A busy summer for Jason Day begins with his title defense at the Players
I Think ...
The honeymoon is over for Rory McIlroy. Whether it was the Bahamas or the Kentucky Derby, so is the expanded spring break celebrated by Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. It’s time for the best players in the world to join Dustin Johnson and go back to work at the Players Championship. That includes Jordan Speith, who has only played once since the Masters, and Sergio Garcia, who has been on the green jacket tour since his win at Augusta. But, what about defending champion Jason Day? He’s been so off radar lately with injuries and the cancer battle his mother is waging that his name doesn’t get mentioned much, even as the No. 3 ranked player in the world. That could change this week at TPC Sawgrass, where Day won in dominating style last year for his third victory in six starts. Colin Swatton, who serves as Day’s caddie, coach and surrogate, has felt a positive trend coming. “I’ve been saying for a couple weeks now that he’s ready to pop his head up,” Swatton told me the other day. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at the Players or the Byron Nelson.” Day’s back is no longer an issue, but finding a performance coach and physiotherapist since Cornell Driessen returned home to South Africa has been an on-going problem. An encouraging diagnosis for his mother has helped Day’s spirit and focus. An equipment issue finding a driver after cracking the head in last year’s U.S. Open has been solved. Now it’s time to compete, which Day plans to do with a heavy schedule leading up to the U.S. Open. Winless since last year’s Players, he held on to the No. 1 ranking for 51 weeks until Johnson took over in February, and Day has a goal of returning there. “The good thing is, the year’s not over,” Swatton said. “He could win three times from here on in and everybody would be thinking it was another great year after a slow start.”
I Saw …
The pins honoring Billy Armfield at the Wells Fargo Championship were in honor of the visionary and driving force behind Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C. Armfield passed away at age 81 last summer of pancreatic cancer and thus never had a chance to see his club shine as a one-year replacement for Quail Hollow while the Charlotte, N.C., club prepared for the PGA Championship in August. Armfield, a Greensboro businessman, served as Eagle Point’s president for 10 years until Bobby Long took over in 2010. “We talked about it a lot,” Long said. “He would have been thrilled, just thrilled.” Eagle Point more than held its own as a fill-in. Players praised the course’s condition and scoring on the Tom Fazio design was on a par with Quail, with five under leading after 36 holes and a modest nine under par being Brian Harman’s winning score. Hosting PGA Tour stops was not the goal when Armfield, Long and close friends John Mack and John Ellison unveiled their vision in 1998. “Billy was one of the great guys of all time,” Fazio said of Armfield in the Wilmington Star News. “He was always a golf enthusiast. It was one of those things where there were no committees, no opinions. When you sit down with Billy and Bobby, they don’t have to say a lot. They said we want the best golf course you can possibly build and you tell us what to do and how to do it. Now, that gets your attention.”
PGA of America
I Heard …
Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm stopped by Charlotte on their way to the Wells Fargo to check out the changes made to Quail Hollow for this summer’s PGA Championship and the 2021 Presidents Cup. Mickelson told club president Johnny Harris he liked the change from MiniVerde to Champion Bermudagrass on the greens and that the re-design to the first five holes resulted in configuring the first and fifth holes into left-to-right shaped par 4s. As for being ready for the PGA in August, Harris said Quail could have hosted a tour event or even a major last week. With bulldozers moving in during last year’s final round of the Wells Fargo, it took 12-hour shifts to move 200,000 yards of dirt and 1,000 trees to complete the changes in 89 days. “We’re in a good place right now,” Harris said. “We get a little warm weather—they’re talking about it being in the 90s next week—and our golf course is going to pop. We’ll have all the grass we can stand come early August.” Harris and Quail Hollow could become integral should the PGA Tour and PGA of America agree on a schedule change that would move the PGA to May. “We hear all the rumors just like everybody else,” Harris said. “At the appropriate time [PGA of America CEO] Pete [Bevacqua] and [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay [Monahan] are going to come to a conclusion on what is best for golf, and we’ll figure it out how to do our thing with both people. We have great relationships with both, and we just look forward to continue finding a way to bring the best players to Charlotte. That may mean there is some advantage to us being in May, or it could very well be ending up with something in August. We will look at all the options available to us.”