For Jason Day, the Way Back to No. 1 Has Him Down A Rabbit Hole
06 Feb,2024 Credit : Orlando Ramirez / Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


For Jason Day, the Way Back to No. 1 Has Him Down A Rabbit Hole

For the past two years, Jason Day has been staring down his golf mortality with a singular focus set on removing the six letters from the following label - former No. 1 player in the world. 

Over the last nine months, Day has returned to relevancy with a rebuilt golf game that has earned him his first PGA Tour win in five years, and his first top-5 in a major since 2020. And he has found the pursuit intoxicating.

"For me, I want to get back to No. 1 because I know what it felt like to get back there, how hard I had to work to get back there," Day said in a December interview with Editor Dylan Dethier that can be seen on Youtube. "I know what it was like when I was there, and I would make certain tweaks and changes once I get back there to ultimately stay there a lot longer than I did, which was about a year."

Having turned 36 years old in November, Day has posted two top-10s in his first four 2024 events, and has had to face things like the following question asked at the just-concluded Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Question: "Do you ever let yourself think about where you are in your career, that maybe you're closer to the end than the beginning?"

"Yeah, all the time. That's a really good question," said Day, who finished T6 at Pebble Beach. "Just because, you know, I still feel like I'm in my 20s but I'm obviously past my mid 30s now. ... There was a good time there where I was like, you know what, once I get to 40 I'm like thinking about retiring. I think at the time I was like dealing with some injuries and whatnot and I wasn't feeling that great. 

"To be in like the second half of my career, like it's surprising because this is my 17th season on the Tour ... it's like I'm getting older and the guys that come out every single year, the new faces are getting younger, you know what I mean?

"With that being said, I think watching these young guys play knowing that they're hitting it further and they're full of confidence and they're big and strong, I feel like I've got the experience on my side to be able to handle certain situations, pressure situations. I just have to make sure that I do everything I possibly can to make sure that I'm healthy, I don't lose any speed and I mentally want to. If I can do those few things, I should have a decent 

second half of my career."

Decent is a relative term for Day, who reached No. 1 in the world in 2015 and spent 47 weeks at No. 1 from March, 2016 through February, 2017. In seven major championships from the 2015 U.S. Open through the 2016 PGA, Day posted a win, a second-place finish, three top-5s and a string of five consecutive top-10s. 

From, July 2015 through March, 2016, Day won seven times, including the 2015 PGA Championship - his lone major victory to go with five runner-up finishes - and the 2016 Players Championship.

Jason Day's Major Championship Record

"Being No. 1 in the world is a lifestyle choice," Day told Dethier. "You have to wake up every single day and go, 'If I'm planning to be No. 1 in the world, or I am No. 1 in the world, I have do this every single day. I have to be disciplined in my body. I have to be disciplined in my nutrition. I have to be disciplined in whatever it is, my mental side.' You have to dedicate and give yourself to that. And certain things around you you have to sacrifice a little bit."

Day would win twice more in 2018, and remain a top-20 player in the world through July, 2019, all the while dealing with a series of injuries, vertigo, and enduring his mother's battle with cancer, which took her life in 2022.

In 12 individual events in 2022, from March through August, Day missed five cuts and had to withdraw from another event. By October, 2022, Day had fallen to No. 175 in the world.  By then he was working with swing coach Chris Como and a team of trainers attempting to rebuild his swing and the rest of his golf game. 

"When I started my swing changes it was like complete heartache all the time, and like frustration, because I'd look at (his swing) and say, 'Why can't I get in position, into this certain position," Day said in his Breakthrough interview.

Jason Day's Breakthrough Interview on Youtube

Day estimates he has some 13,000 videos of his golf swing on his mobile phone, which has a terabyte of memory, and he's looking at them all the time. 

"I look at it from the time I started, like the timeline of it, and I'm like, 'Man, it's just amazing to see the changes, but not only see the changes in the swing, the changes in my body, how it moves ... like I can see how my hips are working compared to my upper body, and all these other things. I can get into this ... I'm like deep, deep into this. I've jumped headfirst into this rabbit hole."

