OAKMONT, Pa. -- Jason Day feels the weight of the expectations that come with being world No. 1 and among the favorites this week at the U.S. Open.
"I've never been more stressed in my life than right now," Day said Tuesday.
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Jason Day's relationship with stress is somewhat of a chicken-or-egg question.
In the last 12 months, Day has won seven times, including his first major at the 2015 PGA Championship and The Players in May on an earth-scorched TPC Sawgrass. It's that rapid ascent that took him to a commanding position as the No. 1 player in the world. Now, as he seeks a first U.S. Open after a pair of runner-up finishes and a close call last year despite battling vertigo, Day seems desperate to maintain that position.
"It's just because being No. 1 in the world, having a lot of expectations on you, having to practice so hard to keep that No. 1 spot, trying to win as many tournaments as I can puts a lot of stress and pressure on your shoulders," he said.
That stress has apparently weakened his immune system. Day is fighting a bit of a cold heading into this week. Unto itself, that's not really newsworthy, but the affect stress seems to have on Day is. Day seems to thrive on it, even as he's weakened by it. Success has caused stress, which Day seems to believe he can only alleviate with more success.
"I'm driven to win tournaments just because the 10 tournaments that I've won is not enough," Day said. "I need to win more."
Day knows this is his time. He knows this is the period in his life, while his children are young and his health is good, that he can focus solely on harvesting trophies in bunches.
"I just want to win as much as every other guy out there," he said. "But I'm so single focused on trying to accomplish that, that I make sure that I get everything right before the tournament."
Even his son adding to the unending stress-success cycle. In each of his wins, Day's now 3-year-old son, Dash, runs on the final green to hug his dad in the cutest of celebrations. Now Dash has gotten used to being the son of a winner. Like his dad, Dash wants more.
"[Dash] always says to me before each Sunday, 'Make sure you win because you want to kiss the trophy,'" Day said. "That's what he says to me all the time. So I don't know if that adds a little bit more pressure on me or not. But it's great."
Right now, winning is the priority. However, Day knows that, one day, he, his wife and kids will have other things on their minds. Dash and Lucy will go to school. That will make traveling together nearly impossible for much of the year. The globe-trotting nature of being a touring pro might cause a strain in his relationships with his wife and kids. And then, someday, Day is going to have to decide if it's all worth it, and, probably, he'll choose his family over his profession. It's inevitable.
Day, seeing how the rest of life has consumed his mentor Tiger Woods, knows this is the time to forge his path.
"Priorities change over time," he said. "But right now, my priority, as long as my family is happy and healthy, my priority right now is to win as much as I can, and that's just on me.
So, the cycle continues. Day wins, and then he stresses, and then he wins. And it'll go on like that until one of two things happens: The stress melts away or it consumes him and sends him into a tailspin.
Some signs suggest that Day won't be melting down anytime soon. Though he prefers to stay out of the limelight -- yet another contradiction for a guy who seems to manage them all so well -- Day is loosening up a little. He threw out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game the other night. He isn't shy about sitting courtside with his wife, Ellie, at Cleveland Cavaliers games. He's been willing to take part in more corporate outings, particularly in the off-season he is demanding himself to take. He even helped Dash to star in TaylorMade commercial that will air throughout the championship.
As Day describes it, the decision to put himself and his family out there more often seems born out of the idea that he'll someday want an time capsule of these days.
"The memories that I have along the way now, if we don't do stuff like that, I won't have the memories," he said.
Things are happening so fast for Day. Travel, golf, trophy. Travel, golf, trophy. He'll have a month-and-a-half to slow down in between seasons, and he'll take breaks to be at home, but he knows that if he slows his pace or loses his focus, then he'll be passed. He wants to be on top of the mountain for the view, but protecting his camp at the summit is an all-consuming job.
This is what Day wants, and, at 28, he'll be fortunate to have another 10 like this to make the most of his talent. That is, if he can maintain this delicate balance between pulling out victories and pulling out his hair.
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