Freshly motivated Jason Day plans to play as if each event might be his last

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Jason Day of Australia plays his shot from the beach near the 18th hole during the Final Round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 11, 2018 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Freshly motivated Jason Day plans to play as if each event might be his last

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Freshly motivated Jason Day plans to play as if each event might be his last

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Jason Day turned 30 in November. Asked what he did to celebrate, Day shrugged. If he couldn’t remember, he said, then it was a non-event.

“I just see it as a number, really, to be honest,” Day said.

The number he is more concerned with? His wins on the golf course.

Day’s victory two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open was his 11th on the PGA Tour and first since the 2016 Players Championship. But Day, also a major champion (2015 PGA) and two-time WGC-Match Play winner, is disappointed he hasn’t won more.

“I think 11 is not enough,” Day said. “I think that’s, like, a very small number of wins. I want to be a multiple major champion. It would be nice to get the (career) Grand Slam, for sure. But anything above 20 is good. … Somewhere in the 30s would be fantastic.”

Day has set the bar high. If he can stay healthy and, in his words, “want it enough,” he believes he can get there. While Day has battled multiple injuries, including a bad back that forced him out of the Wednesday pro-am at Torrey Pines, the latter is arguably the bigger question. When he’s on, Day is one of the most complete players on Tour, blending power off the tee with deft touch around the greens. But when it comes to desire, Day has admitted struggles.

It’s only natural, he said, but last year that motivation reached an all-time low. Day began the year as World No. 1 but soon lost his standing atop the Official World Golf Ranking. In March he withdrew from the Match Play and revealed that his mother, Dening, had been diagnosed with lung cancer at the start of the year.

Dening had surgery soon after, and her condition has improved. But Day, who lost his father, Alvyn, to cancer when he was 12, went winless in 2017 and dipped as low as 12th in the world. He told reporters last year that he didn’t want to be on the golf course for most of the year.

“I was burnt out at the start of the year, and then what happened to my mom made that even longer,” said Day, who also parted ways with longtime caddie Col Swatton in September. “And then I lost some confidence, and then it was a pretty quick downward spiral from there.”

This year has been different – Day is as motivated as he’s ever been. It’s no longer a constant struggle to get out of bed and head to the range. He’s practicing more, even spending 10 hours a day working on his game last week at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, Calif. And he’s more determined to stay among the elite on a Tour that is crowning 20-something winners seemingly every other week.

“Every guy that comes through, they’re getting younger and they’re more hungry than me,” Day said, “so I’ve got to stay hungry and keep pushing.”

The tide began to turn last summer at the British Open. Day tied for 27th, and since that week he hasn’t finished outside the top 25 with six top-10s, including his win at Torrey and this week’s T-2 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Day used a second-round, 6-under 65 on Friday at Monterey Peninsula Country Club to leap into contention. His third-round 69 at Pebble Beach on Saturday earned him a spot in the penultimate group. And while he couldn’t track down winner Ted Potter Jr. on Sunday, Day shot 70, made five birdies and had a gutsy par save from the beach on the par-5 18th hole.

Is Day back? While it sure looks that, Day says there’s still room for improvement, especially with his irons and wedges. He ranked 63rd in strokes gained: tee-to-green in two rounds on Pebble this week (strokes gained statistics were not available at the other courses in the AT&T Pro-Am rota).

“If I keep doing what I’m doing … but also improve that (iron and wedge play) and kind of cut out the blemishes, then hopefully it will be more like 2015,” Day said.

When Day was in his 20s, he often thought he had all the time in the world to achieve his goals. He doesn’t feel like his time is running out by any means, but he’s trying to approach the game that way.

“Every mindset that I should be taking into every tournament is like this could be my last tournament, because I don’t know what’s happening around the corner; my back could be gone and I may not be able to pick up a golf club again,” Day said. “… If I don’t put in 100 percent now and try and win every single tournament, then I’m not going to be able to do that. I think that’s the champion mentality that you need to take in because, yeah, great, it’s good to finish second place, but I don’t think champions think like that.”

Day said last year that he believes his 30s are going to be the best years of his life. With the way he’s started them, who can argue? Gwk

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