to up his game, that he was “a little burned out.”
Two years ago, he surpassed Jordan Spieth to reach No. 1 in the world after beating Louis Oosthuizen in the Austin finals. Day held on to the ranking for 51 straight weeks before losing the coveted spot to Dustin Johnson 13 months ago. He plummeted to 13th after not winning a tournament.
But Day says he’s hit a reset. His best finish a year ago was runner-up at the Byron Nelson. He finished in the top 10 four other times and missed three cuts in 22 tournaments.
He hired two new caddies — his “best mates” — and had a group meeting to discuss goals.
“Our plan, our ultimate goal, is to get back to No. 1 in the world and that’s the long-term goal,” Day said. “It may not happen this year, it may not happen next year. Or it may happen this year. You never know how the runs happen or how the momentum changes in your game.”
Day’s new focus has enjoyed better results. He won the Farmers Insurance Open title in January. He also posted a runner-up finish at the AT&T Pro Am in mid-February. He tied for 22nd last weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. The tournament was won by Rory McIlroy, who after a near two-year title drought is trying to revive his game, too.
Johnson, the top seed here for the second straight year, probably is the favorite to win in Austin. He never trailed in winning a year ago. McIlroy, who won the event in 2015 when it was played in San Francisco, also is coming into Austin on a hot streak.
Day, who is seeded eighth overall, played James Hahn on Wednesday in his first match. His group also includes Oosthuizen and Jason Dufner. If Day wins the pod, he’ll meet the winner of the pod led by England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who is in his first full season on the PGA.
When he’s not on the course, Day plans to spend time holed up in his hotel room, eating junk food and mindlessly watching Netflix. He’ll have the luxury of focusing on golf and not worries about his family.