Prez Cup: Day returns as Australia's prodigal son
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Do not salute his homecoming with pageantry and fireworks. The sparkle is not Jason Day’s style. Instead, study his journey, appreciate the hurdles he has cleared, then smile on his behalf and feel warmth, for in a small way Day’s saga helps restore your faith in the human spirit.
OK, so he never set out to do all that. His mission was single-minded and perhaps a product of teenage naivete – “to be No. 1 in the world by the time I was 23,” he said. But seemingly in the shortest of time, Day has grown up without the sense of entitlement that envelops so many young talents; from hardships that would defeat so many, he has developed a remarkable maturity and achieved levels of success to be admired.
“I have told him how much I admire his game, how I love how he goes about his business and how he handles himself,” Adam Scott said. “He’s a great story.”
That finally, after a hiatus that he never imagined would be this lengthy, Day is bringing his tale back to his native Australia is arguably the best angle to the upcoming Presidents Cup. When the folks Down Under last saw Day plying his golf skills on Aussie soil, he was winning everything that could be won on the amateur level. That was in 2005-06, and what has happened since – turning pro, navigating the toughest professional golf landscape in the world, earning millions, coming close to a Masters title, and moving to seventh in the world order – never really has been celebrated Down Under because Day always has been on the other side of the world.
But it hasn’t been Day shunning his Aussie roots. Quite the contrary.
“It’s been unfortunate, injuries or surgeries or Q-School, then stuff with my green card. But I really do miss it. I really do want to go back there. I can’t wait to show Ellie (his wife) where I grew up, to show her where I’m from.”
So much of Jason Day is focused on where he has been – cemented upon PGA Tour leaderboards for most of the past two years. His first win and four other top 10s in 2010 were a sign that he had arrived; 10 more top 10s in 2011, including a riveting Masters battle that left him tied for second, have provided fuel to the argument that he might just be the best player on the International Team.
But it’s “where I’m from” that leads you to admire Day and to better understand his dogged determination to meet his lofty standards.
“I’m very goal-oriented,” Day said. “I write them down all the time, and I try to achieve them, and I am very, very serious.”
His father, Alvin, introduced Jason to golf and instilled a passion for the game. Understandable, then, that when his father became sick and died from stomach cancer, the 12-year-old lost his life’s compass and wandered not only from golf, but from the family structure. Credit his mother, Adenil, for setting her son back on track, beginning with boarding school at a golf academy that brought Jason in contact with Col Swatton, “the father figure I needed,” Day said.
Reckless teenage years and damaging vices were replaced by an insatiable appetite for golf. His talent shined through. He won in Australia and he won in San Diego, at the 2004 Callaway World Junior Championship, and if there have been bumps along the way, nothing compares to the fear of the unknown.
“I’m very, very thankful to be where I am,” Day said. “I could’ve been in different places.”
He turned pro in 2006 and pursued the game where only the best succeed: America. Swatton – his swing coach/caddie/surrogate father – has been with him every step of the way, which includes through the front door of Mavis Winkle’s Irish Pub in Twinsburg, Ohio, which is where you go for “wings and beer” if you find yourself between Akron and Cleveland.
Ellie Harvey, the beautiful waitress, caught Day’s eye one night; some creative work by the young Aussie landed her phone number. And though it took the shy Aussie to act upon things, it has worked out beautifully. They were married in 2009, and for all the stories she has heard about Australia, finally she will see for herself.
He’ll return as one of the world’s elite players, but you’ll excuse him if he feels a pang of disappointment. After all, he’s not No. 1, and his days as a 23-year-old are coming to a close.
“But I don’t turn 24 until Nov. 12,” he said, laughing. “So I guess I have a little bit of time left.”
Truth is, he has a long, bright stretch of time left – and for the grandest of reasons, too. He was strong, and he earned it.