A year ago, Jason Day stood on the brink of glory at St Andrews and failed to take that most important of steps.
The chastening experience of missing an Open Championship play-off with Zach Johnson, Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen did drive the Australian to greater things. Yet while Day arrives at Royal Troon this week as world number one and reigning PGA Champion, his long-awaited maiden major title claimed a month after his Open near-miss, the 28-year-old still seeks to close some unfinished business.
Day had been knocking on the door at the majors since his breakout year on tour in 2011 when he finished runner-up at both the Masters and US Open. Five more major top-10s followed but it was not until 2015 at St Andrews that form and promise was replicated at The Open. After 54 holes around the Old Course, the Queenslander led the tournament with Oosthuizen and Ireland’s amateur hero of the hour Paul Dunne, only to shoot a final-round 70 to miss out by a stroke on the play-off, which would be won by Johnson.
It was, he insisted yesterday also the start of something: “The start of my run where everything kind of changed my world, really. As time has gone on through the years coming here and playing the Open and really falling in love with what the Open brings, not only playing, but just the feel of it is totally different than what we are used to back home in the States. I grew up playing some Melbourne Sandbelt golf courses, but it’s not really the same as the links golf that we get over here.
“Coming so close last year was definitely a motivational factor in that I would love to one day hold the Claret Jug and be able to put my name down in history with the best that have ever lived and played the game. So I’m very excited to be here and looking forward to a nice, challenging week.”
As Day suggested, last year’s Open kickstarted a run that would see him win the Canadian Open the following week and then three tournaments in his next five starts. That the first of those was the PGA and the others during the FedEx Cup play-offs underlined just how hot a golfing property Day had become. Yet the start of that run in Scotland had seen him struck by an inner calmness he found difficult to fathom.
“I just felt really calm, like it was the Open Championship, but I really wasn’t thinking it was a major championship, and I really didn’t feel like it was like any other day. It was just a strange feeling that I just felt so calm about things, and no matter what happened, it was going to be okay.
“I think subconsciously I just finally got over the hurdle that... it’s your time to start winning and play well. And I think I finally found that belief in myself to be able to really say, ‘You’re a good player. You deserve to win these if you put yourself in these opportunities’. Unfortunately, I didn’t win that week, but then I followed up with a win in Canada after that.”
This week he gets another chance to add his name to The Open’s honour roll.
“This is pretty special. The 145th, obviously it’s been around for a very long time. The greats have all held the trophy, the Claret Jug. To be able to hold that once in my career, it would be very pleasing and satisfying. Every year I start out, I get excited for all the majors. I get excited to be able to play the Open Championship, not only because of the fans, but because of how challenging the golf course is and the weather.
“You have to somehow adapt your game to the weather and the golf course and really plot yourself around these golf courses. That’s the most satisfying thing that you can get out of being able to beat the best in the world on some of the most challenging golf courses that we don’t usually get to play. I’d be over the moon if I could hold the Claret Jug one day.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved