Jason Day remains hopeful he will be able to bring his best game to next week’s TOUR Championship despite being forced to withdraw from the BMW Championship with a back complaint.
The world’s top-ranked player has continued the treatment on a pinched joint capsule and is awaiting scan results to be fully cleared for action but he’s already feeling much better than he did Sunday at Crooked Stick.
He’ll head to East Lake ranked fourth in the FedExCup standings, meaning he’ll control his own destiny. The 28-year-old Day knows his best hope of challenging Dustin Johnson for the PGA TOUR’s Player of the Year honors rest with claiming a fourth win of the year, and with it the FedExCup.
Day has made no secret of his desire to win the season-long points race. He views it as a legacy builder of the highest order. A year ago, he entered the TOUR Championship ranked first in points, but saw Jordan Spieth win the Playoffs finale and claim the FedExCup. Day is determined not to let another chance slide by this time.
Given Day has suffered through back issues in the past — withdrawing from the 2014 BMW Championship with a similar complaint, and pushing through the pain barrier to win The Barclays and the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play in recent times — concern from outside the camp is rising.
We only need to look at Day’s idol Tiger Woods to know what back injuries can do to a career.
The Australian swings with ferocity and hits it a mile. But the likes of Golf Channel commentator and former pro Brandel Chamblee are among those worried about the restriction of movement in the lower body of Day’s swing, and the wear and tear that may or may not put on the back.
Woods has tried multiple swing changes and coaches in his time, all in an effort to get better — but also to alleviate potential injuries.
Day’s coach and caddie Colin Swatton has heard opinions before. You can’t coach the best player in the world without hearing advice from every second person who comes along. Some have excellent backgrounds in the business. Many are couch or keyboard warriors.
The reality is the swing Day has now is the swing that took him at the top of the world.
“I think we’ve made a career out of the way he’s swung, and honestly you’re going to get wear and tear in any swing,” Swatton says.
“It’s one of those things that if you are a race car driver, sooner or later you’re going to put it into the fence. But it’s about understanding how to get around the golf course and how to get around a racetrack without running into the fence all the time.
“Things that have made Jason great are things that are also potential road blocks, but it’s about taking the good with the bad. If you want speed and to hit it high and long, then you’ve also got to hit it a little quicker now and then.”
Before Day withdrew last week, there already was an issue plaguing his game of late — driving accuracy.
He has hit just 50.68 percent of fairways this season, the worst of his career. And while his magnificent short game has kept him in contention most weeks, it is a bugbear affecting confidence.
From his major championship breakthrough at the PGA Championship in 2015 through to his PLAYERS Championship victory earlier this year, Day won six times in 15 starts. During this stretch, he hit 57 percent of his fairways, including a high mark of 73.21 percent at Whistling Straits. His low of 35.71 percent came at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where a severe case of the flu rendered him near useless.
In the nine starts since his last win, Day’s average has plummeted to 44.91 percent. He hit more than half of his fairways in just a third of the events and was under 38 percent on three occasions, including a low of 30 percent at the RBC Canadian Open.
He hit just 35.71 percent to open the FedExCup Playoffs at The Barclays but still managed to finish T4, sparking some frustration.
“I don’t think there was a tee shot that I felt comfortable over to be honest,” Day said after finishing two shots behind winner Patrick Reed.
“Every time I was standing over the ball, I couldn’t feel like it was going to be a good shot. I was fighting a left shot and I was fighting a right shot.
“With everything done, stats-wise, I didn’t give myself an opportunity off the tee. If I give myself more opportunities to the green, if I’m in the fairways, I might have had a good chance.”
Swatton said the issues started when Day damaged the driver he’d be using throughout his incredible run.
“He cracked the head of his driver at the U.S. Open, which was the M1 he put in during the stretch was playing incredibly well and driving the ball nicely. He just hasn’t quite felt as comfortable since,” Swatton said.
The team did some testing with TaylorMade reps in the lead-up to the BMW Championship, trying out four different set-ups before Day settled for an updated shaft and put it in play. He was at just 45 percent accuracy when he pulled the pin at Crooked Stick, but Swatton says there was improvement.
“He felt the ball was starting to do what he felt it should be doing,” Swatton says.
“He missed quite a few by small margins and while he did hit a couple that were a little bit squirrelly, I think that had to do with a bit of confidence. If you don’t drive it great coming in, it can be a little more difficult.
“On the more difficult holes, he drove it well, so I expect him to keep grinding and practicing and it will come around.”
Swatton also warns to take some statistics with a grain of salt. He highlights the RBC Canadian as part of a redirected game plan where a baked course meant they hit driver almost everywhere without as much fear of consequence.
And while Day knows hitting fairways will be a key component at East Lake, the course could lend itself to a more conservative gameplan. Day was sublime at THE PLAYERS Championship using his 3-wood and mighty 2-iron off multiple tees and may yet do the same as he chases the FedExCup.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he just clicked into gear,” Swatton says. “East Lake has a lot of holes with 3-woods and irons off a lot of tees so we will look and see what sort of gameplan we want to take in.
“If we want to take more of a PLAYERS Championship-style approach to East Lake to feel competitive, then that’s what we will do.”