SOUTHPORT, England — Jason Day was late getting to the British Open because he didn’t want to deal with delays at JFK Airport caused by President Donald Trump’s attendance at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Just another hold-up in a stop-start last 12 months for the Australian.
A combination of being burdened by his top-ranked status, the return of back pain and a health scare involving his mother has affected Day’s game. He hasn’t won a tournament since a wire-to-wire victory at The Players Championship in May 2016.
Back then, Day was No. 1 in the world by some distance and on a run of seven wins in 10 months. Now, he is No. 6 and with his career at a stand-still.
"If you take my years 2015 and 2016, I hit it long and straight … I hit my iron shots a lot closer and I holed everything on the greens," Day said. "And this year it’s not as long, it’s not as straight. My iron shots aren’t as close, and I’m not holing as many putts.
"So it’s a perfect formula for not having a good year."
Day said he arrived at Royal Birkdale with few expectations about lifting the claret jug for a second major title, after the PGA Championship in 2015. After three weeks off, he flew to Britain on Monday morning instead of Sunday, saying he moved his flight back because "I was flying through JFK and President Trump was there and there was a bunch of delays."
The president spent last weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open in Bedminster, New Jersey.
It meant Day could spend an extra day at home with his kids. Family has meant more than ever to him this year.
His mother was diagnosed with lung cancer at the start of the year and doctors in Australia offered a bleak outlook. A few months later, Day brought her to Ohio for more tests and she had the tumour removed. Day said Wednesday she recently had fluid on the lungs, but that she is currently feeling OK.
Day said there was a stretch this year where he didn’t even want to think about golf and would just sit around with his mother, who he used to see only once a year.
"Obviously the time that I would be spending working and practicing, it caught up to me and I hadn’t been playing as great as golf as I should have, but within reason," he said. "I needed to take that time off because I thought I was losing my mom, and didn’t think she was going to be around anymore. So I wanted to spend all the time with her I could."
On the course, putting has been Day’s biggest concern — he ranks 61st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained on the greens and has had problems with his putting speed — and he is bringing some advice from Tiger Woods to Birkdale.
"It’s great to have a set of eyes like Tiger’s, especially who’s one of the best clutch putters of all time, to be able to kind of see on TV what you’re doing wrong," Day said. "So just trying to tidy up a little bit and hopefully I putt a little better this week."
Day recalled 2015 and missing out on a playoff at the British Open at St. Andrews by one stroke. He was tied for fourth, his only top-20 finish in six appearances at the oldest major.
That kick-started a torrid run of four victories in six starts, including winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on 20 under — at the time, the lowest score in relation to par at a major.
Getting back his No. 1 rank is his "ultimate goal."
"I’ve just got to be patient and just let things happen," he said. "Because I honestly believe good and big things are coming for me."