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Jason Day a PGA Tour champion again after being ‘close to calling it quits’

It was worth the wait for Jason Day.

Five years and six days ago, the Aussie, at 30 years old, already had the career most can only dream about. He was a major champion, a former world No. 1 and had just claimed his 12th PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Day, however, would endure a slew of obstacles throughout the next few years — and his fortitude was tested.

But now, 1,835 days since his last triumph, he can again call himself a champion, winning the AT&T Byron Nelson with a final-round 62.

“To be honest, I was very close to calling it quits,” Day said afterward, “I never told my wife that, but I was okay with it, just because it was a very stressful part of my life.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

Day’s game reached its peak in 2015, when he won five times, including the PGA Championship, and reached No. 1 in the world. Earlier this year, Day said he “sacrificed myself to get to No. 1.”

In June 2015, Day was diagnosed with benign positional vertigo and collapsed at the U.S. Open. Then, in the following years, he battled back injuries. He continued to play through it; however, the ailments severely impaired his game.

Eventually, he started to think about shelving his clubs for good.

“It was at least a couple years ago when I was just struggling,” he said. “My thought process was to go, OK, what’s my contract minimum that I have to play? It’s 20 events. Can’t practice Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, really. If I’m playing the pro-am, then I’ll struggle to get through that ... Get in Thursday, Friday, if I make the cut, great, and if I don’t, that’s a tick off the tournament list.

“To have that mindset, to even just think about the way that I was thinking, just to try and get through a tournament because of how much pain I was in, it’s not a healthy way of playing golf in general, not a healthy way of just living in general.”

Jason Day won his first PGA Tour event in five years Sunday, shooting 9-under 62 for a one-shot victory at TPC Craig Ranch.

Since 2019, Day has withdrawn from four events. In 2020, he underwent a rhizotomy, a surgical procedure to sever nerve roots in the spinal cord. The next two seasons, though, he continued to struggle, finishing outside the top 100 in the FedExCup.

In 2022, there were a few results Day could hang his hat on, but then in March, his mother, Dening, lost a five-year bout with lung cancer.

“It was very emotional to go through and to experience what she was going through,” he said, “then I had injuries on top of all of that going on in my life.”

However, the other mother in Day’s life, Ellie, his wife with whom he has four children and one on the way, gave him the strength to keep chasing glory.

“She just always was pushing me to try and get better,” he said.

And the competitor in Day never lost sight of the task at hand.

“At some point when I was talking to a therapist, because obviously I’ve gone through a lot of stuff and you talk to a therapist about it, I kept on visualizing myself in the winner’s circle again,” he said.

His struggles, however, helped bring that vision to fruition.

“The highs and lows of golf is interesting,” he said. “You definitely learn a lot about yourself through the lows more so than the highs, obviously. I learned that I can handle the pressure still and focus, and I’ve still got the game to win.”

This season, Day began to show flashes of his old self, coming into the Nelson with six top-10s in 15 starts. Then, after a long 1,835 days, he finally get over the hump on Mother’s Day at TPC Craig Ranch.

“It feels strange to be sitting here,” he said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. To go through what I went through and then to be able to be a winner again and be in the winner’s circle is very pleasing.”

Though Day might have wanted to emerge victorious a bit sooner, his bumpy past few years make this win much sweeter.

“Delayed gratification is probably the best feeling of all time,” he said. “Instant gratification is great, but delayed gratification is the best.”