Jason Day: Stopped running from fear and won

Jason Day won a 4-way playoff against J.B Holmes, Scott Stallings and Harris English to win the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open on the robust South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.

It was one of those classic finishes with no clear indication of who was going to win through the entire round. It was a real cliffhanger with the playoff as a sort of epilogue. The day began with Harris English (could he dominate with his stylish length to win his 3rd?) and J.B. Holmes (could he dominate with his brute-strength length?) tied for the lead at 9-under and five guys T3 at 8-under: Lucas Glover, Jimmy Walker, Spencer Levin, Chad Campbell and Nick Watney.

English and Holmes could manage no better than even par on Sunday and the best the five could do was 1-over by Walker and Watney, this a measure of just how difficult the course was playing. The stroke average for Sunday was the highest of the week, 74.054, due in large measure to U.S. Open-style rough and ocean breezes 12 to 16 miles per hour in the middle of the afternoon, although it looked worse than that at times. 

Day managed a 70 and Stallings (the defending champion) a 69 to move up and into the playoff. These were the best rounds from those who were playing the best. It was a true test.

It took birdie-4s on 18 for Day and Holmes to move on to the par-3 16th which Day won with a par. But before that, Day needed some luck to even get into the playoff after flying his 2nd shot on 18 into the deep rough over the green. Attempting to safely play way right of the pin the rough yanked his club left and the ball almost trickled into the frontage pond:

I was trying to actually hit right because I knew that it was going to miss the green anyway and as soon as I came through impact it pulled my club way left and the ball started rolling left of the hole and once I saw it go down there I was just thinking, my immediate thought was okay, where do I need to drop. Then I started hearing the crowd, it started — I’m assuming it just started trickling and then once they started cheering I knew that it stayed up.

So, when you win golf tournaments, you have to have a little bit of luck and that was my luck. And I needed to capitalize on that bit of luck and try and win this tournament.

Day has battled back from a back and thumb injury, driven by his goal of becoming the No. 1 player in the world. He was No. 4 before the injury, arriving there after last year’s Match Play Championship. And now he’s back at No. 4 again:

I would always hear Tiger Woods talking about the process and just trying to improve each and every week. Trying to improve each and every year. That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do every year. I’ve just slowly improved myself. Obviously, some parts have got a little weaker, some parts got stronger, but as a whole, I think I’m growing as a player on and off the course and to try and find that balance between having a good family life and playing in the best, at the highest level you can is very difficult.

But it’s really amazing just to be in this spot right now to be able to sit here and talk to you guys about winning this tournament. I’m really, I’m just thrilled. It’s amazing the work that I put in to get here. There’s no — I’m just trying to think, because it’s just, it’s a lot of hard work to put into it, into this game that I do love so much. I’m just really happy right now.

What did this victory do for his larger sense of himself and his ability, not only to win, but his ability to get to No. 1?

To be able to win the way I did was, is very satisfying. But it gives you confidence. But I know that when I start playing next week that it’s the same thing over again. I got to do the right things, the little things that count. Making sure that I’m staying on top of everything, whether it’s diet or my short game or whatnot. Things that I need to improve on. I always have to strive to get better.

I said out there in the media, a little before, that you don’t get anywhere in life without working hard and dedicating yourself to that profession and really putting in a lot of quality time. So, I needed this win. I really wanted this win.

And part of his formula for winning in the buildup to and in the actual tournament was to visualize himself winning it. The power of visualizing shots is a well known. So too now, actually winning the tournament. One of the things that does is condition your emotions for the ride you’re going to go on coming down the stretch. Having spent days visualizing the win, you’ve already experienced how your body reacts and won’t be surprised when that begins to actually happen:

I visualized myself winning and holding the trophy before this week. I was in Palm Springs thinking about it, just trying to visualize over and over in my head. I’m obviously I need to go out and play good golf, but that’s kind of what I did at the Match Play and that’s what I did here this week. So obviously that tells me that I need to start doing that a lot more and really wanting to get to that No. 1 spot.

He also spoke about the natural process of nervousness turning into fear and the fact that he realized he had to learn to start to run towards the fear instead of away from it:

Yeah, I was very nervous. I really enjoy playing tough courses, tough U.S. Open courses and this is one of those courses that I enjoy playing. I like to grind it out, I like to, I like tough courses that make you, force you to be stressed. A lot of people when they feel fear, they kind of run away from it. I just said, enough, instead of feeling the fear and kind of running away from it, I got to run towards it and try and face it. And did that this week and I’m happy with the win.

