Day hires 'goal-oriented' Williams to caddie starting at U.S. Open
Williams has caddied for Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott
June 12, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Jason Day has, in his words, 'severely underachieved' in his career.
The 12-time PGA TOUR winner admitted that leading up to this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a tournament where he's been in position to win in the past, but never broken through to the winner's circle.
The 31-year-old says he’s ready to do something about it.
Missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide in his adopted hometown of Columbus, Ohio was the final straw. Day has been frustrated on the golf course and he was getting bogged down by distractions away from it. He sat down to wife Ellie’s homemade lasagna at dinner and started to speak the inner thoughts in his mind.
“To be No. 1, you need to be more selfish,” was one line.
As he heard himself say it, his memories of 2015 and 2016 returned. Back then, Day won seven times in 17 starts. He was locked in. He was the best. Deep down, he knew he was no longer that guy. Not just in the results he was getting, but in the attitude and dedication he was showing.
Something had to change. Enter Steve Williams, the caddie who was by the side of the likes of Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott at the heights of their powers.
Day called in Williams looking for an edge. Someone to help him find an extra gear of hunger again.
“I know that his drive and his will to be successful is very, very high. And I think he's kind of a no BS kind of guy. He'll tell you straight. He told me that, if you're not working hard enough, I'm gone,” Day said of the new partnership that will debut at Pebble Beach.
“Ultimately, what I want to do, is I want to win more. I told Steve, look, my goal is to get back to No. 1 in the world. But I want to do everything I possibly can to get there. If I need to do whatever you need to tell me, I'll do it. He said that being No. 1, there's a lot of sacrifice that comes along with that. And we both understand what that means.”
At this junction, it is important to acknowledge the fact Day loves his two best friends Rika Batibasaga and Luke Reardon deeply. The pair had shared caddy duties with Day since long term coach Colin Swatton moved from the job in 2017. In fact, they moved to Columbus before any looping opportunities were on the table, just to keep the gang together.
Day took them on in a bid to have more fun on the course. At the time he was slipping from his dominant self and his on-course relationship with Swatton was starting to strain. Swatton is like a father to Day, so they scaled back to a coach-player relationship to protect their long-term bond. Day thought being a little looser might help. And two wins early last season showed he might have been on to something.
But with fun comes a slight drop in intensity. In the cutthroat world of the PGA TOUR, a slight percentage here or there is the difference between being good and being great. In turn, Day has decided he needs his friends to be just that. Williams is a business partner.
One of the first things Williams did was ensure Day resets and reaffirms his goals. Perhaps Day’s greatest struggle comes from the fact that he invested years into two clear goals from childhood – win a major and be world No.1. When he did that, he was almost lost as to what should come next. Such is his talent, Day can sit between 10th and 20th in the world without overextending himself. Money will keep rolling in. The race to the top takes sacrifice. Williams has already pointed out how Norman, Woods and Scott knuckled down.
“You don't get anywhere in life without sacrificing and working hard. That's just plain and simple,” Day, who currently sits 38th in the FedExCup, says.
“And you've got to work smart. But you've got to have the goals. You've got to have your short-term, your medium goals, and your lofty goals. And that's kind of what he's done, is really open my eyes back to trying to stay focused on these.”
As stated above, one of the goals is to get back to the top. Day is 16th in the world right now. Another is to win a FedExCup. Another is to win a career Grand Slam, meaning he has targeted at least three more majors.
“There's a lot of work that I need to put into my game. I know just from hearing the stories that Steve has told me, just recently, about how hard these guys have worked that he's worked for, puts things in perspective,” Day adds.
“Looking at Steve, he's very goal-oriented. And I've been that way myself. And unfortunately, I kind of lost my way with regard to goals. Having someone that's very driven and very forward focused, especially on making me a better player, that only drives me to try and improve.”
The other thing Day wrestles with is family time. Now with three kids, Day is overly sensitive to spending quality time with his children. His father was abusive. His father did not create a loving environment, and ultimately, his father died while he was still young. Day has always put his kids first. He wants them to have an upbringing he never had. But at the same time, he needs to focus on his golf while in his prime.
