AUSTIN, Texas — Six holes into his opening match, Jason Day walked off the golf course.
It was the fourth time in the last three years that he withdrew in the middle of a tournament.
Only this was different.
Physically, he never felt better. Emotionally, he was a wreck.
Day walked briskly toward the media center at the Dell Technologies Match Play and before he could speak, the Australian began wiping tears from his face. He revealed that his mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer at the start of the year, was having surgery Friday and he couldn’t keep his mind off it.
“It’s really hard to even comprehend being on the golf course right now because of what she’s gone through,” Day said.
He said doctors in Australia told her she only had 12 months to live. Day brought her to Ohio, where he lives with his wife and two children, for more tests that at least revealed hope. Surgery on Friday will give them a better idea.
He was 3 down after six holes to Pat Perez. He said his mind was all over the place.
“She is the reason that I’m playing golf today,” Day said.
He was 12 when his father died of stomach cancer. It was his father who doled out the punishment to keep Day from getting out of line, and when Alvyn Day was no longer there, Day found trouble. He was drinking. He was getting into fights.
That’s when his mother, Dening, stepped in.
She took out a second mortgage on the house and borrowed money from relatives to send her son to a golf academy some seven hours away. That’s where he met Colin Swatton, a coach for his golf, a mentor for life and now his caddie.
When he won the PGA Championship in 2015, the start of his rise to No. 1 in the world, Day told of watching his mother cut the lawn with a knife because they couldn’t afford a lawnmower. They had no hot water tank, so she could use a kettle for hot water to shower. Day shopped for used clothes at a store where for $5 he could stuff as much as he could into a bag.
He did not take questions Wednesday, leaving the press center for his car with his wife, Ellie.
One question that went unanswered: Why even bother coming to the Match Play in the first place?
Day was the defending champion after rolling through seven matches, with only one of them — the semifinal match against Rory McIlroy — reaching the 18th hole. Even then, he wasn’t sure he could play. He tweaked his back in the opening round and kept everyone in suspense as to whether he could play the second round. He showed up, then drove the green on the par-4 opening hole at Austin Country Club to within 12 feet for eagle.
At his best, Day is as daunting as any player.
He worked in the offseason to shorten his swing to ease pressure on his back, though the results came slowly this year. That’s not unusual. As much time as he takes off from October through December, he is a notoriously slow starter.
He missed the cut at Torrey Pines. In his other four tournaments, he was a combined 42 shots out of the lead. His only top 10 was at Pebble Beach, where he finished seven shots behind Jordan Spieth.
His revelations Wednesday shed more light on it.
“It’s been a very, very hard time for me to even be thinking about playing golf,” Day said. “And emotionally, it’s been wearing on me for a while. And I know my mom says not to let it get to me, but it really has.”
His agent, Bud Martin, said Day hasn’t spoken to him much about his mother. He said he played at Bay Hill last week and Match Play this week because he felt a responsibility to the fans, to the tournament and yes, even his mother.
“Truthfully, the most important thing in her world is him playing golf and being happy,” Martin said.
Day doesn’t play the Shell Houston Open next week. After that, it’s the Masters, and Martin didn’t know how long he would be out. So much depends on Friday, how surgery goes to remove a mass that Day said was 3 to 4 centimeters. The hope is for a recovery, which is better news than what she heard from doctors at home.
“I kidded his mother a few days ago on the phone,” Martin said. “I said, ‘The news seems to be getting better. I want to make certain you are there during his Hall of Fame speech.’ She loves it. It’s important to her to support him.”
And it was important to Day to support her.
“I’m going to do my best and try and be there the best I can for her,” he said, “because she is the reason that I’m playing golf today.”