The final major of the year -in what has been perhaps the most exciting year for golf since vintage era Tiger- saw yet more drama unfold as Jason Day finally broke his major duck while Jordan Spieth replaced the at one point untouchable Rory McIlroy at the top of the official World Golf Rankings. Australian Day took care of business in the most impressive manner possible, easing to victory in 2015’s final major, the US PGA Championship. Whistling Straits proved a fantastic scoring course and almost aesthetic perfection for viewers both on the course and at home, a delectable taster for the 2020 renewal of the Ryder Cup. Day’s final score of twenty under par also usurped Tiger Woods’ major record of nineteen under at the 2000 U.S. Open. A truly fitting climax to a year packed with countless high points.
The Queenslander’s maiden major victory has been coming. And coming…… Six second placed finishes in five years led many to wonder whether the Australian would be able to make the decisive breakthrough or whether, like Dustin Johnson, he would be stuck for now in golfing purgatory. In reality, however, anyone who has watched Day this year will know that this victory was imminent, as a new sense of calm authority has been noticeably engendered as the season progressed.
This excellent piece by Grantland’s Shane Ryan chronicles Day’s incredibly challenging upbringing –he could very easily have and very nearly did give up when the going got almost unbearably tough -so really his mental fortitude should never have been in question. Day’s background is almost the polar opposite to the majority of professional golfers. Golf, despite it’s increased popularity, will never be the game of the proletariat, so Day’s journey –like that of Angel Cabrera before him- makes this week’s victory all the more remarkable. While most young players –invariably white and middle class- set goals like winning on tour or breaking the top fifty in the world, Day, very rationally, had only fiduciary motivations to begin with…., “I came from a very poor family. So it wasn’t winning that was on my mind when I first came out on the PGA Tour. It was money.” Day has gotten where he is today thanks to immense personal sacrifice from both himself and his family and also the permanent guiding light and quasi-patriarchal figure, Colin Swatton.
Right throughout the last three seasons, Day has had the rather unique status, amongst his peers, as a near permanent fixture in the top ten of the official World Golf Rankings, while rarely ever –just three times in fact- entering the winner’s circle. It was the quality of his performances in the major tournaments which marked him as a serious operator while also ensuring he remained in the upper echelons of the world rankings. Day’s victory at the Canadian Open the week after St. Andrews was further evidence of a sea change in his usual approach, a newfound ruthlessness but also an about turn to Day’s predilection for going into competitive hiding immediately after a major tournament. So assured over the four days at Whistling Straits, there was little doubt that Day would succeed on Sunday and the relief and genuine outpouring of emotion on the seventy-second hole may well have been the response to a lifetime’s perseverance now handsomely rewarded.
Day’s bank balance is now so far into the black that at last, the only thing that probably really matters to him, in a sporting context, of course, is winning tournaments, and specifically majors. This slightly modified version of Jason Day is the latest of the new breed to truly announce his arrival. The last two seasons have seen a very definite changing of the guard, emphasised cruelly –although to the delight of many- by Tiger Wood’s seemingly ceaseless flailings and to a lesser extent the crowd’s fawning over wily ‘old’ – forty-five being old these days – Phil Mickelson’s ability to still hang in there.
With impatience being the order of the day in current society, it is almost perversely amusing hearing people wonder if twenty-six-year-old Rickie Fowler will ever win a major and up until last week whether Day could actually make the decisive leap and become a major champion. Day’s was always a case of when not if and we firmly believe this is also the case for Fowler. Perhaps a healthy dose of perspective could rectify this situation and justifiably lower our expectations. Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Angel Cabrera were thirty-four, thirty-five and thirty-seven respectively when they won their first major titles. While McIlroy and Spieth –and now perhaps Day- look likely to be the dominant forces in golf over the next twenty years, assuredly there will be numerous gauntlets laid down from a field imbued with arguably historical levels of competitive depth.
All eyes now move to next week’s Fed Ex Cup, the nominal end of season elimination tournament for the top one hundred and twenty-five players on the PGA Tour. Admittedly we thought this was a pile of conceived nonsense during its first few iterations but it does provide unquestioned drama to the end of the PGA tour year- although in practice there does not appear to be any break between the end of this season and the beginning of the next- and the odd, oft derided scoring system -which we largely, kind of…..actually don’t really understand- invariably ensures the tournament goes down to the wire. All eyes will naturally be on Spieth, McIlroy, Day and perhaps an angry Dustin Johnson and they will be expected to dominate over the four-week elimination style tournament. That said, the mini-series throws up some surprise winners, last year being a perfect example when the red-hot, sometimes hot-headed Billy Horschel improved from an inconspicuous missed cut in The Barclays to finish 2nd, 1st ,1st in the remaining three tournaments to take home the $10,000,000.00 bonus. We’re going with Spieth on this one, without any real hesitation. He has been the best player on tour this year, his current form is excellent and such are his unshakable levels of diligence and focus, that he seems the most likely performer to reap the benefits over the four weeks.
Contrived competitions aside, it’s been a tremendous year for golf and with the Ryder Cup on the horizon 2016 promises to be even more entertaining. We look forward with bated breath to what will assuredly be boiled down in many quarters to ‘Team McIlroy’ versus ‘Team Spieth’ with nary a Tiger in sight. Alas, we hope after some hard times that you stuck with us for the PGA Championship. Tipping Jason Day was rather uninspired but we were very glad to see Branden Grace, solo third and mightily impressive, and the highly lauded, guaranteed future major champion Brooks Koepka – both the adulation and guarantee are admittedly the exclusive preserve of Straight Up Sport- deliver decent each-way returns at very friendly prices. We’d surprised if you heeded our advice though, for the ramblings of a fool rarely ring true!