“To be the best, you have to be selfish with your time. It's really hard,” Day admits.
“I only get to see my kids grow up once, so I want to try to be there as much as possible. It's a very, very difficult balance to become the best player in the world and also be the best family man you can possibly be. There has to be a little bit of give and take there at times.
“But I'm trying to chase greatness right now. And my wife understands that, Ellie, she's been a great supporter of mine. And who knows how long this will be for. I don't know if I'm going to play until 50. I don't know if I'm going to play until 40. I've just got to keep things rolling. If things fall my way, I can retire a little bit early and spend the rest of my days with them.”
Ellie was part of the decision to bring Williams in. She knows her husband sometimes needs a kick in the backside to get truly motivated. And the Kiwi caddie has a reputation for being tough as nails and as professional as they come.
Williams has been in retirement for a few years, enjoying racing cars and spending time with his wife and son in New Zealand. But he’d always told his wife he’d consider a return to the TOUR for just three players. One of those players was Day.
“As the years have progressed, the talent pool on the PGA TOUR has got deeper and deeper and it is getting difficult to dominate and even just win because there are so many good players. But Jason is one of those players who is capable of doing more than what he’s done,” Williams says matter-of-factly.
“In golf – because it is a game you play on your own – you only get out what you put in. If we can both say to ourselves that we both committed ourselves to doing the best we can, then he’s capable of playing some great golf.”
Williams is “old school” as Day puts it, which, in itself, is a big adjustment for the Australian. Day is used to getting a swath of information for shots he plays and visualizing from the data. Williams plays on feel. He takes a look and calls it like he sees it. And if he disagrees with his player, he lets him know, even in the big moments. While Day’s friends were there to keep things light-hearted, Williams is there to get wins. If that means saying something Day doesn’t want to hear, so be it.
“I’m sure Jason thought about it. He knows my personality,” Williams says. “And I’m sure he wouldn’t have called me if hadn’t given that some consideration.”
Before Day was a major champion, he was a near-major champion on many occasions. The U.S. Open was seemingly the tournament he was destined to win from the time he was runner-up behind Rory McIlroy in 2011 at Congressional. While he was eight shots behind McIlroy, he finished the tournament with a record 45-straight bogey-free holes. He’d been runner-up at The Masters just a few months earlier. Day is a scrapper. He has a short game better than most, honed on the hard scrabble courses in the rough town he grew up in.
In 2013, he led the Masters by two shots standing on the 16th tee on Sunday only to be run down, coincidentally, by Williams and Adam Scott. In the 2013 U.S. Open, Day held the lead after 10 holes on Sunday but finished runner-up. In 2015 at Chambers Bay, he held the 54-hole lead despite collapsing from vertigo during his second round, but faded to ninth. He also had the 54-hole lead at the 2015 Open Championship but missed a playoff by a shot.
In all, Day had nine top-10s in major championships before winning the 2015 PGA Championship. It was expected he would kick on from there. And he did, right through to the 2016 PLAYERS Championship, which was his seventh win in a 17-start stretch. But things tapered off from there. He is now seeking to get back to that player. Since the start of 2017, Day has just two top-10s in majors, one of which was a T5 at the Masters this year.
“(I’ve) underachieved, yeah. Severely underachieved,” Day says bluntly.
“I feel like I've got a game that when it's on, I can win most tournaments. And the big thing for me is to go ahead and believe that and have trust in my abilities that I can do that. I just have to get that desire back into my game and keep working hard. I think as long as I keep doing that, then having Steve on the bag is going to be the right choice.
“In certain situations, when it comes down to the crunch, he'll be able to calm me down. So it's nice to have someone that has unbelievable experience in major championships. You just have to look at the players that he's been with, and it just kind of almost, to a certain degree, puts your mind at ease knowing that he knows what he's doing.”
It seems Day knows what he’s doing again also.