Jason Day’s voyage through the sport he loves is quite literally the archetypal rags-to-riches story. One of the hardest working sportspeople in any field, the Australian may have struggled to replicate his sizzling hot form over 2015 and 2016, when he was number one in the world for a total of 51 weeks and clinched his sole major win; but this is someone always working, always striving to get back to the upper echelons of the game.
Day currently sits at number 29 in the world rankings, and in slowly plotting a route back to the top, the 32-year-old has changed equipment, switched coaches and continues to look deep inside for a way to fine-tune the psychological side of his game, drawing on mental resources honed by a tough start in life, as he reveals to RSNG…
RSNG Your journey into the game was somewhat different to the majority of other golfers, wasn’t it?
JASON DAY, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE GOLFER ‘I would say that it wasn’t my choice to be a golfer and I would also say that if my dad was still here, I certainly wouldn’t be on the PGA Tour. When I was a kid, I did enjoy playing, but once I was able to start winning events, even at a young age, I became obsessed with trying to become the best that I could possibly be for myself.’
‘But my dad died when I was 12 years old and I started getting into fights, drinking alcohol and causing trouble. My sister then ran away and was living on the streets. My mum was eager for me to snap out of that phase and she cared far too much for me to waste the talent I had.’
‘I started attending an international school near Brisbane, and met Colin Swatton, the guy who changed my life. Since the age of 12, Col has supported me all the way.’
‘I knew whatever took me over the line before wasn’t even going to get me to the line as a pro’
RSNG And that shift in perspective really manifested itself at Hills International College, right?
JD ‘Yeah, I was up at 5 or 6 each day looking for any bit of extra advantage. I would read and study other golfers, I’d take on board what these legends of the sport did – the good stuff and the bad – and I’d learn not just from my own mistakes, but theirs as well.’
‘But ultimately the plan was to get up earlier, work longer, work harder, improve quicker than everyone else. Of course, it didn’t happen straight away, and it certainly took time for me to ascend to that level of mental confidence that I had in the amateur game.’
RSNG Were you intimidated when you stepped up into the pro game?
JD ‘I would say 99% of people would struggle with the demands of going pro. It’s just such a completely different world, and the pressures are like something you can’t imagine.’
‘I wouldn’t say I was ever intimidated, but I knew I had to relearn a lot of what went before. I knew whatever took me over the line before wasn’t even going to get me to the line as a pro, and it was for me to find even more strength and determination to fulfil my ambitions.’
‘I think part of that was the intimidation of being around these pros who are absolute icons of the sport, and I think any amateur coming into that needs to come to terms with it, or there’s really no point stepping up.’
‘When you get to that stage, you can take one of two paths: you can either convince yourself that the pressure is too much and you let it rule you, or you can knuckle down, work hard and prove to yourself that you are there for a reason… that you can fulfil that promise and not be happy with just making it.’
‘You have to face your fears and meet them head on.’
RSNG Putting is a major part of the game and you’ve changed your putter over the course of the last decade or so. Why is that?
JD ‘Well, recently I changed back to the TaylorMade Spider X – the black putter which I had quite a successful season with in 2015 when I won five events. I had been using a Spider putter for quite some time – since around about 2011 and up until I had a horrible season in 2017. I had a white putter first and swapped that for a black one, then traded that one in too.’
‘When I had a hot season in 2015 and 2016, the putting was right on the money and a lot of players on the PGA Tour started changing their putters as well. That made it quite a popular putter and then I was with TaylorMade and Col and we were asking them if they could put a little Australian touch to it.’
‘However, my putting wasn’t great in 2017 and then I changed to an Ardmore 2 and I did feel a bit better with that one. But now, I have gone back to the 2015 putter and let’s see if I can regain the fortune that I had with that.’
‘Ultimately, this is all about what you feel most comfortable in at a certain time. Golfers are superstitious and will hold so much value and belief around a good club. A lot of the time it has very little to do with the club and it’s perhaps more about how you feel, how you are swinging and that kind of human element to it.’
‘The brain needs to be trained in such a specific way because it has the ability to make or break your round – every time’
RSNG You seem, mentally, to be one of the strongest on the circuit?
JD ‘Look, ultimately, there are always a lot of emotions which affect professional sport, and these are things that you need to have under your control if you are to harness the positive sides of your ability.’
‘I have used something called FocusBand – it is a brain training system that stops the voices inside and helps with decisions being made on the course – and over the years it has helped me block everything out.’
‘You get into a ‘no mind’ state or ‘mushin’ which is Japanese for being in the zone. That’s where you need to be as an elite-level sports competitor, and it can be used anywhere. The endeavours of a professional athlete are to get to that state, and I couldn’t get to that place by just having a mental coach.’
‘There’s so much more than just breathing, keeping a check on your thoughts, focusing and staying positive. FocusBand has allowed me to clear my mind and make space for the mental picture that I need to have.’
‘Golf is strange in that way and as it’s a non-contact sport – you are able to have a lot more control over your efforts, rather than say football, NFL, basketball or cricket, because you can be rushed in those sports and they are more reactive actions. But, it is similar to those where you get a sense of where you want the ball to go and you have that mental picture in your mind.’
‘The only doubt comes from the same place where the only confidence will come – your own mind. That’s why it needs to be trained in such a specific way, because it has the ability to make or break your round, every time.’
WHAT NEXT? Jason Day shows the perfect way to perform a dead hand wedge shot.