By Martin Blake, Golf Australia, at Royal Troon
WHEN he arrived at Royal Troon this week to begin his preparations for the 145th Open Championship, Jason Day needed no reminding of how much the last 12 months have meant to him.
Almost exactly one year ago Day, at that time sans major with a string of near-misses in the big four tournaments, had a birdie putt at the 18th hole at St Andrews that would have put him into a playoff. He left it short, could not believe his folly, and a lot of people thought that he might have scarred himself for a long time into the future.
History shows that the opposite was the case; Day jumped on a charter flight to Canada that night, won the RBC Canadian Open, and went on a romp that saw him win seven of 17 golf tournaments including his first major, the US PGA Championship, as well as soaring to No. 1 in the world.
“I guess last year was the start of the run where everything kind of changed in my world,” said Day on Monday. ”It was definitely a motivational factor getting as close as I did and I think it finally got me over the hurdle of believing it was my time to start winning these things.”
The Queenslander has not previously been known as a great links player, having made his debut in an Open at St Andrews in 2010. Last year was the first time that he had contended, although he will be among the favorites this year.
“I grew up playing some of the Melbourne sandbelt courses but it’s not really the same as the links golf you get over here,” he said. ”It’s hard because everything is very different to what I’m used to in America. There you have a certain style of golf but then you come over here and you have to adapt your game to certain shots and certain ways of thinking. That was difficult for me at the start but as time went on I started to really grow into loving links golf and The Open Championship. There’s nothing else like it really.”
Day tees off at 9.25am local time on Thursday with Masters winner Danny Willett along with Rickie Fowler. He is one of 11 Australians who have made the 156-player field at Troon, all trying to break something of a drought among their countrymen at this famous tournament, the last winner being Greg Norman in 1993.
“Just to be called the Champion Golfer of the Year would be fantastic,” said Day. “When I was growing up in Australia there were two Major Championships we looked at. It was Augusta National (Masters Tournament) and The Open Championship. I grew up in an era when (Greg) Norman and a lot of other Australians started their careers in Europe and this is what their favourite Major would be.
“This is pretty special. This is the 145TH (Open) so it’s been around for a very long time. The greats have all held the trophy. I guess the most satisfying thing you can do is to beat the best in the world on some of the most challenging golf courses that we don’t usually get the chance to play. I’d be over the moon if I could hold the Claret Jug one day.”
The 11 Aussies in the field are Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Marcus Fraser, Steven Bowditch, Scott Hend, Matt Jones, Rod Pampling, Nathan Holman, Greg Chalmers and Nick Cullen.
Leishman, who was in a playoff at St Andrews last year but lost to Zac Johnson, is in the first group of the day at 6.35am alongside veteran Scot Colin Montgomerie, who has been given the honor of hitting the first tee shot on Thursday.
Scott (2.15pm) is the only Australian with an afternoon tee time.