Jason Day had an ordinary season by his standards in 2012. Now he just has to work out how to juggle being the best dad and pro-golfer he can be.
Jason Day had an ordinary season by his standards in 2012. Off the course, he couldn't have been happier with the arrival of his son, Dash. Now he just has to work out how to juggle being the best dad and pro-golfer he can be.
The next Greg Norman, the saviour of Australian golf and a world No.1 in the making. Jason Day has been touted as all of the above but after a lacklustre 2012 is the patina on the young Queenslander getting dull?
As 2013 begins, the 25-year-old is at a crossroads as he juggles the craving to be the best golfer he can be against the desire to be the best father he can be. Ideally the two-time major runner-up would like a balance of both, but you only need to spend a little bit of time with the somewhat reclusive Day to see juggling might not be his forte.
Day himself is hopeful of a rebound year, as is his coach, caddie, mentor and father figure Col Swatton, but the proof, as always, will be in the pudding.
In 2011 we all marvelled as the free-swinging, swashbuckling Day pushed his way to 12 top-10s worldwide, 10 of which came on the US Tour and two of which were runner-up finishes in majors.
It seemed his ascension to Australia’s golfing throne was inevitable as he climbed as high as world No.7 and fans salivated at the prospect of Day and Adam Scott, also in a resurgence, being regular contenders, and hopefully winners, in major championships.
But by late in the year, as he played Royal Melbourne in the Presidents Cup, Day’s new life of juggler began.
Just a few days earlier his wife Ellie had revealed her pregnancy, and wasn’t feeling well in Australia, forcing her home to the US early, and thus starting the young man’s new worries.
First dealing with a pregnant wife, then hip and foot injuries and the birth of young Dash in July combined to give Day just five worldwide top-10s in 2012.
Watching Day play, it doesn’t take long to realise just how methodical and focused he is. His pre-shot routine is so meticulously repeated you have to be careful not to come from watching his rounds hypnotised.
So when you add distraction, and major ones at that, it might not have come as such a surprise to see a dip in form.
“I’ve known Jason for 13 years now and I think I know him pretty well and I always expected coming into 2012 it would be a tougher year,” Swatton says. “I didn’t know it was going to happen the way it did, I just knew it wouldn’t be as smooth as other years and that’s just knowing Jason.
“On some occasions he finds it difficult to compartmentalise and put everything into different sections. He likes things easy and stress free.
“It was no surprise for me. When he has 10 different balls to juggle it becomes overwhelming. He has to be a golfer, a friend, a husband, a dad. He’s got to be so many things that he gets to a point where it’s too much.
“The reality is sometimes Jason has struggled with the ability to manage his time effectively, something that he will have to do in order to play well.”
Day knows the realities of his personality. He is aware juggling home and golf life wasn’t easy and will continue to be a work in progress. He knows he had plenty of excuses in 2012. But despite this he is up front and honest about his results, or lack thereof. This is, after all, the brash kid who hit the golf scene in a big way by claiming his goals from the get-go were to go after Tiger Woods’ then-No.1 world ranking.
“There were a lot of distractions off the course that took away from my play but to be honest 2012 was a very average year for me,” Day admitted candidly.
“I know I can do a lot better than that. I guess it was one of those years when I could have wanted it more and I should have wanted it more than what transpired. It’s hard for me to say that because of all the distraction and the fact I really couldn’t focus on my game but it’s true. I needed to want it more.”
But those in this world who are parents should be quick to come to Day’s defence. While being the best professional golfer he can be is certainly important, it dwarfs in comparison to the importance of being a good father. This is especially true for Day who lost his own dad before he hit his teens.
“The golfing public shouldn’t begrudge Jason this time in his life and perhaps the change in results associated with it,” fellow Australian professional, father, and the last Aussie to win a major Geoff Ogilvy says. “Anyone who has kids would totally get it and anyone who doesn’t probably just can’t fathom it. Being a good father first should be his No.1 priority, even over playing his best.”
Ogilvy, who has three children, knows first hand how tough the juggling life can be. He uprooted his family from Arizona to head to California for the benefit of his kids, only to now find himself heading back to Arizona a few years later to get his golf life back on track.
“Everybody’s balance is different but I always did feel a little bit selfish when golfing after I started having kids,” Ogilvy says.
