Jason Day discusses quality of life, blowing in to balloons amid back issues at The Masters


Jason Day says that he has to blow in to a balloon to realign his ribcage as he discusses back issues in detail after playing his way in to contention after the second round of The Masters

Jason Day has suffered with recurring back problems since he was a teenager, and his latest set-back came just two minutes before the opening round at The Masters on Thursday. 

The former World No.1 had been bending down to kiss his daughter Lucy by the practice green just before his starting time and ended up putting out his back, an occurance that has become an all too regular. 

He had already been forced to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month after an MRI revealed he had an annular tear in his back, which then resulted in epidurals and shots in his back, in addition to the regular physio he gets from chiropractor Stuart Love. 

Day said that he had felt good heading in to the year’s first major before his latest set-back, but that there had been one silver lining to the incident: the pain was on his left side, when it would typically be on his right. 

He decided to play on as Love walked the front-nine with him, but despite his good scoring Day visibly struggled to walk and needed to recevie on-course medical treatment by the second tee and again later in the round.

Afterwards, Day ended up declining any interviews with media after his round, and woke up disappointed when the pain hadn’t improved overnight as much as he hoped.

But after his wife Ellie told him to ‘suck it up, it’s Masters week’, Day fired an impressive five-under 67 to grab a share of the lead at the end of day two, and then opened up about what happened. 

“I was on the putting green yesterday and I went down to kiss my little girl about two minutes before I had to walk on to the tee, and my back went out,” Day explained. “It’s obviously not the way you wanted to start this year’s Masters, but you know, overall, it happened in a different spot. It was more on the left‑hand side than previous spots and typically happens on the right‑hand side.

“You know, I was very concerned about it, but I think where it hurt the most was just taking a couple practice swings. Well, as I was swinging, I think I was focused into the shot where it didn’t hurt as much, but just walking the side hills and up hills and down hills, yesterday was tough, and I’m glad it’s warm out there.

“So I got some physio last night, my chiro, Stuart Love, saw him last night, then I saw him again this morning, icing my back. This is not my first time where my back has gone out, so I kind of know the protocol of trying to get myself back into at least game mode to get out there and play.”

During his press conference, he gave an honest description of his pain, how he tries to combat it, and if he would ever consider surgery. Here’s a run down of what he said. 

On how close he was to withdrawing…

“I said to my caddie, Luke, I said, ‘If this stays the same pain as it was on the putting green, I’ll probably end up withdrawing.’

“But it was in a different spot, so it was kind of new to me. I didn’t know how it was going to go throughout the day. Then I saw my chiro after the first hole on the second tee, and then I saw him again on the fourth tee, and the pain actually kind of just stayed the same.

“Pain is a funny thing, it goes up and down, and everybody’s pain threshold is different. Someone that is in a lot of pain might feel, you know, something totally different compared to me, so it’s hard.

“Every day I feel like I wake up with some sort of aches, you know, and I think you just kind of learn to live with it and you just go along the way.”

How sore was the pain if he were to rate it?…

“I didn’t know how to rate it because if 10 ‑‑ if 10 is like the worst it’s going to be, that’s obviously a withdrawal, and that was at Bay Hill this year. It would be probably right around a 5.

“It was sore and it was hard to walk uphill because I couldn’t put a lot of weight on my left‑hand side, and sometimes it was hard to get across onto my left hip, especially through the shot.”

On how optimistic he is that he can continue to play well through the pain over the weekend…

“I feel a lot more optimistic now today than I did yesterday, and I’m hoping that, you know, bar some outrageous thing that could possibly happen, I’m hoping that, you know, I feel this good going into Saturday and Sunday.”

On what Ellie said to him this morning… 

“This morning I woke up, and I was disappointed because I thought my back was going to be a lot better than what it was, but obviously we worked on it last night, so things are going to probably ‑‑ we moved a few things and things are going to be sore.

“But like I said earlier, my wife, Ellie, I looked at her, and I was kind of moping a little bit in the bath, and she’s like, “It’s the Masters, you need to suck it up.” (Laughter.) So I can’t complain about it too much. Because I said earlier that she’s birthed three children and I haven’t, so she’s a lot stronger as a person than me with regards to pain and I just hit a little white golf ball around a course.

