Day's stock continues to rise thanks to maturity

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Jason Day is in contention after a 7-under 66 Friday at Kapalua.
January 07, 2011
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Jason Day can't remember what he was thinking when he was standing over the ball prior to striking his tee shot at the par-4 13th in Friday's second round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Second-round coverage
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Maybe he caught a glimpse of a whale breaching in the distance. Maybe thoughts of moving into his new home clouded his mind.

Or maybe he's just rusty.

What Day does remember is the result -- the clubhead of his driver hitting the ground about six inches behind the ball, with his tee shot scooting low over the ground until it came to rest 110 yards from the tee box (or 106, according to ShotLink), barely clearing the rough.

Most of us have hit shots like that. But not Day. Not until Friday. "I haven't hit a drive like that ... ever," he said. "That's the first time."

For Day, though, the real test would be in handling the adverse situation. He pulled out his driver again -- playing partner Justin Rose was quite impressed with that decision -- and hit his second shot 234 yards into a greenside bunker, then got up-and-down to save par thanks to rolling in a putt just inside 18 feet.

That allowed Day to remain bogey-free on his round en route to shooting a 7-under 66 that gives him at least a fighting chance going into the weekend at the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

But whether Day, at 7 under for the tournament, can step on the gas and catch the leaders this week may not be as important, at least in the big-picture, than the maturity he continues to show on the course -- even at the still tender age of 23.

There is no doubt that the Australian has the physical tools and technical skills to one day rank among the world's elite golfers. It's the mental approach that is the biggest question mark. Day readily admits it's a work in progress.

"The biggest thing for me this year is to improve my mental game," said the reigning HP Byron Nelson champion.

"I'm very driven by success. My confidence comes from success. If I can play well, I gain more and more confidence. That's just the kind of player I've always been. So it's very crucial for me to get off to a good start and gain some confidence."

Building on success is one thing. Dealing with the negatives, such as the duffed shot, is another.

The fact that he pulled out his driver on the ensuing shot shows he's willing to immediately face his demons head-on. The fact that he avoided driver on the next hole, opting instead for a 3-iron in order to make sure he regained some confidence off the tee, showed he's capable of making wise in-game decisions.

Had this been the Jason Day of two or three years ago ... well, he wouldn't have handled the situation nearly as well as he did Friday.

"No doubt," he said. "My head would've been off and I would've lost it.

"Every year, it's just been little steps of improvement. ... It takes time to be the best in the world. It's always been my goal to be No. 1."

Considering that he's been a pro since 2006, it's easy to forget that Day is still so young. At 23, he's the youngest player in this week's field. But he certainly doesn't act like it -- neither on nor off the course.

Day and his wife Ellie, who turns 25 in April, recently bought a house outside of Ellie's hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It's the fourth house that Day has bought -- he recently sold his home in Orlando, and still has houses in Australia and Fort Worth, Texas.

The house is on five acres, and it will afford Day that kind of privacy he needs, especially when he and Ellie decide to have children. It's the kind of house that Day can settle into, find some type of balance away from the hot-spotlight demands of being one of the PGA TOUR's marquee young players.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I grew up on a farm. I'm ready just to live a normal life.

"Obviously, if you play well and you're a big golfer, you're always in the spotlight. But I want to keep my life as normal as possible."

Basically, it's taking another step toward growing up. Maturity, if you will.

"It's all about maturing," he said. "It's been an exciting journey, I tell you that much."

Considering his future prospects, there's much more excitement yet to come.