“Pre children I’d get up in the morning at whatever time I wanted, I’d cruise up to Whisper Rock (his private club in Arizona), have breakfast, play a round of golf, practise a little, hang out with other golfers to four or five o’clock and then go home. Once I had my first child it seemed selfish to do that so I had to organise my time and have a set time block to hit balls, chip and putt and do my practice before getting home again. I had to learn time management.
“I don’t know about Jason but I didn’t realise how much I gained from just being around the golf course and other golfers, having a random putting contest, playing a money game of nine holes with someone else and just being around golf.
“It took me a while to work that out and while your family has to be your No.1 priority you have to try to work really hard to find a new balance.”
For his part, Day is trying to find the balance. But the former World Junior champion admits fatherhood is much harder than a buried lie in a bunker with a forced long carry over water.
“It is such a shock to the body,” Day says.
“Being a father is the best thing that has ever happened to me but in reality it’s a big adjustment.
“It’s a shock to me, a shock to my wife Ellie, it’s just something that’s hard to describe to people who don’t have kids.
“And for us, in the beginning, Dash wouldn’t sleep and that is hard. We were up every two hours and at golf tournaments I’d be trying to sleep in the other room of a bus, which isn’t ideal. I was just so tired.”
Remember Day has always liked the simple life. He likes a simple schedule, having things planned out for him, just like in his boarding school days at the famous Kooralbyn International School.
“After a round I was so used to having free time and going back and relaxing, chilling out and not worrying about anything, but now I get back and all Ellie wants to do is hand over Dash because she’s had him all day,” Day says.
“At first I was like, Woah … I just spent five hours mentally grinding it out on the course and I’m already exhausted and when you add the looking after a brand new baby to the mix you are both physically and mentally spent. “But of course that’s what it is all about and I really do love spending time with Ellie and Dash. It just takes time to find the adjustments.”
Ogilvy warns against expecting Day to be ready to hit the ground running in 2013. He’s not saying Day won’t contend most weeks but he does suggest a sort of fatherhood epiphany has to take place before he’s back to his best.
“You have to get back to the point of wanting to be at the golf course, over wanting not to miss every little thing your child does, and it takes a while,” Ogilvy says. “There is no doubt they can co-exist in your life. You can have full-time commitment to professional golf and a full-time commitment to being a great dad, you just have to find the best set up for you. It just takes a long time; I am still working on it.
“You finally realise you might want to stare at your kids all day but they don’t want to stare at you all day.
“The world doesn’t end for them when you go out and play golf for a few hours and actually they are really excited when you come home, so it’s nice.” While he hasn’t had his divine moment yet, Day is certainly confident of a bounce-back season.
“I am optimistic it will be a better year,” Day says.
“The one thing I really have been focusing on is ‘Do I really want a better year? Do I really want it?’ And I can tell you deep down what gets to me is I haven’t won as much as I think I should have.
“I have only won once on the PGA Tour and that really kills me. I am really looking forward to the new season. I am pumped, I have been working out really hard in the off-season trying to be in shape.”
Day regained some of his hunger during an exhibition event in November, when he helped the PGA Tour team defeat the LPGA and Champions Tour, posting the low number and being responsible for a play-off-winning putt.
“When I birdied the play-off hole in the three-Tour event to win, it felt really good,” he says. “I know it’s not like a regular event or anything but it just felt really good to win again. “It helped me realise that at some stage soon I’m going to need to chase that feeling again and I’m going to need full focus to do that.
“Can I guarantee that right now? Not fully with a new family, but I hope I’m getting closer and closer to that point. I can’t tell you I’m going to have a $4 million year but I do know I’ll have a better year than 2012.”
Swatton is also a believer of a turnaround, and no one spends more time around Day’s golf game.
“As much as I thought at the beginning of 2012 it was going to be a tough year, I think 2013 is going to be a great year,” Swatton enthuses.
“2012 was more a step sideways. He didn’t play a lot of golf, and he played a schedule against the best players in the world and still managed to keep a Tour card. Only 125 guys get to do that and he was well inside that mark (88th).
“If Jason is happy where he is at and where he is going, he’ll produce good results.”
Plenty of new fathers have managed to win big golf events so Day can certainly do so. Jack Nicklaus had five children and won 18 majors. His first major came when his first son was nine months old.
Dash Day turns nine months on April 10, the day before the 2013 Masters ...
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Golf Australia magazine.