“She was trying to get me ready for today, and it ultimately did. Just sitting there by myself, I’m like, man, I’ve got to somehow change my mind‑set coming into today, because if that happens ‑‑ you know, I could miss the cut today and go home, and I’ve got the excuse of my back. No one’s expecting me to go out and play well because I’ve got a back issue.

“So I’ve got to, you know, be mentally strong and sometimes having a good, supporting wife and knowing what she has to say in certain situations to get me ready is crucial, and it obviously helped today.

“She’s, like, in my corner. We got some good work in this morning with regards to the back, and things felt much better.”

On whether he thought he would even finish yesterday, let alone lead after round 2… 

“Typically when I have a back issue, I see how it progresses. Sometimes, like at Bay Hill, it tightened up. These two days, everything loosened up, which is nice. Sometimes it tightens up and sometimes it loosens up; you just don’t know, it is how it is.

“Obviously having Stuart out there helped me along the way. He got me through nine holes. I’m like, okay, if it stays the same way it is right now, then I’ll be able to get through 18, and then I’ll be able to see you and hopefully get the ‑‑ the pain will come off a little bit more and hopefully I’ll be able to see you again tomorrow morning and hopefully the pain will just slowly diminish over time.

“You know when you have an injury, you know going into it, we’ll see how it progresses. If it gets worse, then can’t play. If it gets better or stays the same, let’s just tough it out and see if we can make something of it. And fortunately I’m able to be tied lead right now through 36 holes.”

On appreciating being at Augusta and where he is in the field despite back issues… 

“I think it’s just an appreciation of being able to play at this golf tournament. Being able to walk the grounds and play the golf course, and even if it is a little bit of pain, everyone ‑‑ like I said, all these golfers out here have some sort of pain, whether it’s knees or feet or wrists or back. Everyone’s playing through a little bit of pain. Sometimes it’s worse than others.

“But I just enjoy this tournament so much. I get a thrill out of coming here and it’s my favorite tournament to play just because they do such a fantastic job with regards to how they treat everyone, not just the players, but everyone that walks through the gates and is walking around the grounds.

“It would be more of a disappointing feeling for me to be able to go home yesterday, knowing that I had to pull out because of my back, and I feel very blessed to be able to play, especially over the last two days, and being able to go out there today and shoot 67, was a very, very good score.

“So I can’t get ahead of myself. There’s still 36 holes left, so the main goal is to get myself into contention and hopefully I can do that by Sunday, and if I can do that, then maybe capitalize on the opportunities and hopefully grab a green jacket. That would be nice.”

On if he was serious when he said to someone he felt like he was 50 years old…

“Sometimes I wake up and I feel like I’m 50, sometimes I wake up and I feel like I’m 70, and sometimes I wake up and feel like I’m 18 again. It just comes and goes, and that’s just how it is.

“I’m trying to do everything I possibly can to make sure that I have longevity in my game, and that’s something that I need to focus more on now than ever before, just strictly because I have to work harder than most guys, especially with a back injury.

“Having a talk with Tiger and several other players that have gone through the same issues, it’s no joke. There’s a lot of guys out there that either have pain or annular tears. Majority of these guys probably have annular tears. Even in this room probably have annular tears in their back but just don’t know about it.

“Just, unfortunately, golf is a funny game where you’re tilted a certain way and you’re turning and rotating and torqueing in a motion that is, especially for the lower back, is not supposed to happen. The amount of repetitions that we’ve done as kids and adults is a lot, and it slowly wears on you.

Why blowing in to a balloon to realign his ribcage is part of his routine to help his back…

“So I have my own protocols at home. This is going to sound really weird; I have to get my ribcage back in position. So my ribcage is out of position, so you have your pelvic floor, your ribcage, and the bottom of your mouth. This is my trainer talking, not me. This comes straight from him.

“So my ribcage ‑‑ when my back was sore last week, my ribcage was out, and I was kind of aligned ‑‑ my left shoulder was high, I think it was, and if you look at the back line of where my pants are on the back, you could see that my hips were kind of shifted and tilted.

“I blow into balloons in certain positions to try and get my ribcage down, but then also I try and ‑‑ I’ve got these other exercises that are trying to get space in the joint with regards to my hips and my back and my shoulders, and that takes about 30 minutes in the morning ‑‑ 20 or 30 minutes in the morning and 20 or 30 minutes at night.

“And then I go see my chiro, and sometimes it’s 10 minutes and sometimes it’s 20 or 30 minutes, as all, so there’s a good hour, and you obviously have to go out and warm up and make sure everything’s good.

