Jason Day believes when one door closes, another opens.
Day, who grew up in relative poverty, lost his controlling, abusive father to cancer at 12. His father’s death triggered a chain of events that would lead to Day becoming world No. 1. “When I lost my dad I had an opportunity of going to a golf academy,” explained the rugged Aussie. “If I didn’t lose my dad, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”
A native of Queensland, Australia, Day is the inaugural recipient of the Greg Norman Medal, awarded annually to the best professional Australian golfer in the world. In 2010, he became the youngest Australian ever to win a PGA Tour event and, since joining the Tour in 2008, has spent a combined 51 weeks as the top-ranked player in the world. A twelve-time winner, his best year was 2015, when he won five events, including his only major — the PGA Championship.
Day has represented Australia on four President’s Cup teams. He joins Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy as the only multiple-time winners of the WGC Match Play Championships. Day won the 2016 Players Championship wire-to-wire, one of eight titles in a 15-month span. He has posted 70 top-ten finishes, and earned over $43 million in prize money in a decade on Tour.
Born in Beaudesert, a small town 60 miles south of Brisbane, on this date in 1987, Day is the youngest of three children born to an Australian father and Filipino mother. Alvin Day was a violent alcoholic who ruled with iron fists. He introduced his only son to golf when Jason was just six, and would occasionally beat the boy following a round if Jason failed to shoot a good score.
Alvin Day died of stomach cancer when Jason was 12. In the absence of his father, the youngster started going off the rails — late nights of drinking and partying. In a desperate move to save her son, Dening Day sold the family home and sent Jason to a golf academy in the Gold Coast. There, he met Colin Swatton, the father figure he craved. With Swatton serving as both swing coach and mentor, Day morphed from rebellious teen into one of the best junior golfers in the world.
Day – who broke 70 for the first time at 12 — developed a relentless work ethic. He taped a list of goals above his bunk and rose each morning at five to practice before school. He hit balls at lunch, then after school until sunset. Day won his first junior event at 13. He was twice awarded the Australian Junior Order of Merit. At 16 won the Queensland Amateur, becoming the youngest champion in the event’s 104-year history. Day’s first trip outside Australia was to San Diego, where he won the Boy’s 15-17 division at the 2004 Callaway World Junior Championships, a summer rite of passage for the who’s who of amateur golf.
He again came to the U.S., this time at 19, where he joined the then-Nationwide Tour. “He was one of those guys who was really willing to grind, to get better every day,” said Erik Compton, who has known Day since their days on the Nationwide circuit. After finishing fifth on the Nationwide money list, Day earned his PGA Tour card in 2008. He won his first PGA Tour event at 22, at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship, and finished the season ranked 21st on the money list.
Day finished tied for second at his Masters debut in 2011. Two months later, he tied for second at the U.S. Open and broke into the world’s Top Ten. Poised for a breakthrough on golf’s biggest stage, the unflappable Aussie posted four more top-ten finishes in majors before his 26th birthday.
At the U.S. Open in 2015, Day literally collapsed on the 9th hole at Chambers Bay while finishing his second round, when hit by vertigo. He refused to withdraw, held the lead after 54 holes, and finished ninth. The following month, he left a putt inches short on the 72ndhole at St. Andrews which would have put him in a playoff at the Open Championship.
Day arrived at the 2015 PGA Championship fresh off a win at the Canadian Open. His brilliant play continued. Battling Jordan Spieth, who was attempting to win his third major of the year, Day shot a record 20-under to better Spieth by three to capture his first Grand Slam title. He capped off his magnificent season with his 4th and 5th victories of the year — at The Barclays and BMW Championship, respectively – and vaulted to the world number one ranking for the first time.
Day’s momentum carried into 2016. A superb ball-striker and fearless putter, he won three events – including the Players Championship, considered golf’s “fifth major.” His world was turned upside-down the following year, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Given one year to live, Dening Day moved from Australia to Ohio to be with her son while undergoing treatment. Unable to concentrate on golf, Day went winless for the first time since 2013. “I didn’t want to be on the golf course,” he tearfully told reporters after withdrawing from the 2017 WGC. “I knew that if she was going to die then I wanted to spend as much time as I could with her.”
Dening Day fully recovered, and Jason returned to the winner’s circle in 2018. In January, he won his second Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the site of his life-changing win at the 2004 World Junior. It was his first win in 18 months. In May of this year, he claimed the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte by two shots over Nick Watney and Aaron Wise. “Anything he achieves is just really well-deserved because he worked harder than anyone,” said Luke Reardon, Day’s boarding school roommate in Gold Coast.
Happy 31st birthday to a man who has truly earned everything he has achieved in life, and in golf.