Should Dustin Johnson need advice on how to handle the sudden glare of golf’s spotlight, he could do worse than have a word with Jason Day.
The Australian may remain the world No1 but Johnson, having won on each of his past two starts including the US Open, is unquestionably golf’s man of the moment.
Part of Day’s appeal resonates in a desire to revel in attention. He seems to feed off it, which is in contrast to so many. “The stress is only from what you put on yourself, really,” Day said at Troon on Monday as he continued preparations for the Open. “I’ve been one of those people that hold on to a little bit more stress than others. People take certain situations a little bit differently. Stress you can look at two ways; I think the stress of being No1 in the world is more of a motivating factor for me just because I don’t want to lose it.
“So it’s really important for me to make sure that I stick to my process and do all the hard work that I can to try to stay there for as long as I can. I have to really try to extend that lead from one to two [in the rankings] to give myself a gap.
“If I had all the spotlight, that would be great. I’d be happy with that. If I didn’t have the spotlight, that would be great as well. All I’m trying to do is focus on trying to make sure that I prepare correctly for this event, making sure that my game plan is rock solid, even if we do have different changes of weather, wind, rain or whatever we get.
“It’s been neat to see what Dustin has done. Obviously when you see guys like that playing well, it motivates you to try to get better.”
Needless to say, “neat” was not the term in Day’s mind when he let a lead slip over the closing stages of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Johnson took full advantage after Day shipped four shots from the 15th onwards in his final round to lose out by three.
“That was an eye-opener,” Day admitted. “Even though you’re playing great golf, you need to get back to the process of hitting good golf shots, and that’s communicating with [Day’s caddie] Col [Swatton] properly. Because if you look down at it; the 15th was OK, 16 it felt like I played that hole in 30 seconds even though I took a double bogey there. It just felt so quick.
“When I’ve been playing my best golf, I feel like everything’s so slow. Even though I look like I’m playing slow, it just feels slow anyway. I can take my time and really kind of divulge the situation and work out the best plan possible. It is very easy to look at the negatives but that was pretty motivating.
“It’s about the learning, because obviously I learn more when I fail than when I win. To be honest, we’re not going to win every single one. It sucked. It was really bad. I hated losing. It was a terrible way to lose, and it was frustrating and disappointing. But things like this, you can’t win them all, and that’s just the way of life.
“We got spoilt with Tiger Woods, how he dominated very much through his years and did so well. That’s what we’re shooting for. That’s what I’m shooting for, to be able to finish off like he did back in the day. Will I ever get to a point like that? Maybe not. But that’s what I’m shooting for right now.”
The tear-inducing scale of Day’s impetus after falling within a shot of the play-off in the Open a year ago is by now well-known. From there, he claimed the next major championship he played in, the USPGA at Whistling Straits, to kick-start a run which propelled him to world No1.
“I think subconsciously I just finally got over the hurdle that said ‘It’s your time to start winning and playing well,’” Day recalled. “I think I finally found that belief in myself to be able to really say, ‘You’re a good player. You deserve to win these if you give yourself these opportunities.’
“When I was growing up there were two major championships we looked at. It was Augusta National and the Open Championship. Back in the day when Greg Norman came over here, a lot of Australians would start their career in Europe and that’s what their favourite major would be.
“This is pretty special. The 145th, obviously it’s been around for a very long time. The greats have all held the Claret Jug. To be able to hold that once in my career, it would be very pleasing and satisfying.”
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