She coughed up blood for three months without telling anybody because that’s how stubborn some mothers are. Didn’t want friends to know. Didn’t want family to know. Certainly didn’t want her son, the pro golfer back in the U.S., to know. Dening Day was told of a cancerous mass growing in her lungs and all she could think about was returning to her job at the shipping company in Brisbane.
“She’s worried about work,” Jason Day said. “I’m like, ‘You’re 60 years old. Don’t worry about it.’”
Day managed to laugh a few times Tuesday. It was a far better day than two weeks ago when he walked off the course after six holes of a match-play tournament in Austin, Texas. He broke down in tears as he disclosed his mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was given a year to live by doctors and was two days from having surgery.
“My mom was telling me, just go out and play and forget about what’s going on,” Day said. “I can’t think like that. I was stuck between two worlds — my mom wanting me to play and me wanting to be with her.”
It’s a new Day.
Day is in Augusta for this week’s Masters. In a perfect world, his mother would join him. Dening Day had successful surgery to remove a 3 1/2-centimeter mass from her lung in a Columbus, Ohio, hospital. She received more good news Tuesday when doctors told her she will not need to undergo chemotherapy for the foreseeable future.
Jason Day is cautiously optimistic about the future and said before his Masters practice round Tuesday, “I feel a lot lighter in a sense that my mind is not weighing heavily on the situation.”
He hopes his mother can join him in Augusta, saying, “Even if I don’t win it would be nice to have her here.” Then he laughed.
“A quarter of her lung was cut out, so I don’t really know if that’s good for flying.”
The things we joke about.
This will not be a normal week for Day. But then his never was a normal golf story. Those not familiar with his background may see him as the world’s recent No. 1 player with more than $35 million in career PGA earnings, millions more in endorsements and a lifetime pampered member of the golfing world’s one-percent club. Not quite.
He grew up in poverty in Australia. His father worked in a meat plant on the kill floor. Alvin Day introduced his son to golf when he was 3 years old, but he also was an abusive and raging alcoholic. Day recalled once when he was 11 years old and shot a poor score. His father later pulled off the side of the road and beat him before driving home.
“He just starts whaling on me with both hands, closed-fist punching,” he told Golf magazine. “I had bruises all over me.”
Alvin Day died of stomach cancer in 1999. Day was 12. He became rebellious. He battled his own demons with alcohol, once blacking out and waking up in a gutter.
If you wonder why Jason Day was so devastated when being told of his mother’s original prognosis, consider her importance his life. She rescued him on a personal level and jump-started his rise in golf, taking out a mortgage on her house and borrowing money from an aunt and uncle so Jason could go to a golf academy.
“She is the reason why I’m playing professional golf now,” Day said. “I went there and met Col (mentor and coach Colin Swatton), and it just went from there. One door opened up, then another door. She sacrificed a lot, and so did my sisters, just to get me to a golf academy seven hours away from my family and friends. I owe everything to her.”
Day grew into the world’s top-ranked player by the end of 2016. He was a runner-up in the 2011 Masters and two U.S. Opens. He won his first major, the 2015 PGA championship. He won eight tournaments, had 21 top-10 finishes in a two-year span and became only the fifth pro under the age of 29 to win 10 tournaments.
But he has struggled since the end of 2016 with back injuries and off-course distractions, dropping to third in the world rankings. He hasn’t won a tournament since last and in six events this season has managed only a fifth-place finish at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Until he arrived in Augusta on Friday, he hadn’t picked up a golf club since leaving the course in Austin.
“I’m a little bit unprepared, to be honest,” he said. “Usually I have a week or two of tournaments or practice under my belt. I’ve had a lot of stuff going on in my life.”
He briefly considered not coming to the Masters. He was “scared” the day after his mother’s surgery when it seemed she “wasn’t quite there. It almost looked like she was dying in a way because it reminded me of my dad when he went through cancer. He was kind of loopy and would see things and hear things.”
But Dening’s condition improved, and Day knew his 4-foot-11 but “intimidating” mother would be angry if he stayed with her in Ohio.
Not that Day needs any extra inspiration this week, but he can draw some from Tiger Woods, his childhood hero. Woods pulled out of the Masters, but Day was reminded Tuesday that Woods won the 2006 British Open two months after his father’s death, then sobbed on the 18th green immediately following the win.
“When things like this happen, everyone handles it different,” he said. “I feel like everyone is my family now. I’ve hurt in front of you guys, I’ve cried in front of you guys.”
His mother would tell him to toughen up. Nobody else has a problem with it.