Left thumb still sore? Too little competitive golf in recent months? Rusty?
Sure, there’s all of that, but more prominently, Day appears to have fallen victim to the oldest malady in Major championship golf: A predetermined dislike to the set-up of a US Open course.
“It’s interesting,” Day said, when asked for his thoughts on Pinehurst No. 2.
The Aussie was showing his manners and that he embraced the concept of not speaking ill of something. In another era Gary Player would describe an unfavourable golf course as “one of the finest of its kind”.
Day needn’t feel alone, because this disease has been around since 1895, that year when ol’ Horace Rawlins shot a smooth 91-82 — to win $150 on the debut of this vaunted Major.
Long gone are all the participants in that 1895 championship, as are those who chronicled it, but we feel safe in saying that many of the competitors moaned and groaned about high rough, fast greens, and diabolical hole locations. Oh, and they groused, too, about sheep being inconsistent in how they managed the fairways.
Guess what? No matter that hickory has given way to steel which has given way to graphite, not much has changed with the focal point of the US Open. Here at the 114th edition, players are still turning sour in practice rounds, still seeing USGA set-up personnel as evil monsters, still letting negative thoughts colour preparation.
“You’re going to get beaten up,” Matt Kuchar said. “You’re going to hit shots that you think would have given you a chance of a birdie, but you walk off the green with a bogey.”
Bubba Watson added: “It wears you down mentally.”
Somewhere, Jack Nicklaus is shaking his head, wondering if perhaps even at 74 he might have a chance to win a fifth US Open. The Golden Bear said on a handful of occasions that he used to listen to his colleagues criticise high rough or fast greens and then cross those guys off the list. Even if Nicklaus agreed with them, he never made his thoughts public.
Of course, it’s why Nicklaus was Nicklaus and why he won 18 of these Majors and it’s why hundreds of supremely talented golfers have never won even one. Majors are supposed to be demanding with unique obstacles and what the US Open brings to the table each and every June is an intent to take you out of your comfort zone.
You prefer your fairways consistent every inch of the way, the same in the middle as they are at the edges? Well, show up at the next PGA Tour or European Tour stop.
Here at Pinehurst and the 2014 US Open, the fairways are like a fine cut of beef: Juicy in the middle, rough on the outside.
“It’s very soft in the centre of the fairway and progressively starts to firm as you move toward the edges, which are like race tracks,” Graeme McDowell noted.
He’s not the only one who has noticed. Day, for instance, toured Pinehurst No 2 last Friday and observed that instead of sprinklers on both sides of the fairways, they only run down the middles. Thus, “if you hit the brown spots [your ball] will run into the natural areas,” Day noted.
He wasn’t smiling when he said it, knowing that at Pinehurst No 2, instead of rough to envelope your ball, it will find large areas of firm sand, clumps of grass and pine trees.
That’s one aspect that takes you out of your comfort zone; the others are the many crowned greens that will repel approach shots and spit them into tightly-mown run-off areas. And since that grass will be cut in a way that you’re chipping back into the grain, Day envisions players chipping across greens, going from trouble to trouble. “You can rack up a big number very fast,” he said.
Again, he didn’t appear to be enjoying this process.
Which is sort of the point to this championship. It isn’t intended to be for your pleasure; it’s meant to test your mental faculties. The vast majority of competitors fail miserably.