One of the burdens of the prodigiously physically talented is the expectation, your own that of others. At fifteen or maybe sixteen Jason Day was playing as the number five man for the Queensland state team in the interstate series at the old Royal Queensland course. His final match was against the only other undefeated player in the five match series, a kid from Adelaide. Teeing off the 10th hole Day played his way to the halfway point in five birdies and four pars. The match went a few more holes but those fortunate enough to see his golf knew he was a special player.
It was not unlike the first time I saw Greg Norman and Adam Scott play. It hardly took the greatest talent scout to see they were real players with talents beyond the average.
Norman strode the world-stage for almost two decades as one of the best players in the game and in the end he had two Open Championships, more regular tour wins around the world than all but a handful of players and an image he parlayed into incredible business success. In the end though the expectations of Norman were so high because he had such tremendous physical skills his career somehow is judged harshly because of what he might have won but didn’t.
Adam Scott too. He swings better than Norman, hits as well yet for all the brilliant golf he has played we expect more. Like Norman a part of the defining of his career will be his stumbling finishes to Open Championships in both England and Scotland.
Golf is a hard game. Hale Irwin, three times U.S Open champion, best described its challenges as the ‘onlyness’ of the experience. Maybe the caddy can help but ultimately no matter the physical talent it is the emotional talents, which have always proved to be equally important. And, of course the luck. It usually evens itself but it’s fair to say Norman had it go the wrong way at absolutely the wrong time more than once.
Day has played his way into chances to win any number of major championships, the latest being at St Andrews when he came with a shot of being a part of the playoff. He and Scott were caught and passed by the four-birdie finish of Charl Schwartzel at Augusta in 2011 and twice he has been second in the US Open.
Clearly he had the game to win a major championship. He is hugely long off the tee, hits the towering long irons reminding us of Norman and his missing only twice from inside ten feet this week classes him as good as anyone with the putter.
Of course, only the most talented play their way into contention with regularity at the biggest championships. Day on this Sunday had to beat the extraordinary Jordan Spieth, the man who won at Augusta and Chambers Bay. Spieth in contrast to Day is one unburdened by the tag of one with great physical talent. His swing doesn’t look as elegant as Scott or Louis Oosthuizen or as powerful as Day’s or Dustin Johnson but he has plays the game better than anyone else on the tour. This was almost the greatest season since Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam in 1930 but he missed the playoff at St Andrews by one and lost out here to the Australian.
The question for Day is where to from here. Scott has perhaps stalled when 2013 at Augusta suggested much more was likely. Only Peter Thomson of ours has won more than a couple of major championships but it is Day who now looks the most likely to get past Norman and David Graham and their two major titles. It is surely the expectation now he has broken down the door but his task is to ensure it doesn’t become a burden.