Jason Day is one of golf’s most exciting players at the moment. The 28-year old Australian made his debut a decade ago in the PGA Tour of 2006. It took him just five years to assert himself in the top 10 golf rankings and, after a couple of brief but memorable spells as World Number 1, Day is now ranked as the second best player in the game, just behind 22-year old sensation Jordan Spieth.
In ten years of professional play, Day has continuously impressed countless fans with his smart play and deep understanding of the game. He had to wait until 2010 to win his first ever PGA Tour title, the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He then had another dry spell until early 2014, where he claimed his first WGC title at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, but has been on a roll ever since.
In the last couple of years, Day has truly established himself as one of the very best players on the global stage. Victories in the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open and RBC Canadian Open set him on the way to an excellent year. Having been very close to tasting victory in a major tournament several times since 2011, Day finally earned his first big win at the 2015 edition of the PGA Championship.
couple of extra wins in The Barclays and the BMW Championship at the end of the season helped to cement his status in the top echelon of golfers. Clearly, his rise has been rapid and impressive, so it’s worth taking a look at how he got there. One of the best ways in which Day managed to improve his game is in his short-iron play. He consistently heads the leaderboards in strokes gained, and this is a big part of his success story in the last couple of years.
Where Has Day Statistically Improved?
It’s easy to look at statistics to back up this idea. Back in 2010 and 2011, Day wasn’t even in the top 100 players for strokes gained on approach shots between 100 and 150 yards. His exact rankings were 148th in 2010 and 162nd the year after. Day, along with his coach Colin Swatton, must have identified this as a weak point of his game.
Together, they established a training regimen to improve his shots. Essentially, practice consisted of hitting balls into the green. The idea was to help Day start to better understand the ways in which the ball lands and moves on the ground. Evidently, this training paid off as when we look at the same statistics for the last few years, Day has nearly always been in the top 10 for strokes gained.
What’s even more interesting is that, out on the green, these changes are very hard to notice but can clearly have a big impact on a player’s success rate. Going back to 2011, 50% of Day’s shots from the aforementioned range finished up within 20 feet of the hole. The average at the time on Tour was 19 feet, so Day’s results weren’t too poor.
However, in 2014 he managed to get his shots to finish approximately 15 feet from the hole on average. That’s a difference of just 5 feet, but Day’s success in 2014 compared to 2011 helps to demonstrate that it’s the little things which can have the biggest influence. Thanks to his improved shots for 100-150 yards, Day was able to enjoy a better average. According to the statistics, he needed a third of a stroke less to finish each round.
A big way in which Day shaved off that third of a stroke was by hitting 100-150 yard shots to within 10 feet of the hole. We’ve seen that his average was 15 feet, but he still managed to get plenty of very short putt opportunities thanks to the improvements in this side of his game. By improving his average distance from the hole in these sorts of shots, Day gave himself a better chance of having easy putts and improving his score.
In any sport, the smallest improvement can add up over time and ultimately change the course of a player’s career. For Day, this improvement manifested itself in the form of his various title wins in 2014 and 2015. Naturally, he improved other parts of his game as well and has an exceptional amount of natural talent, but the best players need to do everything they can to differentiate themselves.
These statistics help to show why Jason Day’s consistency for strokes gained has improved so much over the last few years. By changing the way he played and approached shots from the 100-150 yard range, Day was able to save himself an impressive number of strokes over the course of each tournament he entered.
World-class players get most of their shots from that distance to within 19 feet of the hole, but hitting a putt from 19 feet is clearly more problematic than hitting one from 15 or even 10… The average par-4 hole can be longer than 500 yards in length, but helping your ball to land just a couple of yards closer to the hole can be the boost you need to enjoy more success.