Day breaks Down Under

Jason Day has not played an event in Australia for more than five years.

Our top-ranked golfer and world number 7 returned home this week to compete in the Australian Open starting tomorrow at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.

Jason Day Jason Day (Credit: Anthony Powter)

A marquee pairing with 14-time major winner Tiger Woods and Robert Allenby for the opening two rounds leaving a smile on the Day’s young 23-year-old face.

“The game is heading in the right direction and to come back and play as a professional in front of an Australian crowd with Tiger Woods is something special.”

Greg Norman predicted yesterday at a press conference that Day would be the next Australian to claim the world number one ranking. The Aussie icon and golfing legend showing nothing but praise for Day’s game and demeanour on the course.

Casting Norman’s comments aside, Day is the next best thing since the Shark for Australian golf.

Golf Australia, owners and promotors of the Australian Open, see the potential. Why else would they pair Day with arguably the tournament’s biggest draw card.

But Day also indicated he no longer sees Woods as the man to beat in world golf, even if he is still the top drawcard.

“Looking back the last couple of years, I think he’s lost it a little bit,” said Day, who finished runner-up at this year’s Masters and US Open.

Day has never been paired with Woods in a professional tournament. It’s a combination he has wished for ever since first picking up a club at age six when Day’s father enrolled his son as a junior member at Beaudesert Golf Club.

The Queenslander credits the former world number 1 and 14 time Major winner as a major influence on his game.

Unlike Adam Scott, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby, Day was too young to have Greg Norman as his childhood inspiration.

“Tiger has influenced my life a lot,” says Day.

“I have always wanted to play against him and it’s going to be fun.”

Day is a different player to when he turned professional in 2006.

At the time he’d signed a multi-year agreement with TaylorMade-Adidas Golf. Securing sponsor’s invite to the John Deere Classic and making the cut in his next five events as a professional.

With a best place of 11th at the Reno-Tahoe Open and with official winnings of over $160,000, Day fell agonisingly short of obtaining PGA Tour playing rights following the 2007 PGA Qualifying School and gaining conditional status on the Nationwide Tour.

Day won his first Nationwide Tour event in July 2007 at the Legend Financial Group Classic, becoming the youngest man at 19 to win on any of the PGA Tour’s three tours.

He ended up finishing 5th on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card for 2008.

The pathway to the PGA Tour was paved for the 2006 Australian Amateur Stroke Play and Australian Master of the Amateurs Champion.

Three years on and one PGA Tour title later, Day sits comfortably inside the world’s top-10.

“I have matured a lot in the past few years,” says Day.

“Not only on the golf course but off the course as well. When I moved to America it was just me. I had to do a lot of growing up, buying homes, cars, paying bills.”

The change in culture was for the better and Day has not looked back after moving from his base at Hills International Golf Club in Queensland.

“Not many people at my age are doing those kinds of things,” he says.

“Doing that, you have to grow up pretty quick. That helps with your golf game as well. I am a lot smarter on the course than I was a few years back. Hopefully, I can go out and work hard and win this event.”

Australian golfers are patriotic about their Open championship.

They don’t play for the prize money. The winner on Sunday pockets just $A270,000 – a modest sum compared to the riches of the PGA Tour.

The real prize is having their name on the Stonehaven Cup alongside Norman Von Nida, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Tom Watson and Greg Norman, all greats of the game.

Day is no exception.

“I have watched it ever since I was a kid,” says Day.

“I have always wanted to win it. I want to win majors and PGA Tour events but I obviously want to put my name on the Australian Open trophy. That has been a very big goal for me, ever since I was a little kid and it is great to be back home.”

“To be paired with Tiger is an added welcome home bonus.”