Rude: Day, English show smarts at Match Play
MARANA, Ariz. – Yes, you’ve heard it before, the brilliant if not overstated cliche that drills home a valuable point: Golf is 90 percent mental, and the other 10 percent is mental. You’ve heard it, and Thursday once again we saw supporting evidence in the WGC-Accenture Match Play that the toughest hole can be the five inches between the ears.
The mental part of the game again was on conspicuous display in, among other matches, a couple that went extra holes and were claimed by young stars.
In example one, Jason Day, 26, contender at multiple recent major championships, was 3 down through four and 10 holes but rallied to defeat Billy Horschel on the fourth sudden-death playoff hole.
Listen to Day: “I was just really trying to play (mind) games with myself. When you’re 3 down, you’ve got hardly any energy and things are going bad and I just kept telling myself, ‘Just find a way to win, just find a way to win–it doesn’t matter how.’ That’s all I was thinking about.”
Then Harris English was 2 up on fellow 24-year-old Rory McIlroy through 13 holes, went 1 down after three consecutive McIlroy birdies, pulled even with a 19-foot birdie putt at 17 and finally won with a par on the 19th hole after McIlroy found rough, desert and double bogey.
Listen to English, one of three PGA Tour players under 25 with multiple victories, talk of embracing carpe diem: “Going down 17, I needed to make something happen. It was emotional after his three birdies, but that’s what we play for. I love being in those moments. That’s what you dream of as a little kid.”
This is the same English who as a rookie played with McIlroy in the final group at the 2012 Honda Classic, his sixth Tour start. But, in terms of golf maturity, it is not the same English. While McIlroy won the Honda and ascended to No. 1 in the world that week, English closed with 77, tied for 18th and left feeling he had a lot to learn.
So how has he improved? You guessed it.
“Just mentally,” said English, a two-time Tour winner and common resident in the top 10 of late. “I kind of feel I belong now. Back at the Honda, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t really know how to handle the mental part of all the people and cameras. . . . It was almost like I was trying to stay out of Rory’s way instead of playing my game and trying to win the tournament. It seemed like everything was moving so fast.”
English looks back and says that day was a big part of his development. He has improved his chipping and putting since, but mainly his head.
“I learned so much about myself and how to handle the situations and breathe better and walk slower and eat more and drink more water,” he said. “It’s a combination of things like that.”
Day has progressed as well in recent years, having learned how to contend in majors. Though he has only won once on Tour, his confidence has grown through the close calls in golf’s biggest tournaments.
A semifinalist here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf club last year, Day called on that and more Thursday. It looked like he would go 4 down at the 10th, but Horschel three-putted and they halved the hole with bogeys after Day took a penalty for an unplayable lie. Then Day made three birdies on the back nine and won with another birdie on the 22nd hole.
He didn’t hit the ball that well, but his short game bailed him out and the victory elevated his mental state entering Round 3 against George Coetzee. “I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge,” Day said.