I can vividly remember the conversation, although it’s been many years now.
Sitting down to lunch with Bud Martin, a high-powered, Pittsburgh-based player agent whose stable includes John Daly, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, the conversation to the then very young Day.
“Watch out for this kid, he’s the real deal,” Martin said.
That description was certainly right on the mark, and now that Day has proven to be the real deal, he certainly appears poised to take a step up and become a really big deal.
He has a single win on the PGA Tour, the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship, but he has finished second five times and third three times.
He’s been in the hunt at two Masters (2011 and 2013) but couldn’t close the deal.
He was the runner-up to Rory McIlroy in his runaway at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional and finished in a tie for second in this year’s U.S. Open, giving him four top-three finishes in a major.
That’s one of the big areas he’ll need to improve if he’s going to fulfill the vast potential he possesses.
Maybe it will come with more experience, but the talented Australian needs to find that inner strength to get tough when the pressure starts to reach seemingly unbearable levels.
Bogeys at 16 and 17 derailed what looked like an Australian and Argentinian (Angel Cabrera) battle to the finish at Augusta National this year.
At the U.S. Open a couple weeks ago, Day racked up bogeys on the 11th, 14th and 18th holes Sunday to take himself out of the picture.
“Obviously, I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Day said on that Masters Sunday, via Brent Maycock of the Augusta Chronicle (h/t the Washington Times). “I haven’t had the lead too many times in majors. If you can have a shot in most majors, sooner or later you’re going to get one. I can’t look at the week as a disappointment. Obviously, I’d love to wear the green jacket. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a kid. I think I just have to take the experience and keep going on.”
Statistically speaking, what Day needs to do is right there in black and white.
He’s averaging just a touch below 300 yards off the tee, 12th on tour. He’s ranked 121st in driving accuracy and 108th in greens in regulation.
Thus far this year, he’s 11-over par on par-three holes, 29-over par fours and 73-under on par fives. Those three stats rank him 56th, 74th and 20th on tour.
Obviously, he needs to improve in all of those to become the champion people think he can be.
A year ago, Day’s season never really got off the ground. His play wasn’t up to par as his mind split time between golf and the birth of he and his wife’s first child.
But he came back stronger than ever this year, and he’s already earned more money and has posted more top 10s (five to four) than last year.
Even the extremely talented have to focus, and Day has proven how important that is with runner-up finishes in the year’s first two majors.
He knows he’ll have to be sharp in all aspects of his game if he’s going to reach major championship heights.
Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters—at Day’s expense, of course—but he’s the modern best in his country.
Day is right behind him and knows that for him to be as good as Scott, he’ll have to hone his mental game to where the big mistakes are kept to an absolute minimum.
If Day is looking for a general goal as he makes his way to age 30, being as good as Scott would be a really good one.
Scott won the 2004 Players Championship at age 23 and didn’t win his first major until he was 32.
That’s not to say Scott’s way was the perfect way, but it goes to show Day that, although the path to superstardom may be long, in the end, talent and dedication win out.
Day seems to understand that.
"If I want it enough and I'm willing to do the hard work and practice and keep myself dedicated, I think it will happen," he said via Brian Wacker of PGATour.com.
"If I slack off and don't do the work then it won't happen. That's just plain and simple."