When adidas Philippines Golf Division manager Jorel Buhay called to offer the chance to interview Filipino-Australian phenom Jason Day after his win at the Byron Nelson, we jumped at the chance. After all, Day is the best and highest ranked Pinoygolfer on the planet. Here’s the transcript of our conversation.
You are half Filipino – do you still stay in touch with your filipino roots such as eating Filipino food etc?
I’m half Filipino on my mum’s side – she’s from a small town near Manila, I’m not sure exactly where. I grew up eating some Filipino foods but I’m not very familiar with the food. I don’t speak the language but I feel I should get back in touch with my roots.
Any plans to visit the Philippines?
I’d like to maybe one day go over there and support the Asian Tour, perhaps play in the Philippines Open. Take my mum back there – she hasn’t been back in a while.
You are the youngest ever in the record books to win in the Nationwide Tour. Did it add pressure to you to also be the possible youngest to win in the PGA after your win in 2007 (Nationwide Tour)?
It was funny – I won the Nationwide Tour back in 07 and had a lot of people telling me I was the best out there, I had a nice contract with TaylorMade. A lot of people had high hopes for me that I would go out there and play well. So for the last few years I didn’t worry about that – I played golf for myself and nothing else. At the start of my first year I had so much pressure but I tried not to show it but felt it deep inside and knew I needed to do something quick – to come out on the PGA tour and win quick – in doing that I started forcing a few things and forcing a few shots on tournaments and didn’t even come close to winning that first year – which was a lot of pressure. I feel I’ve improved over the last three years – I won the Byron Nelson which was great and I’m just glad that I finally got a win after a few years which was nice.
Did the win at Byron Nelson take the burden off your shoulders?
Yes it definitely took the monkey of my shoulders as I’d had a lot of people saying I was going to win. And I would say I’ve just got to keep working hard. I’m still a young player, a young professional still trying to learn how my game reacts to certain things, how I feel when I’m under certain pressures. I’m very happy now and feel like I’ve taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I have a 2yr exemption so I can now go out there, relax and just play golf without worrying about keeping a card every year. During the last few tournaments I’ve been a much happier person, I mean I’m always happy but now I am very thankful for where I am right now.
Who do you credit for your breakthrough win?
The people around me. My coach and caddy, my lovely wife Ellie is my number 1 fan she always supports me. The biggest thing is my coach and caddy – he has been there since I was 12. My dad passed away when I was 11 and a half and I met him at a golf academy near where I lived when I was 12 and he has been there ever since. It has never been about the money for him. He genuinely cares about me which is great
So the relationship has gone beyond that of player/coach?
Yes – he is my best mate, a second father who took on that role. And most of all we have fun. He’s taken me through junior, amateur and professional golf, and he understands the pressures of the game. He’s 41 now so a little older so he’ll maybe have a few more years carrying the bag but he’s more than happy with that.
Was there a big learning curve from Nationwide Tour to the PGA tour?
You know, I really had it right there on the Nationwide Tour. I had a great year but for some reason I felt I didn’t really learn anything even though I was play great golf. This year when I won I had been keeping a journal where I wrote everything mentally, physically, technically, tactically about my performance on the course, every shot that I hit. Doing that made me learn so much, much more than in the last two years. When I took those experiences out of the journal and put it into my playing, everything started to click, which was nice.
So when you were struggling you learned more about what it took to win?
Yes definitely. I went through a hard time in the first three years. The first year I finished 136 on Money List and kept my conditional card. I didn’t work hard at all, I only practiced about 2 hours a day in the first year which is not a lot at all. The second year I practiced six hours a day, came back and played 18 events and finished 69 on the Money List which was great. I’m still working just as hard as last year and now I’m a lot more hungry now after the win. Because of the hard times I know I need to work harder and be much smarter, always learning what I need to keep moving forward and I knew that I had to change the way I was playing to play the PGA tour.
What is your practice routine?
There are lots of things I’m working on. We keep detailed stats so we know where I need to improve. I know the biggest thing are my tee shots. I was in the top 15 on the PGA Tour but I lack a little in accuracy. I need to get up to 65%, I’m at 56 % at the moment. So I think one or two more fairways then I can set myself up a lot easier to go out to hit maybe one or two more birdies. I need to work really hard on my short game –.at the start of the year I wasn’t getting any better, I was hitting it great but not strong enough and was missing the green and getting up and down. So I’m working hard on my short game and my putting and pretty much my game all round.
Where does this Byron Nelson win rank among all your accumulated wins (from your amateur days, Q School, Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour)?
