From drunk 12-year-old to Major champion

By Grant Winter


It’s no wonder that Jason Day became pretty emotional as he embraced caddie Colin Swatton after winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August, because he’s been through a lot of heartache on his way to Major glory.

When he was 12, growing up poor in Australia, his Irish-Australian father Alvin died of stomach cancer. That so upset the young Day that he started getting into fights at school and drinking alcohol. But there was rescue on the way in the form of Swatton who became the father figure he needed and brought discipline into his broken life.

“He’s been there for me since I was 12 and a half years old,” Day said. “As a mentor, coach and caddie he’s taken me from a kid getting drunk and going off the rails into a Major champion.”

So it’s no wonder that Day tearfully embraced Swatton immediately after tapping in the putt that gave him a three-shot victory over new world number one Jordan Spieth, with South Africa’s Branden Grace a further shot back.

“On the 18th all I said was ‘I love you’,” Swatton said. “And he loves me, and we were a blubbering mess. It was pretty cool. He means the world to me. I love him to death.”

Day only took up the game when his late father rescued an old three wood from a rubbish dump. It only became Jason’s salvation because it brought him into contact with Swatton, who imposed a disciplined coaching regime.

His mother Denning, who was born in the Philippines, then took out a second mortgage on their modest home in order to send him to boarding school. But even then things weren’t easy and money was tight. “In 2006 I didn’t have a dollar to my name,” the 27-year-old now recalls.

After holing his final putt, Day received a cheque for $1.8m (over R23-million) with the untold riches that will inevitably follow from sponsors and backers.

Today he’s been touted by Swatton as a member of what he believes will become a new Big Three – along with Spieth and McIlroy – just as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were the Big Three in the 1960s and 1970s.

There have been other setbacks along the way. In October 2013 eight members of Day’s extended family, including his grandmother, perished in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

And at this year’s US Open at Chambers Bay in June, Day feel flat on his back on the ninth fairway with his head swimming with debilitating vertigo. It was Swatton who rushed over and helped him to his feet.

He recovered well enough to earn a share of the lead going into the final round, and soon afterwards doctors were then able to identify the cause of the dizziness. He arrived at St Andrews for the British Open feeling like a new man and again shared the lead going into the final round but, once more, was unable to convert.

So Day can now put all the disappointments, heartache and doubts (whether he would ever win a Major) behind him and, at 27, look forward to a big career.

The PGA was an absorbing and entertaining championship at a superb venue. Day was a popular winner, Spieth as runner-up went to No 1 in the world and Grace earned a hefty $680 000 (over R8,5-million) for playing exceptionally well and finishing third.

New Big Three? Maybe Big Four if Grace keeps going strong.