In a snap estimate, Jason Day figured the emotion of feeling the green jacket on his shoulders Sunday would be 100 times greater than the joy that brought him to tears when he won his one major title. Truth be told, though, his real reward this week was the feel of something falling off his shoulders. A leaden weight.
He learned Monday that Dening, his mother, is doing so well after lung cancer surgery that she will not need chemotherapy. “Which,” he said Tuesday before going out to practice, “is really, really exciting stuff.”
The 2015 PGA Championship winner and former World No. 1 golfer admitted, “I’m a little bit unprepared, to be honest.” Big deal. In another quick estimate, he figured peace of mind trumps beating golf balls on the range any day.
“Just being a lot happier and enjoying myself a lot more, the swing feels like I’m hitting it a lot better,” said the man who withdrew after six holes of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago because he just could not stand being on the course in Texas while his mother was in Ohio, getting operated on for an illness that had prompted doctors at home in Australia to say she had only 12 months to live.
The background to all of this is simple yet deep. Day is different from many elite golfers in that a whole bunch of them can trace their greatness to the teaching, guidance, strength and prodding of their fathers. Not Day. It was his mother, all 4 feet, 11 inches of her, who did all the heavy lifting.
“She is the reason why I’m playing professional golf now,” he said in the sparkling new interview room at an impressive new media center at Augusta National. “I owe everything to her.”
Technically speaking, Day’s father, Alvin, was the one who got him started in golf. But if not for Dening, there is no way this 29-year-old from Queensland would have a major championship under his belt and millions in the bank.
“This could be a long one. I’ll cut it short,” Day said Tuesday while introducing his journey. He cut out the messy parts, the ones about Alvin having been abusive and a dangerous drinker; the ones in which Dening noticed bruises on her son and insisted that when father and son went to the golf course, then she was going to go, too.
“So my dad passed away when I was 12 and she took a mortgage out on the house and borrowed more money from my aunt and uncle to send me away to a golf academy because I was getting in trouble at home,” he said.
It was at that academy that Day fell under the tough-love direction of Colin Swatton, who became his coach, mentor, father figure and is his caddie to this day. “A door closed and another door opened up, and it was all because of what my mom did,” the golfer said, adding kudos to sacrifices his two sisters made for him.
Anyway, when he heard that Dening — the little woman who once left her home in the Philippines for a better life — had a year to live, and before he knew she had been coughing up blood for three months without telling anyone, he was not going to let go without a fight. He got in touch with the best doctors he could find at Ohio State, near his home in his wife’s hometown. He rejected her insistence that she could not take time off from work at a shipping company in Australia. He was there for the surgery when they cut out a third of her lung.
He has not ruled out asking the surgeons if she could fly down here this weekend if he is in contention. Either way, he feels like a winner already.
“We’ve only got one mom, so have to make sure that we spend the time that we can with her,” said the happiest golfer at Augusta this week, with or without a green jacket.