JD: Huge Win for the Good-guy
As Jason Day approached his tap-in putt on the last hole at this year’s PGA Championship, he struggled to hold back the tears that were welling up inside. Shortly after holing out, he embraced his long-time caddie, mentor and dear friend, who was experiencing similar emotions. Time stood still for the new PGA Champion, as both were reduced to, in caddie Swatton’s words, “A blubbering mess.”
OTT? Far from it.
Day had just won his first major. He won it by going head to head with the world’s hottest golfer, Jordan Spieth, and he shut him out. Day’s previous attempts at winning a major have included three seconds, a third and a fourth. This was the third major in a row in which he held, or had a share of the lead going into the last day. He knew well the feeling of having the door of success slammed shut in his face. On this day, it was held ajar.
Not only did he increase his margin over the field, his last-day five-under par 67 gave him a tournament total of 20-under – one better than the previous lowest to par in a major; the 19-under that Tiger Woods set at St Andrews in 2000. Seasoned golf announcers were in awe of the standard of golf on display. “This course is not as easy as these scores suggest,” was the common theme, after reminding the viewer that Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship here five years ago with an 11-under par total.
It was easy to see this win was popular in the dressing room. Among the many to sing Day’s praise was Rory McIlroy; “This is a huge monkey of his back. Obviously he’s had so many chances; he finished second to me in the US Open at Congressional four years ago. And he was close at the Masters that year, as well. So after all that knocking on the door I’m delighted for him. It would have been harsh if he’d lost this.”
As Jordan Spieth, gracious in defeat, said, “This is as easy a loss as I’ve ever had because I felt I couldn’t do much about it. Jason was just that good.”
So that is what it takes to beat Spieth; shoot the lowest score in major championship history – simple really.
Spieth went on to recount his reaction after seeing where Day’s tee shot on the 573-yard par-5 had come to rest. “That tee shot on 11, if he gets a little off line there, either way, he has to lay up and it’s probably a par. I thought at the time my ball was still going to be okay. It was going to be good enough for me to reach the green. But when he hit that tee ball and I walked up and saw where it was, I turned to him, I actually out loud turned to him and said, ‘holy sh*t!’ you know, and I yelled it over to him and I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ And then he gave me a little bicep curl.” Day hit wedge in to set up an easy birdie.
Spieth’s sportsmanship was again on display at the critical 17th where Day faced a challenging two-putt for par. After Day made a brilliant lag-putt to within a few inches, Spieth acknowledged not just the shot itself, but probably the fact that Day’s three-shot cushion down the 18th meant Spieth’s last chance had evaporated.
To understand why the display of emotion between caddie and player after they knew victory was theirs, one needs to understand their history. Day’s father died of cancer when Day was 12. Shortly after, Day took to drinking, serious drinking. His widowed mother struggled to cope. She took out a second mortgage in order that the troubled Jason could attend an international boarding school known for grooming top athletes. It was this decision that led to the young antisocial trouble-maker meeting up with Col Swatton, an instructor at the Hills International Academy in Queensland, Australia.
From that time until this, Swatton has been there for Jason Day. Not only has he carried Day’s bag, raked the bunkers, replaced the divots, but he has also been the boy’s coach, mentor and father-figure that, near as possible, replaced the person that cancer took away. Swatton’s influence on Day’s life cannot be overstated.
“He’s been there for me since I was 12 1/2 years old,” Day said in his press conference. “I mean, he’s taken me from a kid that was getting in fights at home and getting drunk at 12 and not heading in the right direction, to a major champion. And there’s not many coaches that can say that in many sports. So, he means the world to me. I love him to death.”
As caddie Col Swatton said after the round; “On the 18th, all I said was, ‘I love you.’ And he loves me, and we were just a blubbering mess. It was pretty cool.”
Good guys do win.