Despite Yeears of Back Injuries, Day Enters the Year #1
I’m not sure how he does it, but Jason Day appears to be one of the best ailing champions on the PGA Tour, and has been for a while. Somehow, he keeps winning a fair percentage of tournaments in spite of various rips, tears, a thumb that can barely hold on to the club, and back complaints that come and go at a whim. As we wait for the 2017 tour years to begin, there sits Jason Day, a beaten-up veteran trying to get the body to form a consensus before it’s time to fight for his #1 status. Hearing myself say it, I’m tempted to call “Hogwash!” For Heaven’s sake, golf isn’t boxing or ballet, where your body takes the hits in a short, brutal period of time. The truth is, however, that you do take all those hits, just in slow motion over a period of years. And, like boxing and ballet, golf is a total body effort, not localized into a small area of musculature. Unfortunately, as in those other activities, a golfer’s back is essential.
It may sound as though we’re speaking of a grizzled old veteran, but Jason Day is 29 years of age. So where does it all begin? Is the desire to attack the game in Tiger-style so important that you wear yourself out well before your years, or is the game so punishing that you can’t stand up to it over time, no matter what you do? Some men reach old age with a swing that just got sweeter and sweeter. Gary Player isn’t even toying with age yet in that regard. However, by 2013, Day dealt with what was called “benign positional vertigo.” He would have been 27 at the time. Vertigo? Isn’t that something you get from heights, or a Jimmy Stewart movie? And what’s benign about it?
In 2014, Day underwent thumb surgery, and the pain lingered on for months. It must be true that no player has a greater appreciation for the patience required by Tiger Woods, than Jason Day. He even withdrew from the Masters. For a competitive golfer, that’s like withdrawing from life and breath. Lately, he has suffered a ligament tear on the L4/L5 disc. The winter has been spent in what one writer called “varying states of miserable,” and yet the world’s #1 is getting ready for another seasonal debut as if he can win – and he probably can. According to Day, somehwere around 90% of the players out there in the big leagues have something going on with their backs, and that if you play your cards right, you can sustain yourself and find a way to play well. Playing well week after week might be a problem, but you’re not out of the game. For the back, there are modifications to your approach that can be made to increase annual longevity. A shortened backswing is always among the first things mentioned in this regard.
How does one tell Tiger Woods, who partly relies on being farther down the fairway than everyone else, that he has to shorten his backswing? Give up yards to the field? Does Day feel the same way? Can they get their speed somewhere else, and does that encourage overswinging, perhaps what got them into trouble in the first place? The body goes through phases as it ages, and maybe the game should as well. I have trouble envisioning Tiger or Jason going fully-committed Sam Snead that much, but oh well. If their brains can pull it off, the bodies will be grateful, I’m sure.
Jason Day has been through a lot already, and I’d love to see him enjoy some smooth sailing. I’m sure he knows all the right people for consultation, folks I know nothing about. Regardless, here’s hoping he finds the “right now” solution for a competitor consumed with winning, and still has a friendly back in 2025 and beyond. Still, even watching him hoist big trophies, I’m inwardly screaming, “Take the picture, quick!”