OAKMONT, Pa, – Jason Day picked a funny way to put the rest of the field on notice.
Less than 48 hours before the start of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer said, "I've never been more stressed in my life than right now."
Judging by the overheated headlines about his health in some golf outlets recently, you'd think Day was in a fight for his life. In truth, he's simply shaking off a cold he likely caught from his father-in-law two weeks ago. That kind of scrutiny, as well as the stress, is part of the rarefied spot Day holds in the game at the moment.
"People ask me how I feel, I usually tell them how I feel, and that's just me being honest," he added a moment later. "I'm not trying to make any excuses this week."
Good thing, too, since alibis will be tough to come by for the 28-year-old Australian. It's not just that Day hits the ball straight and high and has been putting like a pool hustler for the better part of a year — requisites for any U.S. Open setup. On top of that, he's been arguably the hottest golfer at the U.S. Open over the last five years.
Last July, even battling a case of vertigo that caused him to collapse at the end of his second round, Day managed to bring home a second-place finish at Chambers Bay.
"Obviously, I was kind of struggling there," he recalled. "Funny enough, I end up shooting 68 on Saturday and kind of folding myself into a tied lead for the last day. It didn't work out my way on the last day, kind of pushed it a little bit too much. But, yeah, it was great. It was a good experience for me to really understand how far I can push myself."
The payoff for that lesson wasn't long in coming. After holding a share of the 54-hole lead at that Open, as well as at the British Open a month later, Day finally cashed one in at the PGA Championship the month after that. Strangely enough, he ranked the final round of his breakthrough first major at Whistling Straits last August as the previously "most stressful" juncture of his golfing career. And he's not banking on it being any easier on Oakmont's punishing layout.
"We got tough rough. The greens are tough. Practically the whole course is tough," he said.
"When you're in stressful situations like you are at U.S. Opens ... you may as well not even tee it up that week because you probably won't play good, anyways," Day added. "That's just one less person you have to worry about at the end of the week."
Despite that description, Day has a soft spot for the course. His agent, Bud Martin, lives nearby and he played Oakmont for the first time at 18.
"Almost feels like home," he said, though Day could say the same about most U.S. Open venues.
"When I was a kid, I'd hit it everywhere ... and when I hit it everywhere, I had a short game to save me. I needed to — if I didn't have a short game, I would shoot over par, and I'd play bad. If I had my short game, I'd shoot under par somehow, even though I was hitting in the trees and hitting it everywhere.
"That's kind of what you need here," he added. "Even though you're a good ball striker, sooner or later ... you're going to miss fairways. It's a matter of being able to control your emotion during that hard time, being able to get up and down and move on to the next hole."