Jason Day’s rise to No. 1 complete with BMW title – ESPN
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Jason Day often doesn’t sleep very well, but the past few nights were even more fitful than usual. By his own admittance, he was more emotional, too. All of this despite spending his daytime hours turning Conway Farms Golf Club into his personal playground and making the BMW Championship a weekend coronation.
It wasn’t the tournament title that was leaving him so edgy. He has won enough of these now — and enough of ’em recently. This would be his fifth win of the year and fourth in his past six starts, so if anything, he was becoming accustomed to front-running his way to glory and a new piece of gleaming hardware.
No, this one was about so much more. With the victory, Day moved into the No. 1 position on the world ranking for the first time, a long-standing goal which underwent a metamorphosis from aspirational to controversial to finally, when the clinching putt rattled into the bottom of the cup Sunday afternoon, prophetic.
The idea of becoming a world-class golfer first entered his mind as a 9-year-old, while watching Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters. By the time he was 13, Day was already thinking about someday becoming the world’s best player. It was a few more years, though, before he announced this to his mentor.
As Colin Swatton remembers it, Day was 17 years old and already a decorated junior competitor when he walked into his office at the Koralbyn International School’s golf academy in Queensland, Australia, and asked if he could one day turn himself into the game’s No. 1 player.
“I said, ‘Absolutely. You just have to listen, be patient, work hard and eventually you’re going to get there,'” recalled Swatton, who still serves as Day’s instructor and caddie. “I had every reason to believe he could get there one day.”
The two of them devised a plan, right in that office.
Day didn’t just want to become the No. 1 player in the world. He wanted to become No. 1 by the time he was 22, an age surpassed at the time by only Woods, his golfing idol.
“We wrote down everything,” he said. “There’s technical, tactical, physical and mental part of the plan. You have to fill all of those buckets up. I think the last thing that was lacking was the mental bucket. I was working on all these things and starting to fill those buckets up, opening that tap, letting [it] drip.”
He was so proud of this plan, so convinced it would happen for him, that Day didn’t mind sharing it with others.
A few years later, after he’d turned professional, Day was laying on his mother’s bed at their home in Queensland, speaking on a conference call to a group of reporters, when he unveiled his plan to them.
“I want to chase Tiger and my goal is to become the No. 1 golfer in the world,” he told them. “That’s been my goal since I was a little kid. If I work hard on what I need to, I’m sure I can take him down.”
In golf’s demure, passive inner circle, these words didn’t go over well.
Here was Day, an upstart young pro who had only amateur achievements to his résumé, presumably challenging the legacy of one of the game’s greatest players of all-time.
What the critics didn’t realize is that Day revered Woods. He wasn’t trying to call him out; he was simply stating that written plan aloud.
“It wasn’t the response that I was expecting,” he explained. “I mean, I expected to get a little bit, but not the response that I got from practically everyone.”
Day was labeled as cocky. A can’t-miss kid who some people, based solely on those words, hoped would miss. And for a while, he did.
He swiftly moved his way up the world ranking through a variety of close calls at major championships and other big events, but he just as quickly earned a reputation as an ultra-talented player who struggled to close the deal, winning only twice in his first seven years as a PGA Tour regular.
Then, everything changed. He won early this year at Torrey Pines, but it wasn’t until The Open at St. Andrews, where he finished 1 stroke out of a playoff, that Day started feeling not only like he could win, but like he should win. Pretty soon, he actually was winning nearly every time he played, which culminated with the BMW Championship victory this weekend.
Even if it was five years late, that long-ago plan finally came to fruition — and those critics have been thoroughly silenced.
“I’d love to say, ‘I told you so,’ but that wouldn’t be very nice,” Day said with a laugh. “I would still thank them, because that was kind of the fuel that lit the fire for me, especially with the dedication over these last few years. I know that a lot of people were thinking against me on that.”
Maybe it was the nights of fitful sleep or the outpouring of emotions or the consummation of his career goal or a combination of all of it, but following this latest victory, Day was feeling contemplative.
He thought about watching Woods win the Masters back in 1997, about detailing his plan to become No. 1 with Swatton, about receiving so much criticism for that plan, and about finally reaching his dream.
“I don’t know, it just feels normal,” he insisted. “I feel like I did yesterday, the same. Once again, I’m just a regular guy like everyone else. Everyone has dreams. As long as you stick to them and work hard, you can accomplish anything.”