You know how the saying goes: Beware of the sick golfer. A day after collapsing on the 9th hole at Chambers Bay — his 18th in round two — due to vertigo, Jason Day impressed by simply attempting to play the third round of the U.S. Open. Day, who was clearly not feeling his best as he gingerly bent over to tee his ball up and retrieve it from the hole, not only completed all 18 holes; he posted an unbelievable two-under 68 to grab a four-wqy share of the 54-hole lead at four-under for the championship.
Following the scary moment on his last hole Friday, Day was diagnosed with benign positional vertigo and it was unclear if he would even play Saturday. However, Day wasn’t going to miss his chance at contending to capture his first major, giving word in the morning that he would indeed tee it up. He did more than that and put on an incredibly gutsy performance, showing how mentally strong he is, not to mention a fierce competitor.
The 27-year-old Australian received a heartwarming ovation on the first hole and didn’t disappoint fans as he crushed his first drive, despite looking shaky as he bent over to pick up his tee. Then, he knocked it to 20 feet for birdie, and he missed, but received a massive standing ovation from the fans in the grandstands.
Day three-putted for bogey on the next hole and then failed to get up-and-down on the fourth. After making five straight pars, he caught fire on the back nine — even though the medication he was on wore off. Day had to steady himself, but he managed to post five birdies (and one bogey) to card the second lowest score of the day in tough conditions, with only Louis Oosthuizen besting him by shooting a four-under 66.
Day rolled in back-to-back birdies on the last two holes. After he holed an eight-footer on no. 18, the crowd reacted with a(nother) huge roar. Day appeared to struggle as he bent over to pick his ball out of the hole.
“I didn’t feel that great coming out early, and then I felt pretty groggy on the front nine just from the drugs that I had in my system, then kind of flushed that out on the back nine,” said Day, who could only muster a few comments after signing his scorecard. “But then the vertigo came back a little bit on the 13th tee box, and then I felt nauseous all day.
“I started shaking on 16 tee box and then just tried to get it in, really. Just wanted to get it in.”
Day has struggled with vertigo symptoms in the past. Last year at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he withdrew after playing two holes in the third round due to dizziness. Just a few weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Championship, Day pulled out of the tournament before he even started for the same reason. However, this is the U.S. Open, and Day, who won the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year, is hungry to capture his first major.
“Last year I didn’t play the round after I had vertigo and this one was worse,” he said. “I think the goal was just to go through today and see how it goes.”
Day felt too ill to accommodate media requests, but his team put out a statement in addition to the comments above.
“I regret passing on the opportunity to speak with the media after my round,” said Day. “I really gave it all I had out there, but I am extremely fatigued and need a chance to rest and consult with my medical team. I deeply appreciate the support I’ve been given and hope you understand. Hopefully, I’ll get some rest and feel better for the final round. The U.S. Open is really important to me and I look forward to tomorrow.”
Kevin Kisner could tell that his playing partner felt unwell all day.
“He played unbelievable,” said Kisner. “He didn’t feel good at all. I told him I’d try to help him in any way I could. I asked him if he wanted me to pick his ball up out of the hole. He was struggling.
“But there’s that old saying, beware the sick golfer, and that kind of rang true today.”
Day’s longtime caddie, swing coach and mentor Colin Swatton compared the round to that of Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open when he essentially played on one leg.
“That was superhuman effort,” he said. “That was the greatest round I’ve ever watched. I’ve watched a lot of golf and to watch it live is pretty special.”
Swatton added: “He just dug as deep as he could possibly dig today. It was just a monumental effort. A lot of people diagnosed with that would spend the time in the bedroom with the drapes drawn and get over that recovery period. But it’s the U.S. Open. He’s played well U.S. Opens before and he’s playing well in this one. He dug deeper than he’s ever dug before, it was really, really impressive.”
In five starts at this major, Day has had some success. He has recorded three top-4 finishes in the last four years. He was runner-up in 2011 and 2013 and was tied for fourth in 2014.
On the fourth hole, which is extremely uphill, Day looked like he wasn’t going to make it for a moment, and on the back nine, he felt so nauseous that he nearly withdrew a couple of times, but Swatton encouraged him to keep on trucking.
“I said you’ve got the heart of a lion,” Swatton recounted. “You’re going to show the world today you’re going to be the greatest you can be. I said, let’s do it. And he just put his head down and kept walking one foot in front of the other. It was pretty impressive.”
Indeed, it was. No matter what happens Sunday, Day has already shown he has a heart of a champion.