He may have just won the US PGA Championship and become golf’s newest major champion, but things have not always been plain sailing for Jason Day.
Day’s difficult childhood has been well documented. The Australian was born in Beaudesert, a small town in the southeast corner of Queensland. His family lived in poverty and he only took up the game of golf when his dad found a three-wood at the rubbish dump when Day was three years old. Day lost his father, Alvin, to cancer when he was just 11 and, as a result, his family began to fall apart. His sister ran away from home and 12 year-old Jason became reliant on alcohol. By his own admission, he went off the rails.
Not the typical upbringing for someone trying to forge a reputation as a golfer, which perhaps makes his story even more special.
Jason Day’s talent has never been questioned. He turned pro in 2006 aged 18 and four years later became the youngest Australian to win on the PGA Tour. But Day really made his mark in 2011 at the Masters, where he was tied for the lead a number of times on the final day before finishing runner-up, two shots behind Charl Schwartzel. Proving to be one of the most consistent players on tour, Day forged a perhaps unfortunate reputation as one of the sport’s ‘nearly-men’.
The Australian finished as runner-up at the Masters and US Open in 2011 and at the US Open again in 2013. He was in contention at the US Open in June, but suffered from vertigo throughout, having to lie down on the course a number of times during the competition. Despite that condition, Day battled on. He had a share of the lead heading into the final round but faded to finish in ninth. At The Open in July, Day missed out on the playoff by one shot – his sixth top-four finish in a major, without a win. At that point, fans and media began to question whether he would ever win one.
At Whistling Straits on Sunday, Day took a three-shot lead going into the last hole with Jordan Spieth in his shadow. He couldn’t fail to win this one, could he? When Day’s third shot landed next to the pin it was job done. He realised his achievement of finally becoming a major champion and fought back the tears to tap home his winning putt. It was clear from the embrace with his caddie just how much both he and the win meant to him.
Day credits a lot of his success to his mentor, coach and caddie Colin Swatton. It was Swatton who picked Jason up and played father-figure after Alvin’s untimely death. Swatton was a coach at the Hills International Golf Academy and installed discipline back into Jason’s life. Speaking after his win on Sunday night, a tearful Day said: “He’s taken me from a kid that was getting into fights at home, getting drunk at 12 and not heading in the right direction to a major champion. He means the world to me. I love him to death.”
Finishing with a record score of 20 under par, Day had his wife, Ellie, and son, Dash, waiting for him at the 18th green. Renowned on tour as a devout family-man, Day picked up his son and was on his way to hand in his scorecard when Dash asked: “Can we go home now?” – Not yet Dash, not yet. Seemingly unaware of the magnitude of his dad’s achievement, Dash kept himself occupied throughout the presentation ceremony by playing around in the bunkers.
From a small town in southeast Queensland, Jason Day will now go down in history as a golfing great. It was incredibly moving to watch him celebrate with his family as well as his caddie, Colin Swatton. Day is a player who insists on overcoming any challenge thrown at him. I’m sure there are more majors to come for Day, who will no longer be known as golf’s ‘nearly-man’ but, instead, a major champion.