Jason Day Turns His Eye Towards Oakmont After Winning the Players

May 18, 2016

Jason Day was 0 for the majors before he won the PGA Championship last August, he was 0 for 5 at the Players Championship before he won that tournament last weekend, and he is 0 for the U.S. Open, which, don’t look now, is just four weeks away.

You want to bet against him?

“I’ve never been more motivated to be No. 1 in the world,” Day said after his wire-to-wire win at the Players, where he led the field in driving distance (311.6 yards) and scrambling (converting on 17 of 20 up-and-downs). “I’ve never been more motivated to try to extend [a] lead from one to two. All the hard work that I’ve put into my game right now has paid off, but I’ve got to keep working hard to win as much as I can.”

Welcome to the Jason Day era, where everything that came before is mere trivia as the 28-year-old Australian continues eating up big yardage en route to what almost certainly will be his own wing of the Hall of Fame down the road from Ponte Vedra Beach in St. Augustine.

Just yesterday we were talking about the Big Three, or the Big Four, but Day is distancing himself from all challengers at the top of the World Ranking. His bestie Tiger Woods used to call that “cush,” as in cushion, but better not to use that word because it implies rest. If anything, Day, who notched his 10th Tour win with his A-game (first and second rounds) and his B-game (third and fourth), is just getting started.

“I look at that, 10 PGA Tour wins, and I say to myself that’s not enough,” Day says. “And it isn’t enough for me. It’s 10. I want more than 10. That number is not a lot.”

To put Day’s latest victory in context we must take inventory of his competition. Jordan Spieth missed the cut by one, as did Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Masters champ Danny Willett. You know what the Olympic Golf people would call that? Synchronized sinking.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy was up to his usual tricks, letting what he calls “soft bogeys” and indifferent putting ruin his chances and his mood. He soared to 37 putts, including five three-putts, while shooting a third-round 75 on Saturday, when the Tour lost control of the greens, and he ultimately signed for a final-round 70 to finish 12th. “Feels like I’ve been saying I’m close all year,” McIlroy said.

Although he still has the most Tour wins for any player under 30—McIlroy, Day and Spieth are at 11, 10 and seven, respectively—the ledger is changing fast and not in Rory’s favor. Even his second-round 64 ended with a silly bogey at the par-5 9th hole after his 90-yard third shot came up short.

So where do we go from here? Although he used to be a member at Colonial—he had a brief foray as a Texan—Day will skip this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson and the following week’s Dean & Deluca Invitational (try the coffee) at Hogan’s Alley. His next start will come at the Memorial. Spieth, a Dallas native, will try to get well in the comforts of home this week, and some yet-to-be-determined version of McIlroy will play the Irish Open this week, an event hosted by the Rory Foundation held at the K Club in Kildare, Ireland.

All of them will have the U.S. Open on their minds. Spieth played Oakmont earlier this month and called it “the hardest course in America,” adding, “I’d sign for even par right now for 72 holes in June.” McIlroy has never set foot on the course.

“I’m going to go up for a couple of days after the Memorial, so I don’t really know what to expect,” he says. “It’s somewhere where you’re going in fresh and you’re trying to learn the golf course first and foremost, and I’m not having to deal with, ‘You haven’t won here yet, you haven’t, this course suits you perfectly, you should win here at some stage in your career’ type of thing.” (Apparently someone has written or said as much of McIlroy at Augusta; he needs a win at the Masters for the career grand slam.)

“I’m looking forward to it—back to a nice, traditional U.S. Open,” he added, a nod to last year’s venue, Chambers Bay. “Not like we’re playing on the moon this year.”

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In hindsight the Players offered a sort of U.S. Open preview on Saturday, as Teflon greens led to carnage—three-putts, four-putts and even five-putts. (Take a bow, Sergio Garcia.) Day stumbled with a pair of double bogeys, including a four-putt at the 6th, but he righted himself with a pitch-in par at the 15th hole, one of his countless short-game highlights.

He has played Oakmont just once. His agent, Bud Martin, is a member, and when Day was 16 or 17, he and coach-caddie Col Swatton took on Martin and his pal, the late Joe O’Donnell. “Joe made all the birdies,” Martin said as Day signed autographs on Sunday night. “I still have the signed dollar from Jason in my desk. I’ll keep it forever.”

“Bud took money off me!” Day said, as if still coming to terms with the loss.

He had just made $1.89 million, and he was headed for Muirfield Village and then Oakmont to make more. He was on the way to the Hall, on his way to the moon, leaving the rest of us to stand in silent reverence as he lights up the sky.