May 10, 2017 / 1:58 AM / 3 months ago

Day wrestles with pressures in quest to get back on top

Apr 27, 2017; Avondale, LA, USA; Jason Day watches his tee shot from the 16th hole during the first round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans golf tournament at TPC Louisiana. Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Defending Players champion Jason Day said on Tuesday that life at the top in golf was great, but the pressures and demands of the game could be "suffocating".

Day, who has been struggling to cope with his mother's life-threatening illness, has not won since last year at Florida's TPC Sawgrass.

The world number three won The Players, generally regarded as the unofficial 'fifth' major, last year wire-to-wire after firing a course record-tying 63 in the first round.

The year before, he achieved a career goal with a run that included his maiden major at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits before adding two FedExCup tournament wins the next month to become world number one.

Since then, the Australian has grappled with how to find a balance between the demands that come with being at the top of the game and life away from the course.

"I could sense that being No. 1 and all that stuff was getting pretty hard mentally more so than physically, just the mental demand on you, the expectations. And it's very, very easy to get burnt out in a sense," the 29-year-old told reporters.

"As you go through your career, priorities kind of change back and forth and with what had happened earlier this year with some off-course stuff, my mind was kind of elsewhere, as you probably could imagine."

Early this year, Day was rocked by the news that his mother, Dening, was fighting lung cancer.

Now he is talking about "rebuilding to try and get back to the top of the world."

"That's what I'm trying to focus on, getting back to that winning form, getting back to the workload that I was doing and the practice and the work ethic, and hopefully the results will come after that."

Day said satisfying obligations with the media, fans and sponsors as number one weighed heavily on him and that if he was to get back on top he would do things differently, adding that he might have to say 'No' more often.

"I think with me, I've got to make it's as less stressful as possible. Make sure that when hopefully one day I get back, that I take that load of stress off my shoulders so I can just go out there and focus on golf," added Day, who trails Dustin Johnson and number two Rory McIlroy in the rankings.

"I'm a person that can't do four million things at once, and that's what it feels like when you're at the top ... it just feels like you're getting pulled in all sorts of directions and it feels like you're suffocating sometimes."

Despite the pressures, Day said getting back to number one was his top professional priority.

"I would do anything in the world to get back there," he said. "There's no other, no better feeling than being the best."

Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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