Hard rehab work pays off for Day with victory
In his darkest moments battling back pain and vertigo, Jason Day had already written the epitaph on his career, so winning last week was a joyful reward for fighting through.
The 35-year-old Australian ended a five-year win drought by capturing the Byron Nelson for his 13th PGA Tour title and comes to Oak Hill for this week's PGA Championship trying to contain his expectations.
"I didn't know if this was the end for me just because of where my body was and how I was feeling," Day said Wednesday.
"I was not only struggling mentally but I was also struggling physically and there was a lot of doubt in my mind to think I'd ever come back and be able to win again.
"I thought it was going to be one of those things where I just had a great career -- just injuries got in the way and took him out of the game.
"But for me to reflect back on these last few years, knowing it's about the journey and trying to get myself better, it's quite pleasing to know I can still compete and play and win."
Day, who won his only major title at the 2015 PGA Championship, won't have a practice round to ensure he's mentally prepared to play his best.
He works with two trainers but, for the last three years, has avoided going to gym and lifting weights.
"Consistent, hard work over a long period of time has pushed me forward to a lot better play this past year," Day said.
Five top-10 finishes earlier this year served as a prelude to a victory Day said brought vindication for his effort.
"Two or three years before were just an absolute struggle. That was probably the hardest couple years that I've had in regards to my competitive life," Day said.
"But to come out on the other side knowing that I was working on the right things, finding that consistency and confidence in myself, was good."
Day wasn't sure his work would pay off even as he rebuilt his body.
"That can be frustrating, disappointing and it can almost be a feeling of depression sometimes just because of the amount of work that you're putting in," he said. "It feels like you're going and working 150 per cent just to get 10 per cent out of it.
"Once the momentum train starts, it starts to go pretty fast and if you can stay on that train for a little bit, that momentum can take you on to better things."
- Managing expectations -
Now the tricky part is setting goals while holding down expectations.
"It would be nice to get another major. It would be nice to get back to number one," Day said.
"Sometimes I get to a point where I let myself go too far and that creates a lot of high expectations of myself. Then when I don't meet them, I get disappointed and I get into a pretty bad mood.
"It's in my nature to expect bigger and better things, so I'm just trying to cool the jets on that."
It means managing little things, what he calls "stepping stones", as he did to restore his health.
"There's a difference between having goals and then walking onto a golf course and expecting it," Day said.
"Winning last week was a good step in the right direction... but when you have expectations and get too far ahead of yourself, that brings on anxiety and I don't like anxiety."
Day said he was grateful to the players who have congratulated him, including 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, who battled his own back issues before winning the 2019 Masters.
"I can't say what he said," Day said. "There's a lot of f-words in it."