In 2007 a 19-year-old Jason Day turned professional and made the bold pronouncement that he was working on taking the world no. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods. The response was mostly critical. How dare this no-name kid, who had done nothing to prove himself, utter such a brazen declaration? Day went on to have seven solid seasons on tour, which included seven runner-up finishes, including three at majors, but until taking home five trophies this year, he only had two titles.
Perhaps it didn’t happen as soon as he might have thought, but after capturing his fourth victory in his last six starts with relative ease at the BMW Championship on Sunday, Day has now reached no. 1 in the world.
“I remember sitting on my mom’s bed and thinking that [predicting he’d be No. 1 someday] might not go over too well,” said a laughing Day, who turns 28 in November.
“I expected to get a little bit [of criticism], but not the response that I got from practically everyone,” Day recalled, another championship trophy poised within arm’s reach. “But it’s good to sit in this chair right now.”
What would Day say to those naysayers in 2007 now?
“I’d love to say I told you so, but that wouldn’t be very nice,” he said. “It’s okay to dream big. It’s okay to say what you want to do. And for people that don’t respect that, then you really don’t need to give them the time, because who am I or who are they to tell you that you shouldn’t be able to do something.
“To be able to sit up here today, No. 1 in the world, looking back when I was an 18 year old kid, very full of confidence, there’s not much I would say. I would still thank them because that was kind of the fuel that lit the fire for me, especially with the dedication over these last few years because I know that a lot of people were thinking against me on that. I’m glad I accomplished it.”
Indeed, it is okay to dream big. Look what it’s done for Jason.
Day’s two-under 69 in the final round, 22-under total, at Conway Farms, allowed him to cruise to a six-stroke victory over Daniel Berger, and to join the game of musical chairs between Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy as players who have swapped places as no. 1 in the past month.
“This whole summer has been a whirlwind,” said Day. “It’s kind of surreal right now just to really think about. I don’t think it will sink in until tomorrow when I look at the rankings and see my name on top of the list. I mean, all the hard work and just knowing that there was that belief in there somewhere that I could really believe in myself and understand that all this was for a good reason, just to prepare myself for moments like this.”
Ever since coming up short at the Open Championship, Day has been on an absolute spree and seemed unstoppable — when prior to this summer, many wondered if he had the mental fortitude and killer instinct to overcome the major hump. After yet another close call at a major, Day responded by winning the RBC Canadian Open the following week. Then, of course, he posted a record-score of 20-under to capture his first major at the PGA Championship.
I’d seen Jason win and lose a lot of tournaments and play in a lot of majors, but I noted at Whistling Straits on the final day that this was a different Jason Day than I had seen — he now had that extra dose of confident and swagger required to be a lethal opponent and closer. After he got over the major hump, I said I wouldn’t be surprised if the PGA victory propelled Day to more great things and/or open the floodgates for him. I know that sounds cliche and pundits often declare that about every bright young player who wins, and I’m not a big fan usually of such pronouncements. However, I really believed that to be the case for Day, whom I’ve watched play as much as I have any player over the last five years.
Something clicked for him after the Open, he has said. He followed up his performance at the PGA by winning The Barclays, the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Now that he’s captured his fifth victory on Tour — which other than Tiger, only Vijay Singh has achieved, in a really long time — Day heads into the Tour Championship as the world no. 1 and no. 1 in FedEx Cup points. With the 10-million dollar bonus in reach, Day, who’s notorious for his frugal ways, has made a strong argument as a contender for Player of the Year. A month ago, it seemed unthinkable that anyone could challenge Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters and the U.S. Open, for the award. (Spieth finished T13 this week.) If Day wins the Tour Championship and takes home the FedEx Cup, it would be a close call, but he still thinks Spieth has the slight edge.
“I think it might change some people’s minds about it if I go ahead and win next week and win the FedEx Cup,” said Day. “That’ll definitely move some heads, I think. But once again, we can’t deny what Jordan has done in the major championships this year. For a 22-year-old kid to accomplish what he’s done in the major championships, to even have an opportunity at winning the Grand Slam in the calendar year, that has been an amazing ride for him.
“But you know what, it’s hard to kind of say what — with my fifth win, he’s had four wins but he’s had a lot of top 10s. I still think it’s him. But I’m hoping that I can go and win next week and get people talking about it a lot more.”
Day will certainly be more in control of his fate than any of the other 30 players in the field at the Tour Championship. Grab a seat and the popcorn — this should be a thrilling end to the season.