The rabbit hole of thoughts about his swing changes came up at the 2023 Masters, when Day was told by a reporter in a pre-tournament press conference, "Your peers are talking about how great your swing is and you're playing meticulous golf. Can you quantify where your swing is now and how you're confident it will hold up?"

"It's good, but I would ... like to be able to go out there and play without any - with a couple of swing thoughts," Day said. "Right now, you know, I'm thinking about making sure that I have good hip tone on the way back, that I have -- if the right elbow flares out enough on top of the swing, that I have a little bit of a squat going into transition, the right arm goes down the right side of my body, I rotate, get my hands low and make sure I get my right wrist and get my right hand on top; and you've got to compete, as well."

Day went on to explain what he was still seeking.

"If you go and watch Rory on the range, or even play golf, even Tiger, these guys look like they are just free flowing everything," Day said. "They can hit any shot. I'm kind of physically forced to have to think about this stuff out on the golf course because if I don't, then I go back into some bad habits, and that can potentially harm my back.

"So I'm forced to be able to have to think about this stuff. ... I would say that, like, the majority of the major issues are taken care of. It's just the small little things, really minute, small things that you don't really see to the naked eye or people see to the naked eye.

"But things are moving in the right direction. The strike and the flight, the trajectory, the spin, the way it comes out is starting to -- I'm starting to have a lot more control. The next step is being able to do everything and being able to shape shots. That would be next."

What was next at the 2023 Masters was an opening-round of 67, which put Day two shots off the lead, and a T6 position after the second round. Day would struggle through the rainy weekend, and fading from contention with rounds of 74 and 80. Five weeks later, he would card a final-round, 9-under-par 62 to win by a shot in the AT&T Byron Nelson.    

"I was in tears for a little bit there, and to think about what my mom went through from 2017 on to her passing last year and then to know that - it was very emotional to go through and to experience what she was going through, then I had injuries on top of all of that going on in my life," Day said in the post-victory press conference. 

"To be honest, I was very close to calling it quits. I never told my wife that, but I was okay with it, just because it was a very stressful part of my life.

"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. ... It feels strange to be sitting here. I don't know how else to explain it. To go through what I went through and then to be able to be a winner again and be in the winner's circle is very pleasing, and I know that there's been a lot of very hard work behind the scenes that a lot of people haven't seen. But that's just the competition part of the journey and trying to strive to get better. It's nice to be able to get my 13th win."

Day's re-invigorated work on his golf swing has continued since the Byron Nelson, and he explained to Dethier in the Breakthrough interview what remains to be done. 

"I'm trying to create neural connections in my head based off my swing changes, my putting changes, my short game changes. And I'm trying to make those connections stronger because it takes time to build that up," Day said.

"So if I start from where I was two years ago with Chris (Como) and my swing was the way it was, and then I'm trying to change through repetitions and stuff like that, looking at my swing, and constantly talking about it, constantly visualizing my swing. That stuff changes, and it doesn't change overnight. ...

"It's funny. I was talking to a buddy last night about his swing, and like he's just starting this journey, too, and I'm two years in, and I'm like, 'Dude, this is going to be the greatest journey of your life. You're going to absolutely love it because on top of it you're going to knowingly understand your body more, understand your swing more.' ... When people say, 'I really want to own my swing,' I never really understood it. I understand it now to a certain degree, that you're just trying to ... swing it in a way that when things go bad, you know exactly what's going on, like 'What causes this shot? What causes that shot?' like react to it, and let's get back to playing really good golf."

Good enough to be the No. 1 player in the world again. 

"Major championships is where I want to be," Day said. "Getting back winning, winning multiple major championships, and competing in those, because that's ultimately why you practice so much and you work so hard is to put yourself at the highest level, under the most stress, and to see if you can handle it."