Young: Day More Popular Despite Open Stumble

Jason Day left the Australian Open more popular than when he arrived, writes Bruce Young. (Photo: Henry Peters)
Jason Day didn't win the Australian Open on Sunday but his trip to Sydney was certainly not in vain.

In what was his first competitive visit to Australia in four years (since winning the 2013 World Cup), Day appeared determined to not only perform to the best of his ability and possibly secure his first Australian Open title but to re-connect with his Australian fans who have been waiting to see Australia’s latest World No. 1 and major winner in action once again.

Day spent long periods signing autographs and going out of his way to endear himself to spectators at The Australian Golf Club while at the same time producing, in many patches, very high quality golf. 

Holding a one-shot lead entering the final round, Sunday did not work out as Day and most golfing pundits thought it might, but he walks away from this year’s championship having reconfirmed the admiration his already trusted fans have for him and, very importantly, he has added many more.

Day had unjustifiably, in this writer’s opinion, come under criticism from some quarters for not supporting Australian events in recent years as much as many felt he should.

Other than perhaps his own nationalistic pride, the Queenslander has had no obligation to return to his homeland to compete.

The Australian Open is run by Golf Australia but much of what Jason Day achieved as an amateur and rookie was done under his own steam and without the help of Golf Australia. 

The criticism was unjustified, as, in most instances, there were genuine reasons for the 30-year-old avoiding the lengthy trip to Australia, most of them personal including injury, marriage and the arrival of new babies but Day was keen to win over the many Australian fans who witnessed just how he went about his business over the four days in Sydney.

More than 13 years earlier Day had finished 22nd in the event as a 16-year-old amateur at the same venue and less than two years later headed for the US where he has based himself since. His roots however are still very much in Queensland where he was born and raised and where his mother, Dening, and many of his immediate Australian family still live.

Dening and other members of the Day family were on hand every step of the way in yesterday’s final round as they had been most of the week and it was clear he was enjoying playing in front of them at home.

But while Day loved having his family close by, it was his warm and giving ways to fans, media, volunteers and others which would win over a whole new group of admirers.

As anticipated, Jason Day attracted fans to the Australian Open in droves.

On Thursday, after his opening round of 66, the 2015 US PGA champion was asked about the time he had spent engaging with the crowd after his round. 

“It’s been four years since I’ve been here, so I think I owe it to everyone that wants an autograph or wants a picture, to be able to stop and give it to them, because like I said earlier in the week, I haven’t been able to be here for the last four years and it’s so great to play in front of the crowds here. 

“They were very supportive of not only me, but the whole group, they’re great fans and to be able to hopefully make someone’s day, is nice to be doing at the end of the day.

The comments had no feel of platitude about them but rather from the heart and his genuine enjoyment of the opportunity to perform at home.

“It was amazing actually, the support that we had here today,” added Day. “Sydney crowds are usually pretty big, but it was a good size today. It was nice to be able to play well in front of them too, because obviously that’s why they pay the money, to come here and watch good golf. 

Following the completion of his third round, Day was careful not to predict anything as he knows only too well golf can work in strange ways irrespective of your talent and credentials.

"It would be nice to add my name to that list as well, but the hardest thing for me, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself and it’s easy tonight [to] be able to think about the possibility of holding the Stonehaven Cup for the first time.  Like I said, I don’t want to win it just once, I’d like to come back and win it multiple times and try and do my best that way.

"But right now, I’ve just got to try and focus on getting as much rest tonight, so I can really stay focused tomorrow. I know it’s going to be a very difficult day tomorrow with regard to what we’re going to have out there, the pressure, the wind, the fans, the media and everything out there, and it’s been a while since I’ve won, so obviously everyone’s going to be nervous out there.

"It’s a good nervous; without nerves you don’t get in the zone and without being in the zone, you don’t shoot the scores that you can shoot.

His final words to the media after a disappointing Sunday when he had appeared the logical winner until dropping four shots in five holes through the middle of his round were philosophical ones and from a man who has been around the game long enough to understand the rollercoaster it can be.

“It was tough, yes, but there were plenty of scores in the 60s. I just didn’t play my best and obviously it’s not great to shoot 2-over par on the final round when you’ve got the lead. You know what, it is what it is.

"It’s obviously a little bit disappointing to come out and not finish it, but I’ve just got to kind of look back on it and see what I need to do for next time, because you can’t be perfect all the time and I played three terrific rounds actually, the first three rounds, and I just didn’t put it together on Sunday."

Day had handled defeat from the jaws of victory nearly as well as he might have had he won.

Hopefully it won’t be another four years before we see Jason Day competing on Australian shores but irrespective of when we next see him, he reminded an Australian audience not only what a fine golfer he is but what a quality individual he is to match.


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