Tour Confidential: Was Jason Day’s playoff loss a step forward or backward?

May 22, 2017

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Jason Day had a one-shot lead with three holes to play at the Byron Nelson Championship, but he lost to Billy Horschel when he three-putted the first hole of the playoff. Put yourself inside Day’s head. Does he draw nothing but positives from his play after what has been a disappointing year? Or will the fact that he didn’t close the deal have a lingering effect?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Well, I wouldn’t want to put myself in anyone’s head because then they would be destined to make self destructive decisions. But Day himself will be fine without by going in there. He will take the positives from the round and put the three-putt behind him. It was hardly a calamitous moment in the grand scope of his career.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): I’d say nothing but positives. With all due respect to normal PGA events, I think Jason is at the point in his career where of course he wants to win any event he enters, but the main objective is to peak at those big events — the majors and the Player’s Championship. I’m sure he’s very pleased to have his game where it is with the U.S. Open right around the corner, and that’s all he’ll take from this week.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You always want to win. To be close and know it hurts. But Day is not Hogan or Woods or Curtis Strange. He’ll find true positives where others would beat themselves up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I don’t know, gents. Day has had a difficult year with injuries and his mother’s health problems. But when you’ve reached No. 1 in the world, is there such a thing as a moral victory? He’ll be fine, but as we stand here Sunday evening, I’d guess he’s more disappointed than encouraged.

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@sean_zak): Mostly positives, one negative. Day’s performance this week has been a few weeks in the making. He’s been trending upward, especially with the putter. That being said, the three-jack was a letdown, and the putter has been the biggest pain in his side thus far this season (was 141st in strokes gained entering the event). Sure, it’s just a one-hole sample size, but this is the guy who set the standard for phenomenal putting in the Shotlink era. Three-putting in a clutch moment was reminiscent of how his game has been much of the season.

2. Jordan Spieth put a new putter in the bag at the Nelson, but he missed the cut after pumping two tee shots out of bounds at the 16th hole on Friday and making a 9. Nevertheless, Spieth says his game is not far off. Are you buying that?

Sens: I buy that any player of Spieth’s character is pretty much always close when they are struggling. Just as they are almost always close to losing the slight edge they have when they’re at their best. That’s what makes the game so compelling. It’s not like watching the NBA, say, when you know it’s going to be Warriors vs. Cavs. Anything can happen.

Wood: Yes. We actually played with Jordan the first two rounds, and despite the oops on 16 causing him to miss the cut, I thought he hit a ton of good shots. It’s a matter of time before things click again…a when not if.

Ritter: Sure, he’s probably close, but he obviously needs to eliminate the big numbers, like the Nelson 9 and the Masters quad.

Zak: All guys go through lulls. Some are just nipped in the bud quicker than others. If he thinks his game is close to being good, I’ll gladly give him the benefit of the doubt. His not-so-great is often quite great, after all.

Bamberger: I’m a fan. Lately, and maybe for about a year now, it seems like golf is the highest priority in his life. I used to get the sense from him it was about third on his list.

3. You get to pick one player to hit tee shots for your scramble team. Who is it: Day, Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy?

Sens: DJ without a doubt.

Wood: If it’s a scramble team, I’ll take all three and sit in the cart all day having drinks with umbrellas in them, just in case all three of them miss a putt somewhere along the way.  But if I had to choose?  I’d have to go with Dustin as well.

Ritter: John, what are we drinking? I’d have nothing else to contribute to the team. Dustin’s drives are the greatest show in golf today. That said, I might choose Rory because of his candor. I think I’d learn the most about him over 18 holes.

Zak: There is no other worthy answer than Dustin Johnson, and especially not Day (not this year, at least).

Bamberger: RORY. In that format I care more about the company than the competition.

4. Lexi Thompson won the Kingsmill Championship for her eighth career title and first since the rules debacle at the ANA Inspiration. Is this a sign that Lexi will be fine, or will we not learn anything until she contends at another major?

Sens: Thompson pretty much bounced back right after the incident when she closed strong post rules debacle. I think that question has already been answered. As for the sloppy mark itself, I would imagine she learned that lesson, too.

Wood: I think it’s a great sign to jump back in and a post a W, any W, so soon after the rules incident. I’m sure she can’t wait for the next major to really make her mark, literally.

Zak: Love the kicker, John! It’s pretty clear Lexi will be fine. She’s one of the most gifted players on the LPGA tour and seems to be matching that potential much more consistently this season. Much like Spieth winning at Colonial last year or Rory winning the U.S. Open in 2011, elite talent is going to rise above bad luck or bad days eventually.

Bamberger: I’ve never felt the women are as obsessed about their majors as the men are. This win shows a clear-head mentally and, most significantly, spectacular physical talent.

Ritter: The next major will be the definitive statement, but with this win Lexi answered a lot of questions (including all the reminders from the press while behind a microphone). It was a fantastic step towards leaving the ANA in the dustbin.

5. Pinehurst broke ground on its much-anticipated short course this week. The nine-hole layout, designed by Gil Hanse, will have holes ranging from 65 to 117 yards and will feature many of the characteristics of Pinehurst’s storied No. 2 course. What’s the best short course you’ve played, and does the game need more of them?

Sens: Hard to beat the Preserve at Bandon Dunes Resort at sunset.

Bamberger: The nine-hole course called St. Martins at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

Wood: Yes, yes, and yes the game needs more of them. Obviously there is the par-3 course at Augusta National, and it’s pretty tough to beat that design.  It’s wondrous. As far as my favorite that I’ve actually played?  It would have to be The Cliffs course at Olympic Club. It sits on the other side of the highway right along the coast,  and the fog rolls in and you feel like you’re playing golf on another planet. Just a beautiful setting.

Ritter: My favorite is the nine-hole course at Treetops Resort in Northern Michigan dubbed “Threetops.” Lots of elevation changes and quirky little holes. It’s a blast.

Zak: The par-3 course at Hamilton Farm Golf Club is so damn good, and better yet, it’s 18 holes! The holes range anywhere from 115 to 215 yards, so it works nearly every club in your bag. It gives the full-size course at Hamilton a run for its money.

6. Dallas and Fort Worth are only 30 miles from one another on the map, but the cities are worlds apart culturally. Each city also claims a golfing legend. Are you more of a Byron Nelson (Dallas) fan or a Ben Hogan (Fort Worth) fan?

Bamberger: Met Nelson once and saw him often and loved the simplicity and warmth of the man. But nobody has ever put the obsessive-compulsive gene to work more effectively than Hogan. Hogan, for sure.

Sens: Nelson. Love the idea of a guy stepping away from competition to chill out on his ranch. Genius as Hogan was on the course, the whole prickly personality thing makes him less appealing. Easier to root for Nelson.

Wood: I was a Hogan fanatic growing up. Though his playing days were well over, the Hogan Mystique grabbed me very early and never let go. Hard not to admire the golfer and man Byron Nelson was, but the mystery surrounding Hogan, the secrecy, and pursuit of perfection always fascinated me more than any other golfer.

Ritter: I’ve also been fascinated by the Hogan aura and that silky swing from numerous YouTube videos. Plus, I like Fort Worth’s walkable downtown main drag and loathe the Dallas Cowboys. Advantage: Hogan/Fort Worth.

Zak: As a sucker for stats, I want to say Nelson since he once won 11 straight tournaments, but I’m even more of a sucker for stories, and the Hogan story is like no other. The up-and-down tale of nearly dying and then rallying just a few years later to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953. It’s so preposterous, yet engrossing, which is what we love in our sports legends.