Jason Day’s tears on the 18th green said it all. He had finally come of age, realising a career ambition in winning his first professional major, the USPGA Championship.
Where once regular failure on the biggest stage had been the norm, now he was a champion, and the manner of his emphatic victory suggests that he will continue to be a dominant force in the game for many years to come.
After his victory, Day was quick to recognise the fine margins between victory and failure in what is one of the most competitive arenas of professional sport. As perverse as it sounds, his failings helped him to grow, in that it highlighted his shortcomings while motivating him to push harder.
Of course it doesn’t help when the likes of McIlroy and Spieth make winning major championships look easier than it actually is, but now that he has finally taken his name off that “wannabe” list, Day should become even stronger over the coming years.
Right now, the Tiger era when one man completely dominated the game seems over, replaced instead by a breed of younger, fitter stronger college-age kids all of whom are ready to win from the off.
They all possess the power game as well as the necessary imagination and short-game skillset and as a result, they have made winning a whole lot tougher.
Where once the elder statesmen like Nicklaus or Ballesteros or even Woods were the motivating forces, they have now been emphatically replaced by the likes of McIlroy, Spieth and now Day, all of whom are driving standards higher and higher.
As if to prove my point, Day’s victory yesterday set a record scoring total for the USPGA at 20-under-par while Spieth recorded an aggregate scoring record for the four majors championships (54-under-par) to surpass by one Tiger’s infamous seasonal record set in 2000.
So if yesterday proved to be Jason Day time, what does his victory mean for the greater game of professional golf going forward?
Firstly, Day’s victory meant that he has now moved to third in the rankings, meaning that the average age of golf’s top three (Spieth, McIlroy and Day) is now 25.
For the foreseeable future, the game will now be represented by these same articulate ambassadors who represent three of the four major golfing continents around the world.
When Woods was in his mid-20s, he had no one in his peer group to push him, whereas golf fans can now dream of a new golden age with rivalries that span the globe, with a host of other great international players such as Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka of the US, Brandon Grace of South Africa, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan all queuing up behind the “big three”, and all keen on further glory.
But that is for another day.
His consistency. Spieth plays far more often than the other two and he almost always contends when he tees it up.
At 22, he already has a great mind for the big occasion and as his record aggregate shows he is likely to win many more major championships over the coming years.
Spieth doesn’t possess the power game of McIlroy and Day, relying instead on better course management and overall shot-making skills. The problem with that is it puts a huge strain on his short game, especially his putting.
Much like Luke Donald before him, when the putter goes cold so too can your performances.
That said, he is a street fighter who is determined to stay at the top of his profession.
His power game, especially his driver. On form, McIlroy possesses the confidence and the game to decimate any field. His on-course aggression and natural demeanour is intimidating but the likable McIlroy is also demonstrating better game-plans and more subtle skills - all essential if he is to stay at the top table of world golf
McIlroy’s greatest weakness is his inconsistent putting stroke. No one doubts his nerve but it is obvious that he simply doesn’t have the fine putting touches of a Spieth or Day. That’s a huge obstacle because when under pressure, it forces McIlroy away from his natural game plan and into silly mistakes. At his level, winning is a game of fine margins but McIlroy can make great strides by improving his putting and by fine-tuning a flexible game plan that suits his game strengths.
Day plays a power game that has few if any flaws. His natural strength outside of his length is this ability to scramble and to stay in contention. On form, he has the capacity to win many more major championships.
Although mentally strong, Day doesn’t strike me as having the same natural confidence or the strength of belief of McIlroy or Spieth. Hopefully, last weekend’s win will have changed all of that but he too needs to show more flexibility in his gameplan so that he can change to tackle whatever is thrown at him.
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