This ranks on top – as a kid I always wanted to be on the PGA tour and win and worked so hard to get to where I am. I’ve put so much work into my game, a lot of hours, so this ranks top over all my wins.
Who’s in your dream foursome?
Caddie/coach, wife, Tiger, Jack Nicklaus
When you have kids, would you make sure they also play golf like their dad, or would you let them choose the sport or endeavor that they wish to be active with?
I hope I have some active kids who will want to get into sport but if not, that’s fine. Of course if they did like sports I would slightly push them in the golf direction, but I also know how hard you have to work so I wouldn’t push too hard. If they wanted to get into another sport then fine, but golf would be no1.
Who is Jason Day during the off-season? What are you busy with when you are not playing golf?
I do very little, I don’t go out and party every week. I spend a lot of time with my wife who is my best friend and just relax. I go to the gym a lot, even on PGA tour I go to the gym every day. Sometimes it’s 5 or 6 days a week and even in off season. And each gym session last for 3 to 4 hours so it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.
Any other sport aside from golf that you love? Which team do you support for any team sport competition (whether rugby, football, basketball, etc).
I don’t follow lots of Australian stuff any more but I’m a big fan of basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers – my wife’s from Ohio. Unfortunately their form has been a bit shot this year but I’m pumped for next season.
Supposing you were not a PGA Golf Player, what would you be now?
I would try and go into the military. I’ve always been interested and I would want to serve my country.
Your views on the new iron groove regulations?
I don’t mind it at all. You’ll see on PGA tour that when they change the grooves a lot more people hit the green. Square grooves made it a little more hit and miss and people don’t want to miss the green so I don’t mind the changes at all.
Any upcoming young player that you see in the tour (whether PGA, Nationwide, Jungolf) that you see that will make it big in the PGA someday?
I’ve been really impressed with a young guy, a 16 year pld – Jordan Spieth. He made the cut nationally and only a couple of shots off the lead. I think he has a big career ahead of him.
Do you know Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino boxer who holds 6 titles in different weight classes? We golf aficionados see another Manny Pacquiao in the making – you as the Manny Pacquiao of golf in the Philippines. How do you feel about that?
I have known him for a while now and if I could do half of what he has done in golf I would be happy and all for it.
Ever been to other Asian countries?
I have never been but I really want to go to Asia to play golf. I’m going to China for HSBC in December so depending on how that goes, I might go to Malaysia for the new tournament they have down there. I am going to talk to my agent and see if I can work a tournament somewhere into my schedule. At the moment I just want to establish myself on the PGA Tour and then afterwards I’d like to play on tours in Europe and Asia.
Any thoughts on the newest products of both TaylorMade and adidas Golf? How has it helped you improve your game and also the entire sport of golf in general?
The wedges I have now with the changeable faces. They’re really great for professionals. If I have a club and touch another club which is exactly the same, I can tell the difference. I know if there is a grip thickness not quite there or a shaft not quite there when I hit it or if it’s heavier or lighter. With TaylorMade wedges I’m getting great spin around the green and I can change the face every week when I want to and I don’t have to build another golf club from scratch. So I still have a club that feels very familiar to me. I change my grooves every week or every two weeks depending on how much practice I’ve done.
I think pretty much everything TaylorMade produces have helped the sport. It’s the number 1 driver on tour, the irons are great. But I think the biggest advancement is all the work they’ve put into the ball. You can get great speed and control out of the ball, you can control it in the wind, spin it. That’s great for both amateurs and professionals.
What significant benefits are you getting from the Burner SF driver compared to your past driver?
I was very happy with my R9 driver and when I monitored its performance I was hitting 278 yards through with a 169 mph ball speed. But I got the chance to try out the Burner SF and found that I could achieve a 177mph ball speed and 298 yards. I was hitting it just as good but getting a difference in 20 yards just by changing drivers – I didn’t need to do anything at all.
Talk to us about the Penta TP ball. What do you like best about it’s 5 main features/benefits?
I’ve been working on this shot in the clubhouse – half, full swing, it comes out low and spins – I just couldn’t do that before. You can get a lot of spin with this new ball and it controls so well through the green. It’s great because some courses can be really windy and this ball just gives you so much control in those types of conditions.
We noticed that you use the Tour Preferred Irons for your long irons, while for 6-9 irons you use the R9. Any reason why?
I used the TPI last year and with 3,4,5 irons I find that I hit that little bit higher and I like the longer trajectory that you get with the 3,4,5 irons. I use the R9 for 6-9 irons because then the 3,4,5s hit just a little bit lower than I like.