“I’ll go see Stuart this afternoon and do my exercises tonight. It’s a pain, but I have to do it, you know.

“I think blowing into a balloon is pretty funny. Trying to get your ribcage down and blow into a balloon, this is very new to me, actually. It sounds very insane when you’re sitting there.

“I flew down to Florida this last week, and I met my trainer, and we’re in the pilot’s lounge of this FBO, and there’s two pilots, you know, sitting next to me ‑‑ or I’m laying on the ground and they are sitting there, and I’m blowing these balloons up. And as you set the balloons go, it sounds like you’ve let one go, right? So every 30 seconds, I would be letting the balloons out, and these guys are looking at me very strange.

“They understood what’s going on, but it’s not your usual what you see during ‑‑ and Kevin Duffy, my trainer, can obviously explain a lot more, but this is kind of new to me.
I’m just doing whatever I can to feel good. So if blowing in balloons is what I need to do to feel good, then I will do it all day long.”

On the prospect of surgery as the next step?…

No. No. No, no, no, no. I want to stay away from that as much as possible. Once you cut yourself, you can’t undo what you’ve done in there, so if I can just stay away from that, that’s the No. 1 key.

On how if affects his quality of life…

“Sometimes it takes me ten minutes to get out of bed, some years, just to roll out of bed and get up and move around.  I’m walking around.  But some years it’s different.

“Yeah, it’s just unfortunate because I can’t ‑‑ you know, having to go lay down, ice my back yesterday; I was back at the buses and my boy’s hitting golf balls with Caleb Watson and the kids outside. Like you want to spend some time with them, but you’re in pain so you have to go back and ice your back.

“It’s unfortunate because, you know, as a natural distraction that you have after the round, like at a big tournament, is your family and you want to spend quality time with them.
I’m lucky I have a very supportive wife that allows me to go and do these things, and lay on the bed, and, you know, put ice on my back.

“Yeah, sometimes, some years are better than others and you can have ‑‑ it’s hard. Emotions go up‑and‑down. Sometimes you can be down and depressed because it feels like your world is kind of crumbling around you, and you don’t know if you can come back from injuries, whether it’s thumb injury or back injury or wrist or knees.

“As an athlete, I don’t know if anyone here has played a sport before and been competitive at it; that when you have an injury, I feel like, you know, myself, it feels like your world is ending and you’ve got nothing else and you’ve put everything that you possibly can in your life into one thing, and it can be very depressing and emotional at times.

“And it’s hard, because you don’t see the end, you know, anywhere close. It feels like you’re just, you know, roaming around and you can’t get out of this injury.

“And then all of a sudden, just somehow pop out of it. Yeah, sometimes I’ve just got to take myself a lot less seriously and know that I have a good family and I’ve got good support around me, and that golf sometimes is not the thing that shapes me.
People like me out on the golf course because of what I do. Unfortunately they don’t know who I am as a person, and I understand that. People like me because I play golf really well.

“But at the end of the day, I know the people that love me and support me will always be there, regardless if I tee up another ball tomorrow or not, and that’s the main thing that every time I go through an injury, that I always think about.”

On whether back problems make him change his warmup…

No, there’s no reps that will change with regards to my warmup. I think it’s going to be more so in my practice leading into tournaments and the prep that I do. I had a chat with my coach, Colin Swatton, last week, and I think I’m going to change the way I practice. Not so much with my putting and my short game. Still keep the same amount of quantity and quality, but lower the amount of balls I actually hit in the off weeks, but put a lot more emphasis on trying to hit every shot like you’re out on the golf course.

So I concentrate more, especially, and I think if I can do that and lower the reps, then hopefully through the level of concentration, then it will be a level of quality. Hopefully that adds up the same as to hitting ‑‑ instead of 40 drives, I hit 20 drives. Hopefully that adds up the same.

On whether practicing on the greens makes it worse…

“No, not for me. It’s always been fine. I mean, you get sore back bending over in a certain position. It is an awkward, awkward way to stand, but I think I’ve been doing it for so long now, and you just always walk off with a little bit of back pain.

“You know, putting and chipping has always been fine. It’s just the bigger movements that have been tough for me. Especially ‑‑ I don’t want to have to get into it, but early extending through impact and crunching down on the right side is typically a no‑go for me.”

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