“The wrong side of the tracks” is not a term that gets bandied about in golf circles a whole lot. Normally the greatest hardship a young golfer has to overcome is growing up playing on a public course. That is not the case with Australian player, Jason Day.
Day was born in Beaudesert, a rural outpost of several thousand souls an hour drive south of the Queensland capital of Brisbane. If the residents weren’t tending the horses or cattle, they found work in a shoe factory. When Jason was six years old, his father Alvyn retrieved a discarded three-wood from the local rubbish dump and cut it down so his son could thump tennis balls around the yard. Definitely not as nice as his own set of junior clubs, but apparently a young Day didn’t care.
A Golf Career Derailed and Placed Back on the Tracks
The Days finagled a junior membership for Jason at the Beaudesert Golf Club, which entitled him to play six holes once a week on Saturday. When he was twelve years old, his father passed away from stomach cancer. His father had been the disciplinarian in the family, and with his mother off working to support the family, Jason was left to his own devices much of the time. For the 12-year old boy, that meant drinking and street fighting.
Jason Day was about as far from the path towards golf stardom as one could imagine. His play in local events around Queensland, however, attracted the attention of Colin Swatton who was the golf coach at nearby Hills International College. Day’s mother took out a second mortgage on their house to send Jason there. When he was 13 years old he won an Australian Masters junior event, and at 16 he took home the trophy in the Australian Boys’ Amateur.
Day’s fine play as a junior launched him on the international circuit. In 2004, when he was 16 years old he won the Boys 15-17 Division Junior World Golf Championship in San Diego with a four-day total of 281, joining such former junior champions as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, and Nick Price. Day, however, was such an outlier that his hometown was not even listed next to his name.
Highs and Lows of an Early Professional Career
As soon as his schooling was complete, Day turned professional and shortly after earned sponsorships with TaylorMade and Adidas Golf. As an 18-year old, he got into seven PGA events on sponsor exemptions and made five cuts but failed to earn his full-time playing privileges at qualifying school.
In 2007, Jason became the youngest golfer ever to win a PGA-Tour sponsored event when he closed with a 67 to capture the Legend Financial Classic on the Nationwide Tour. He was officially 19 years, seven months, and 26 days old.
When Day arrived on tour full-time in 2008, success arrived in fits and starts. His first win came in 2010 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, but entering the 2014 season that remained his only PGA title. That year he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and became a solid Top-10 player in the world.
Day and the Majors
Day has always saved his best play for the majors, piling up seven Top-10s before 2015. But thanks to the exploits of Woods and Rory McIlroy (and now Jordan Spieth), golf in the 21st century is laden with expectations that young players never faced before. Ben Hogan was 34 years old when he won his first major, Arnold Palmer 28, and Phil Mickelson 33. But because Jason Day – all of 27 years old – had three runner-up finishes in the Masters and the U.S. Open, there were whispers that he could not win the Big One.
Those concerns were raised again this year when Day was a co-leader after 54 holes at both the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he was suffering from a bout of vertigo, and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, and failed to win either event. Instead of seeing his rise as a steady progression to the top, an impatient golf world was tossing Day onto the pile of ‘players not quite good enough to win major championships’.
While the glare of the golfing spotlight burned on an injured McIlroy and an ascendant Spieth, Day spent his time leading up to the PGA Championship by winning the Canadian Open with a closing birdie binge. His momentum rolled into his next attempt at earning a major title at Whistling Straits and the 2015 PGA Championship. After two solid opening rounds, Day took command again on Saturday with eight birdies and an eagle. This time, he was never headed on Sunday and with the help of this amazing 50-foot putt on the 7th hole of his final round, cruised to his first major title in record-breaking fashion, finishing at 20 under par.
With him every step of the way on the bag was the man who pulled him across “the wrong side of the tracks,” Col Swatton. Ever since their days at Hills International, Swatton has been Day’s swing coach and, most importantly, life mentor. Their journey is not over, however. Day, now the number-three ranked player in the world who travels the circuit with his family in an RV, clearly has the Number One ranking in his sights down the road.