In just about any other season, Jason Day would have been an overwhelming recipient of Player of the Year honors on the PGA Tour. Easily. No doubts. Slam dunk. His victory in September at the BMW Championship outside of Chicago gave him five on the year, including four in his last six starts and eight tournaments overall. Throw in a major championship win at the PGA Championship and you wonder why there wasn’t more of a debate. Well, Day has Jordan Spieth to thank for that. In golf’s modern era, the number of players who had better years in the major championships than Spieth did in 2015 adds up to exactly 2: Ben Hogan’s three majors in 1953; Tiger Woods’ three majors in 2002.
Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open, missed a playoff by a stroke, and tied for fourth at the British Open and then finished second – to Day – as the PGA Championship. And when Spieth added the Tour Championship for his fifth win of the year, along with the FedEx Cup title, well…it left Day without that honor. Typically two major championships in a year prevails over anything else. Going back to the inception of the PGA Tour player of the year award in 1990, every two-time major winner has also been player of the year – except for Nick Faldo, who was not a tour member when he did so in 1990.
And yet, every five time winner in that span also was player of the year. Of course, there has never been this overlap, either. Had Spieth not won the Tour Championship, perhaps Day would have had an argument, although not to everyone. “Majors trump anything,’’ Rory McIlroy said. “Jordan has had that locked up basically since the Open Championship.’’ At that point, Spieth had four victories on the PGA Tour and that incredible run in the majors with another runner-up finish to come.
Day had just a single victory at the Farmers Insurance Open and had just seen another opportunity pass when he failed to make a birdie over the closing 12 holes at St. Andrews, missing the playoff won by Zach Johnson by a single stroke. A good bit of soul-searching ensued after that near miss, and Day – who had 9 top-10s in majors to that point, seemed determined to get it right. He won the RBC Canadian Open the following week, then two weeks later shot a record-setting 20-under par in winning the PGA Championship.
Throw in two Fed Cup playoff victories after that and the idea of him getting attention for player of the year certainly had merit. Of course, getting to No. 1 in the world was a nice consolation. That occurred when Day won the BMW, and although he bounced back and forth with Spieth and ended up No. 2 at the end of 2015, it was special nonetheless. “It’s been kind of a dream run for me,’’ Day said. “To put it into words, it’s quite shocking, really to understand what I’ve accomplished. Golfers have accomplished this feat before, but for me personally, I thought I always had it in me, but just to be able to play the way I have and finish the way I have has been a fantastic ride.’’
Day, 28, had a rough upbringing in Australia and has many times told the story of how golf got him on the right path. His father died at an early age, Day had alcohol issues, and it wasn’t until he got into golf that he found the right path. With the help of Col. Swatton, a father figure who now works as Day’s caddie, Jason found his way to America almost a decade ago. And look at him now. “I played a lot of golf with Jason and what a nice guy he is,’’ Spieth said. “I’m certainly jealous of how far he hits the ball and what a ball striker he is. What a fantastic mental game. He’s extremely confident, in who he is and how he plays and he’s a big-time threat. He’s as big a threat as anybody.’’
Almost forgotten now is that Day was ranked 10th in the world when the U.S. Open convened at Chambers Bay. Spieth was on his way to a second straight major. Rory McIlroy was No. 1 in the world. Day was fighting the perception that he had difficulty closing. After all, there were just the three PGA Tour victories. The one at Torrey Pines seemed long ago. Then on top of all that he was playing nicely at the U.S. Open but fighting a bout of vertigo, something that had bothered him on and off but became serious during the competition. Day had fallen to the ground during the second round and then managed to shoot 2-under-par 68 during the third round to gain a share of the 54-hole lead.
“He played unbelievable,’’ said Kevin Kisner, the other player in the group. “He didn’t feel good at all. I told him I’d try to help him in any way I could. I asked him if he wanted me to pick his ball up out of the hole. He was struggling. But there’s that old saying, beware the sick golfer, and that kind of rang true today.’’ Day was unable to keep it going during the final round, eventually tying for ninth. And when he arrived at St. Andrews, all the attention was on Spieth, who was going for the third leg of the Grand Slam. But there was Day with a chance, unable to get a closing birdie that would put him in a playoff.
It was a crushing development, but one that inspired him to a victory the following week in Canada and a surreal run to the end of the year. “I went through a little bit of a slow spell in the middle of my season, but after the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, kind of really just started kicking in. To win four of the last six was amazing. I worked very, very hard in the offseason, and even in the off weeks during the year. I’ve been working very hard on my body, on my game, to really understand that there’s stuff that I’m doing that will work. It will pay off. “It paid off and it paid off pretty quick.’’ Yes it did. And along with Spieth and McIlroy and Rickie Fowler and others, Day has put himself in the mix, making for a potentially big 2016.
January 01, 2016