ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Jason Day grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, later became competitors and friends, and in recent years as they both battled a myriad of injuries they pushed each other to mount comebacks. Day, who won the 2015 PGA Championship and spent a year at world No. 1 before tumbling to No. 175 in October, ended a five-year victory drought on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas.
Among those to text him? None other than Tiger.
“I can’t say what he said because a lot of it was like F-words in it,” Day said during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday ahead of the 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Day, 35, smiled wide amid laughter but with each passing answer to a question he grew more reflective on what hoisting his 13th PGA Tour title meant to him.
“It’s more about the actual journey and working towards and all the hours that you get into practicing behind the scenes and working on your body and all that stuff. They’re the moments that I live for the most, and then the wins kind of get in the way,” he said.
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Day’s career was derailed primarily by injury, most notably to his back and it forced him to change his swing.
“It almost feels like you’re handcuffed when you do have an injury, and you’re playing against the best players in the world trying to compete and win,” he said. “That can be frustrating, disappointing, and it can almost be a feeling of depression sometimes just because of the amount of work that you’re putting in.”
As his back worsened and his play deteriorated, Day considered calling it quits. “I never told my wife that, but I was OK with it, just because it was a very stressful part of my life,” he said. “Ellie, she never gave up on me trying to get back to the winner’s circle again. She just always was pushing me to try and get better.”
A total of 1,835 days elapsed between wins, going from being, as he put it, “the best in the world to you can’t bust an egg with a hammer.” Through nothing more than hard work, Day has emerged as a winner again.
“Delayed gratification is probably the best feeling of all time,” he said. “Instant gratification is great, but delayed gratification is the best.”
Now, he is setting his sights on bigger things. He’d like to win another major and return to world No. 1. On the eve of the PGA Championship, Day noted that winning on Sunday has impacted his preparation for this week’s major and he plans to play Oak Hill, where he finished T-8 in 2013, the last time a major was played here, without having played a practice round. He’s made this choice to save his energy.
“It sucks to not be able to prepare the way I want to, but having mental tiredness out there won’t do me any good,” he said.
It’s an unusual way of preparing for his 14th start at the PGA and one of the biggest weeks of the year.
“It would have freaked me out. I would have had guilt like just washing over me that I hadn’t prepared the way I needed to prepare,” said CBS’s Trevor Immelman, a former Masters champion, who played here in 2003. “Jason knows his game is in a great spot so I’m going to trust him on that call.”
Day has climbed to No. 20 in the world and his validating win has his confidence soaring. Can he start collecting trophies in bunches again as he did during his prime? Day is trying to temper expectations and focus on the journey back to No. 1 and his pursuit of the top of the mountain.
“You definitely learn a lot about yourself through the lows more so than the highs,” he said. “I learned that I can handle the pressure still and focus, and I’ve still got the game to win.”