To call Jason Day a choker highlights the ignorance of the person making the comment, writes Greg Cary.
It has been a magnificent few weeks for Queensland and Australian Golf with Karrie Webb winning the Australian Open for the fifth time and then Jason Day confirming his status as one of the world’s best with a wonderful win in the World match play.
How sad that some of the coverage of Jason’s triumph was sullied by the language used to describe it. One of the harshest words that can be applied in sport is the tag “choker”. It is a term used to describe someone whose nerves get the better of them and who crack when the pressure is on. There is no shame in this and the mind/brain remains pretty much unexplored territory. In that sense, it says less about the object of the allegation than it does the ignorance of the person making it. Significantly, it applies not only to athletes and, at a time when we are learning more about depression and mental vulnerability, it’s disgraceful to call people having troubles with various situations “chokers”.
I was amazed to see it used in one of our leading newspapers by a senior sportswriter in association with Jason Day after his courageous victory. We were told that Jason would now no longer be viewed as someone who wilted under pressure. That the choker tag would be lifted. Jason Day a choker? At just 26 he has already won twice on the US PGA Tour and has been runner up in three Majors – the Masters in 2011 and the U.S Open in 2011 and 2013. He also finished just two shots behind Adam Scott last year at Augusta. Many a fine player has completed their career without stats like that.
Jason is a prodigious talent who has travelled far after learning the game at Beaudesert and Kooralbyn. His story is one of personal dedication and immense family tragedy and sacrifice. This is not a man who “chokes” on course or off. He has confronted all manner of hurdles - and overcome them.
Only those who have experienced the pressures of the spotlight have any sense of how debilitating that can sometimes be. Few who finally triumph have not failed earlier on. Usually because of the inability to control the mind, which in turn plays havoc with the nerves and technique. A vicious cycle. We are, in the end, fairly complex organisms, not always easily understood. By ourselves or others. Besides, finishing second is no disgrace.
Jack Nicklaus has won more Majors than anyone. At 18 it’s a record likely to elude Tiger. Less known is that Jack Nicklaus finished second 19 times. A choker? No, the best ever. To win at anything you first must put yourself in contention. Every time you do you learn more about the experience: how to control mind and body, maintain focus, keep the extraneous thoughts away. Stay in the moment. And enjoy it!
Earlier in his career Jason claimed he wanted to be better than Tiger. I wrote at the time that it was better to maximise his own skills and see where it leads. How encouraging to read his tweet after the final in the Arizona desert: “I am not Rory. I am not Tiger. I’m not Adam Scott. I’m Jason Day. I need to do the work and it will happen.” He has…and it is.
Discovering who we are can be a long journey. But it is one well worth taking.