Filipino golfer makes Bay Area debut at OpenBy Nicholas von Wettberg
Filipinos can be proud about their place in golf’s local history. From the East Bay over to San Francisco and down to San Jose, Filipino golfers have made their mark as champions in nearly every level of competition from the past half century.
A few years back, Jason Day made headlines when he became the first golfer of Filipino history to bag a victory on the PGA Tour. Day, whose mother hails from the Philippines, has gone winless since his milestone moment but looks to break out of his dry spell this weekend at San Francisco’s Olympic Golf Club, site of the 112th United States Open Men’s Golf Championship.
If Day can play his cards right on the standout links course and strike a good balance between bold play and tactical measure — that means hitting a consistent number of greens in regulation, then the Filipino Australian may win his first major tournament in front of an expected sizable Filipino audience.
On Wednesday, Day played his practice round at Olympic with Luke Donald, one of the favorites going into this week’s festivities. Day, who’s listed at 50 to 1 odds to win the championship’s trophy, worked on shaping his shots, and used a 3-wood and low iron off of a fair amount of the tees.
A number of local Filipino-Americans turned out to see the culture’s most popular golfer since Filipino legend Larry Montes, who history reveals shot an Olympic Club course record 64 at the Northern California Professional Championships, back in 1964, which held firm for close to two generations.
To be successful at Olympic, Day, at 6-feet and 170 pounds, must work the ball from right to left, employing an effective cut.
The native of Beaudesert, Queensland enjoyed his share of good fortune since winning the HP Byron Nelson Open in 2010 he just hasn’t won any trophies. Last season, it appeared as if all the pieces of his game had come together.
He placed second in back-to-back majors, first nearly winning the Masters in his rookie attempt, then two months later at DC’s Congressional Golf Club, where the young gun (one among many on tour) shot a combined total of 8-under-par but still finished 8 strokes back of record-setting champion Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
The consistency seen from Day last season – good enough to land him the Top-10 of Golf’s World Rankings – was encouraging enough to believe that was on the cusp of greatness. For the record, in 2011, Day pulled in over $3.9 million in tour earnings from his 21 events.
But Day is limping in to this year’s U.S. Open. So far this season, the 24-year-old was forced to withdraw from this year’s Masters because of a strained tendon in his leg. At the moment, he’s slotted at No. 19 in the world rankings.
Day has yet to reach the stardom he seemed headed for when at the age of 19 he became the youngest player to ever win a PGA Tour-sponsored event by capturing the Nationwide Tour’s Legend Financial Group Classic in Cleveland. That year, Day caused a stir when he said that he’d be the one to knock Tiger Woods from his perch atop the world rankings. Day was unable to accomplish his prediction because Woods ended up doing that on his own.
Although it straddles the contorting borderlines of Daly City, Olympic is a mirror image of San Francisco. It’s a Westward destination full of energy yet tranquil in nature. The grounds are compact, the vibe is provincial but the bottom line is the layout of the course – similar to its location – rewards originality and most of all creativity.
The three-time Open champ Woods is undoubtedly the star of the show especially after his win two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, but in fairness to all the fabulously talented players on tour there is so much more to men’s professional golf than the greatness of Woods or the charmed brilliance of future Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson.
Mixed in with Day and McIlroy are a handful of twenty something’s pumping in new life to the tour.
An extreme example of youth is this week’s presence of Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old Chinese American who gained a slot in the final draw and is believed to be the youngest competitor in U.S. Open history.
Of course guys like Keegan Bradley, Ricky Fowler and Jason Dufner can’t hold a flame to Tiger and Lefty when it comes to television ratings, but give the newbies some time and let them mature because it really is only a matter of time.
Is it time for Day, whose wife Ellie and he are expecting their first child in about a month, to bust out and capture his “major” major? Stay tuned because this weekend’s competition, the fifth U.S. Open at Olympic, is sure to provide enough drama. And just like the four previous national championships at the tight track with postage stamp greens, expect a golfer to come out of the woodwork and announce their arrival just like Jack Fleck in 1955, Billy Casper in 1966, Scott Simpson in 1987 and Lee Jansen in 1998.
Never count out Tiger but the second major in the rotation is another beast altogether. The stakes are high but the competition level is higher, so enjoy the fantastic views, top-notch golf and hope for a thrilling photo finish involving Day on Sunday afternoon.