(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
By Joel Beall
It’s supposed to be the most magical place on earth. But for Jason Day, a visit to Disney World was treated like an escape to Witch Mountain.
Among the litany of athlete discretions, a trip to an amusement park would seemingly rank as innocuous. But Day, who took his family to the Orlando destination on Friday, drew a share of social-media backlash. A reaction stemming from Day’s mid-round WD just 24 hours prior at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Admittedly, the optics weren’t great, especially against the backdrop of Day’s description of his back injury—suffering from a tear in his L4-L5 discs, Day said he could barely walk after a practice round the Sunday before the tournament—and his history of tournament drop-outs (Bay Hill was his ninth WD in 236 starts). Conversely, walking with your children is not as demanding as swinging a golf club and competing against the game’s best. And though there are pitfalls associated with a number of endeavors outside the ropes, athletes can’t be expected to live in a plastic bubble.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass, the 31-year-old responded to the outcry generated by his Disney World soiree.
“I don’t care,” Day said Tuesday morning. “Like if people make memes about me, I think a lot of them are funny. I think that—I mean, it’s fine. It is what it is. People trying to be funny and that, I get a good laugh out of it and I’m OK with that. You can tell between people that are being funny and people that are actually trying to—that really hate you.
“It’s unfortunate, but it just reflects what they are as a person, because it means—I don’t have a problem with them, they have a problem with me. So it’s more on them than myself.”
While Day said the best type of response is to “live well and prosper,” he did compare some of the online barbs to bullying.
“I mean, it’s like when you’re going through school and you get bullied at school. I mean I got bullied, I mean, a lot at school, but it’s just words,” Day said. “So you just got to take it on the chin and just get up and go again.
“It’s something that sometimes it’s hard to, when you see someone write something or someone says something to you, you feel like deep down inside you want to defend yourself, but like you’re in a better spot. You know what I mean? You’re walking inside the ropes, you’re playing golf for a living, you’re doing a lot of good things. I’ve got a good family. I’ve got three kids that are healthy and happy at home. I’m in a tremendous spot.
“So I just sometimes it’s hard to bite my tongue, but I got to do as best as I can to, I guess, project what kind of image I’m trying to get across to people, and I’ve got sponsors that put their time and effort into me, so I got to look out for their best interests as well.”
The Australian remarked it was “creepy” that someone took a photo of him and his family in a stealth manner, but also acknowledged there’s not much he can do in such a situation.
“It’s hard because when you’re in the spotlight, I guess, to a certain degree, you have to act in a professional manner, and you do have your hand tied behind your back because you can’t bite back sometimes because it makes you look worse off,” Day said. “And yet you’re put on a pedestal as an athlete or as a celebrity, I guess, and as soon as you bite on what they’re trying to get at, you can’t really—you don’t gain anything from it, other than it makes you look sour or angry or bitter and sometimes it’s unfortunate, because you can’t really defend yourself, even though I know what you guys went and did on that over the weekend, but that’s just social media and that’s why I don’t look at it. I don’t really, I don’t look at it. I have an Instagram account, I have Twitter, but I really don’t look at it too much. I just don’t. I try not to pay attention to it.”
As for the trip itself, Day went as far as calling the trip therapeutic, mentioning he gets “sad and depressed” when he’s stuck inside with an ailment.
“That’s the biggest thing, I’m not going to be sitting in my bus depressed and especially when the doctors tell me to go and walk, so I’m going to go and make sure that I hang out with my family because I do have a life other than golf,” he said.
Despite the injury, Day is set to play in this week’s Players Championship, saying his back feels fine after getting in 18 holes on Monday. Prior to his WD, Day had finished inside the top 13 in his other five appearances this season, including three top-fives.
Winner of the 2016 Players, Day will tee off Thursday at 1:48 p.m. with Tony Finau and Francesco Molinari.