And he finally came to understand that being in that stressed situation, contrary to his initial thoughts about it, is what he thrives on:

The superintendent and his staff did a phenomenal job with the golf course and this is always a brutal golf course. It’s single digits usually wins this tournament. With how everything went, the weather wise and the green speeds and the firmness of the greens, obviously we just were expecting that. And it’s okay. It’s certainly fine to have a golf course this hard during the start of the year.

But I really enjoy coming here. I really enjoy grinding it out and working really hard and stressing over stuff. I always said that I hated that stress, but that’s where I thrive the best.

He described a time when he ran from fear and how confusing and disabling it was:

One is Augusta when I had the lead on 16. And this was I think it was 2013, maybe. I can’t remember. When Scotty won. I had the lead. I was leading Augusta and leading the Masters and I wanted to be the first Australian to win it. It just got me. It really did.

It got me and I felt like I was tensing up and I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know what to do to go through the process to calm myself down and really focus on what I needed to do to get the ball in the hole and that’s where I bogeyed 16 and 17. It took me out of the tournament. It’s tough, but that’s where you learn.

Not only was he visualizing winning the tournament, he has been continuously thinking of himself as a dominant player. With this win, reality is catching up to him in that area too:

To be able to hit the shots that I needed to, especially under pressure not only does a lot for my head and for my game, but just to know that I can pull those shots out and be clutch at the right time is great. To feel that. Know that when I used to do it as a junior and amateur, winning, all those feelings that would come back, I just know that I can do that and I’ve always said that to myself, I just feel like I’m going to win and it just, over time, it is slowly happening. Which is good.

So I’m just kind of feeling a little bit more comfortable each and every year, especially out here and now feeling like I’m, that I should be here and I should belong. Even though that I’ve played great golf in the past and I’ve been very consistent, I’m starting to feel that. I feel like I’m getting, becoming more of a dominant player.

Day talked about how the game has changed, populated now by young players with golf games that could be overwhelming if you let it:

The game’s kind of changing, it’s evolving into a very young tall big strong looking guys out here that hit it a mile and have fantastic touch. It’s getting tougher. It’s really tough to win out here. I guess we’re trying to beat these guys, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to not beat yourself. And that’s what I do each and every week.

Sometimes it works out great, this week I didn’t beat myself up. Other weeks it doesn’t work out as great, but at the end of the day, you’re playing against 150 other guys or 140 other guys out here, but you’re really trying to not beat yourself. But the game is in a good spot. Especially with the younger guys. It’s evolving into a fantastic powerful sport where everyone’s hitting long drivers and it’s exciting.

He talked about Rory McIlroy, the current No. 1, making winning look easy and effortless and how he, Day, has a personal standard that he can live with, no matter what happens:

I can tell you right now, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to win. I’m stressing out there. I feel, my heart’s pumping. Today I was just trying to calm myself down because my heart was going a hundred miles an hour.

It’s obviously going to be tough to try and catch him, but that’s why we are here. We love to compete, we love to try and see what we have got.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to go through life thinking that, what if I worked a little harder. So, if I can put in a hundred percent every day, really give it a good shot, then at the end of my career, whatever I’ve won in my career, whatever I’ve done in my career, I know that it’s been successful, because that’s as much as I could do.

When Holmes hit his tee shot over the green on that second playoff hole, unconstructive thoughts began to race through Day’s mind:

It was tough. Once again I was sitting there and all those emotions and feelings from the Match Play win came back. There’s a moment that passes through your head thinking like, oh, I just want to finish. I just want it to be done.

Then five seconds later I’m like, no, get yourself up, pick yourself up, let’s go. We’re not going to stop until we win. Once he hit it over the back of the green, my immediate thought was hit the green. Hit it somewhere on the green and give yourself a putt.

CBS did a good job of getting a camera into the clubhouse showing Day and Stallings glued to the television waiting to see if English and Holmes were going to get into the playoff. And with the possibility that they would, his mind began to wander again:

It’s tough, man. I’m talking about this running away from fear. Back in the day I would have gone, okay, I’m kind of happy with second place. And being able to get up and say, no, I’m not happy with second place, I want to win. That’s the first step to really moving forward, not only with myself as a golfer, you have to want to win and I was sitting there going, oh, man, you know, this is tough, because there’s four guys tied for the lead at that time.

Those thoughts go through your head as well. Do you really want it enough? Are you happy with second place? And I said no.

The good thing about talking to winners after they’ve won is that the adrenaline is still flowing, their minds are still luxuriating in the moment and the collage of thoughts that preceded it. And they can express their ideas about mastery and transformation and higher consciousness with great clarity and authenticity.

Lucky us.

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