During the Presidents Cup in December, Australian Jason Day was at home in Columbus, Ohio, nearly 10,000 miles from where his heart wanted to be — at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
Jordan Spieth was on vacation, but pining too to be among his American teammates when they forged a final-day comeback to seize a victory.
“It sucked,” Spieth concluded earlier this week at Torrey Pines, where he opens his 2020 schedule on Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Spieth and Day, a two-time winner of the Farmers, are grouped for the first two rounds with Justin Rose, last year’s champion at Torrey Pines. It is one of the premier threesomes, because all have captured major championships.
But while Rose’s standing in the world rankings took a modest fall to No. 8 after recording one win last year, Day and Spieth have plummeted to 44th and 45th, respectively.
Just a couple of years ago, it would have been unimaginable that either would be left off their respective country’s team. But with Day, 32, dealing with more injury problems — a tricky back that forced him to withdraw from playing for the internationals — and Spieth, 26, searching to correct swing issues that didn’t give him a shot at making the U.S. squad, they were left to stew in their respective corners during the Presidents Cup.
“Every time I would watch the President Cup coverage, I was angry,” admitted Day, who played in the previous five competitions.
He said he would go to the workout and practice center on his property — that he calls “the barn” — to “either ride or do some sort of exercise to get some frustration out because I really wanted to be there.”
Spieth said he watched a “little bit” of the Cup and it looked “like an enjoyable experience for all.”
If anything, that only made it harder.
“I hated not being there to help support the team and be a part of it, and gain points for Team USA,” said Spieth, who played on six previous U.S. squads in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. “That part was really tough, as I expected, but at the same time, it’s fire to not miss another one.”
Tiger Woods passed over Spieth for what turned into five captain’s picks when Brooks Koepka had to bow out with an injury, but the Texan hardly had room to complain.
“I didn’t think I deserved to go off of last season,” Spieth said.
For the second straight campaign Spieth didn’t notch a victory, leaving him without a title since he captured the 2017 British Open to give him three legs of the career Grand Slam at the age of 24. He has not won the PGA Championship, although he came close in 2015 when he finished second.
With 11 tour wins, Spieth had a remarkable run early in his career, and raised expectations to unsustainable levels. His normally stellar putting failed him for a time, though that was back to impressive last year, when Spieth ranked second in strokes gained putting.
That stat might be skewed, however, because Spieth was so poor in his ball striking that he had fewer long putts. He ranked 157th in strokes gained tee to green and hit only 62.8% of greens in regulation.
“I did a good job of staying patient with myself,” Spieth said, “recognizing that it’s part of the game, and trying each week to make little improvements, and then wait until the offseason to try and nail things down and regroup.”
Spieth said he has worked on some mechanics because his timing was off last year. He said he used some technology to recognize “red flags and adjust accordingly.”
“I kind of feel blank-slated here,” Spieth said of his first tournament start since finishing 16th in the limited-field, unofficial Hero World Challenge in early December.
“I’m almost approaching it like I did in 2013, where I was kind of hopefully ready to bounce back to where I’ve been in the past. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen right away, but kind of build on that.”
Day, who hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since the Travelers Championship last June and missed the cut in his last start in November, has to hope his back holds up enough to give him a chance to compete. He said he twice had to have epidural shots for his back last season, and got little relief. He said the pain flared up four or five times.
“The gist of it is my rib cage is kind of out of alignment and starts to pull on certain things and certain muscles,” Day said. “If I swing a lot and also putt, things start to tighten up.”
The troubles have been hugely frustrating for Day, who won 10 times from 2015 through 2018, including the 2015 PGA Championship and Farmers Open in 2015 and 2018.
Once a player who would spend more than two hours on the practice greens, Day said he’s limited now to about 30 minutes. With all of the medical issues, it also didn’t help that Day went through four caddies in the season.
Day’s current mental state is understandably fragile.
“I think once I start to gain the results back again, then the confidence will come back, and from there I will start to play much better golf,” Day said. “But, fingers crossed, I’m hoping to play good this week.
“I’m coming off eight weeks of rehab and very little practice, so am I expecting a lot? I don’t know. We’ve just got to go in there and see how it goes.”