Some players keep their aspirations hidden from view but Jason Day is not one of them.
In fact, had the Australian not claimed a major championship – let alone fallen just short, time after time – one would be left to wonder about the extent of the psychological damage.
Sergio García, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie have had otherwise bright careers blighted by an inability to claim any of golf’s big four. They were never as forthright as Day, though; a man with an oft-stated ambition to be the finest player in the game and a winner of multiple majors.
On Sunday at the US PGA Championship, the door finally broke down for Day. He broke down, too, the flood of tears on the 18th green at Whistling Straits the ultimate release from 15 years of striving. He was a wayward youngster, deeply affected by the premature death of his father and rescued only by his mother’s decision to borrow money and send Day to a boarding school in Queensland.
It was there that Day met Colin Swatton; tutor, mentor, caddie. Swatton, fittingly, guided Day through the closing stretch at the US PGA Championship. For all that Day’s story is a fascinating one, he has now afforded himself a platform to look firmly to the future.
“I am a proud caddie getting the job done in the heat of the battle. I am a proud coach. His swing held up all day and I am super, super proud of him as a father figure,” Swatton said. “I definitely think this can open the floodgates.”
If it does, an already invigorating battle between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will have another protagonist. Day is unfortunate not to be classed in the same youthful category as the 22-year-old Spieth and the 26-year-olds McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. He is only 27, after all.
Day’s talent was clear as an amateur and, owing to victories in Australia and the United States. On turning professional in 2006, he made five cuts from his first six PGA Tour events. He had to wait until 2010 for his first win at that level, with the frustrations of that intervening spell pointed out by his wife, Ellie.
“People always thought he was so mature but he did really immature things back then,” she said. “He played video games all the time. He was still throwing clubs and I’d see him cussing on the course.”
Day has routinely given the impression that one major success would trigger many more. Again, he has been open about the desire for precisely that to be the case. Aside from the sheer joy of victory in Wisconsin, Day would be well aware of the breaching of a mental barrier. He showed wonderful tenacity to reach a record-breaking total of 20 under par.
Day should enjoy this feast having lived through the famine of stumbles in the last round of majors. In 2013 Day led the Masters with three holes to play, only to finish third. He has also seen his career blighted in part by injury and illness; pre-tournament media conferences have routinely been akin to medical bulletins.
“I never doubted this would come,” Swatton said. “I’ve always said to him I think he’s a multiple-win-per-season player. Now he knows he can be one and can be a major champion at 20 under.”
Day can also take great pride in whom he held off. Spieth could not keep pace with the big-hitting world No3. Adam Scott, Day’s compatriot and fellow major champion, said. “I am so impressed and proud of Jason. No one in the game is more deserving of a major. He made it look easy. There will be more to come. It is now his time.”
The swell of congratulations endorsed a popular and deserving champion. McIlroy branded a Day major success as “inevitable”. Tiger Woods, a regular practice partner, was another to offer praise. Spieth simply admitted to the man himself that he could not possibly catch him.
“He [Spieth] is going to be around competition-wise in major championships for a long time and he’s going to be the heavy favourite going forward,” Day said. “But to be able to hold him off, knowing that he’s going to be the best player in the world now, the way I played, it felt great.
“Some people get there quicker than others, some people make it look easier than others and I’m just glad it’s finally happened because it was kind of wearing on me a little bit.”
It would be a mistake to assume that Day is of a mind to stop here.
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