After enduring injury and tragedy, former world No. 1 Jason Day a threat again at Bay Hill
By Edgar Thompson
When Jason Day won at Bay Hill in 2016, he was on top of the world.
A year later, he never had been so low.
Day now enters this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational riding a long-awaited wave of momentum. The 30-year-old Aussie is of sound mind and body after enduring injury, family tragedy and a precipitous fall from the No. 1 ranking.
Day ended a 19-month winless streak in January at Torrey Pines and feels one of his hot streaks coming on. He will be among the favorites at Bay Hill when he tees off at 8:23 a.m. Thursday with eight-time API winner Tiger Woods and world No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama.
"I felt it at the start of this year, and I felt like I was going to come out and play well and I did," Day said Wednesday. "I just got to kind of bear down right now and just keep pushing and grinding away because I don't want this to stop. I want the success to keep moving forward."
LEADERBOARD: Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Last season, Day had nothing to give to his golf.
Family comes first with Day, one of three children raised mostly by a single mother and the father of two himself with wife, Ellie.
Day was blindsided last winter when his mum, Dening, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was emotionally spent by the time she underwent April surgery.
More heartbreak was to come.
On Nov. 3, the Days announced they were expecting the birth of their third child. In early December, Ellie Day had miscarried.
Before Dening's diagnosis, a back injury sidelined Jason Day the finals three months of 2016. Between those life-changing moments with his mother and wife, Day struggled with his game to the point he even parted ways with his longtime caddie, Colin Swatton. Swatton had been mentor, coach, caddie and father figure to Day, whose dad died when he was just 12.
Two weeks later, Day momentarily found some mojo at the Tour Championship, but he carded a final-round 74 to finish 10 shots back after he'd shared the 54-hole lead. The tournament was a snapshot of a year that ended with Day 13th in the world rankings after a 47-week stint at No. 1.
"When you look at athletes that are successful, usually their personal life is pretty balanced," Day said. "It's hard to play competitive golf, because it is such a mental grind, and focus on other things. Injuries and what happened with my mother and then other things and just really kind of struggling off the course was tough. It really got to me last year.
"When I feel balanced off course, when there's no stress off course, it comes into my game and makes life a lot easier on the golf course."
When Day is at his best, he makes golf look easy. Few combine his power, short game prowess and putting.
Day won five times in 2015, including the PGA Championship. He then added three wins during a two-month span in 2016, including the API.
That week at Bay Hill, Day became the tournament's first wire-to-wire winner since Fred Couples in 1992.
In the process, Day earned the final congratulatory handshake behind the 18th green from Palmer, who passed away the following September. Day later shared some Ketel One with the King in the locker room, later joking he felt "hammered" during a Golf Channel interview.
Day's unscripted responses and easy going manner endear him to media, fans and fellow players.
Around the time of his Bay Hill win, Day struck up a friendship with Woods.
Woods was Day's idol and the best player of his generation, but he was out due to injuries and willing to offer advice to a fellow world No. 1. The two players had another shared experience, each having lost a father.
Woods said Day's resurgence does not surprise him.
"The kid's tough. I mean he can handle a lot," Woods said. "I think he's shown how strong willed he is. He's really trying to fight and get back out here, but also he understands there's a very important balance with family and knows how important it is to have them there a part of his life.
"He lost his father as well, so he and I can relate to that, we have talked about that numerous times."
Following the news of his mother's cancer diagnosis, Day received as many text messages as when he won his major championship.
Reaching No. 1 in the world rankings was nice, but Day always has known some things are more important than golf.
"Winning a tournament is great and having those texts is fantastic," he said. "But having the support and seeing just as many text messages come through ... I mean, that makes me happy to know a lot of people support me out there.
"To be able to be viewed as like that amongst your peers is nice."
This article is written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.