DUBLIN, Ohio — As Jason Day closed in three weeks ago on his first PGA Tour victory in five years, he remained calm.
But the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament in Texas fell on Mother’s Day, so it was mentally challenging for a reason beyond his victory drought: Day’s mom, Dening, died last March after a five-year battle with cancer. She had lived with Day’s family in Westerville in her final two years.
“It was pretty emotional,” Day said Wednesday after playing in the pro-am for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “I wasn’t trying to think about it at all.”
That strategy worked, mostly, until after he’d won.
“As soon as people started to bring up my mom after the tournament, that’s when I started losing it,” Day said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Please don’t bring it up because I’m going to start crying,’ and I started crying. When one guy brought it up in an interview, (I lost it). As soon as that happens for me, I’m done.”
The Australian was once the top-ranked golfer in the world before bulging discs in his back sent his career spiraling.
“It was like solving a math problem, a complex math problem,” he said. “You’re just trying to figure one piece out, and then you go to the next problem and figure that out. You start unraveling everything. It’s amazing when you unravel one thing, and that causes a few other things to change. There’s a massive chain reaction.”
Day had minor procedures on his back but was able to avoid major surgery. Still, his recovery took a long time. Even now, his back is not 100%, but he said he can manage it and play at a high level.
For the last couple of years, he believed he was close to recapturing his old form. At the Byron Nelson, he did.
But the feeling of relief he expected to have experienced didn’t really set in. Day then realized that the small steps on the way to regaining his game were the real victories. Holding a trophy three weeks ago was merely the cap to that.
“It’s the journey that I get more excited about than the actual wins,” he said. “I do get excited about the wins, but I enjoy the journey a lot more.”
The 35-year-old Day is in his 16th season on the PGA Tour. He has earned more than $55 million.
“At the start of my career, I think I was playing more for the money,” Day said. “These days, I feel like I’ve got enough to the side that I don’t have to worry about that as much and I can just focus on golf and play as well as I can.”
One place he hasn’t played particularly well is Muirfield Village. His tie for fourth in 2020 is his only top-10 finish in 13 appearances.
“The golf course hasn’t really suited my eye, even though I’ve played it a ton,” Day said.
But the Memorial remains special to him, he said, because of its proximity to home – his wife, Ellie, is expecting their fifth child – how well-run it is and because it’s Jack Nicklaus’ tournament.
He’s now dealing with a wrist injury that he believes is a bone bruise. That wouldn’t keep him from playing this weekend.
Asked what would sideline him from Muirfield Village, Day replied, “Not to be able to hit the ball. I’m going to do everything I can to play.”