Jason Day explains his back issues and why he can putt for only 30 minutes a day

January 22, 2020
Mayakoba Golf Classic - Round Two

Cliff Hawkins

When Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open two years ago, the victory seemed to signal that he was perhaps on his way back to being the best player in the world again. After a difficult 2017 in which his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer (and initially given only months to live) and his wife, Ellie, suffered a miscarriage over Thanksgiving, it was his first title in nearly two years. A victory at the Wells Fargo Championship a few months later was further evidence.

Except it wasn’t.

As Day gets set to make his first start of the year this week at Torrey Pines, he does so as No. 44 in the Official World Golf Ranking, his lowest ranking since 2013 after reaching No. 1 in the world for the first time in 2015 and getting there again in 2016. If he’s outside the top 50 on Feb. 10, he would also be ineligible for next month’s WGC-Mexico Championship.

More concerning, though, is the state of his body and in turn perhaps his game.

“The gist of it is my rib cage is kind of out of alignment and starts to pull on certain things and certain muscles,” Day said Tuesday. “If I swing a lot and also putt [in] a bent-over position, things start to tighten up. If I don’t get that stuff kind of loosened out and get a little bit of mobility in there, that’s when things start to—it’s not so much the actual swing itself, I'll just go bend over and pick something up, my back will go out and then I'm done for two weeks.”

Which is what happened on at least a couple of occasions last year.

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Day withdrew because of a bad back, and he later received an epidural shot. Then he needed another one just before the Masters.

Day tied for fifth at Augusta National but posted just one top 10 the rest of the year. Selected as a captain’s pick by Ernie Els for the Presidents Cup in December at Royal Melbourne, he withdrew from that event, as well as the Australian Open preceding it, again citing a bad back.

It didn’t help that he changed caddies four times, which included hiring Steve Williams—the two split after just six events together.

“It was quite frustrating because I was coming into most events underprepared,” Day said.

The same could be said for the start of this year.

This week’s event will be Day’s first competitive golf in two months. Aside from rust, his practice also remains limited because of his back. Day’s coach, Colin Swatton, said that the 32-year-old is on a restricted ball count (50-100) and has reduced the time he can spend putting.

“I can only putt for 30 minutes a day,” said Day, who usually spends two hours a day on the practice green. “So obviously I'm a little bit behind schedule. But I feel pretty good about how things have progressed.”

Added Swatton, who spent the past week with Day preparing in Palm Springs: “The good thing about his back is it’s not structural damage. Swing-wise, we’re still working on the same things and not making any drastic changes. It’s more about reducing some irritation and getting a better turn on the backswing, using his trail leg more and creating more hip mobility.”

Lack of preparation aside, Torrey Pines could be a welcome sight for Day. He also won there in 2015, was runner-up in 2014 and finished T-5 last year.

As for his sinking world ranking, Day isn’t concerned about it. There are bigger concerns.

“I need to focus on just getting healthy and trying to be 100 percent confident in what I can actually do ability-wise,” he said. “My big thing was last year was a bit of a down year because I had not only with back issues, I went through four caddies, so there were a number of things that I was trying to work out. I feel like things are obviously different this year, and I feel like I'll have a better year this year.”