AUGUSTA, Ga.—Suddenly the kid from nowhere, from the Australian backcountry, from the tough childhood, is everywhere.
Suddenly, he’s "The Man," a title previously bestowed on Tiger Woods.
Suddenly, Day is the trending choice to win the Masters.
Or is it that suddenly?
Day is 26 now, hardened, chastened, triumphant and, perhaps most significantly, experienced. He tied for second in the Masters in 2011, was third in the Masters last year, second in the U.S. Open last year, won the World Cup of Golf individual title last year and won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship this February.
That’s plenty. That’s impressive. That’s still not a major.
The golfer who, in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, 2008, said in youthful eagerness, and perhaps ignorance, he planned to "take down Tiger Woods" now speaks in reverence not arrogance.
That's especially true when it comes to the Masters, which, Thursday, has its annual rebirth deep among the dogwoods, pines and history that comprise Augusta National Golf Club.
"It’s golfing heaven," Day said of the tournament during his scheduled media interview.
This from someone who before his teens knew a figurative hell.
His father, Alvin, a plant worker, died when Day was 11, which led Jason to heavy drinking and frequent fights with other students—near delinquency one might describe it.
Day’s mother, Dening, who had come from the Philippines, borrowed money to send him to the same boarding school attended by Adam Scott, who, in 2013, became the first, and only, Aussie to win the Masters, and the 2000 Olympic 400 meters champion runner Cathy Freeman.
Money well spent, certainly. It was money that enabled Day to connect at the school with Colin Swatton, who became his swing coach and surrogate father.
"If my dad was alive, I wouldn’t have gone to boarding school," said Day, reviewing his father’s premature death from lung cancer for Karen Crouse of The New York Times.
"And I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had. I don’t believe I’d be here today. I think I would be working at the meat-processing plant like my dad."
His father, a good local player, brought home a rusty 3-wood from a junkyard to give to his son, and so Jason, who knew about tennis and rugby, as do all Aussies, started golf—with a passion.
Before Augusta 2014, Day only had entered two tournaments in the calendar year because of a left wrist injury that forced him to miss every event from the win at Accenture until this week, although he has been able to practice at Augusta the past few days.
"I’ve had six weeks off," he said. "I’ve had a cortisone shot. Not really a concern. I think I just need to tighten up a few things, just kind of get a little sharper with my tee shots. I think I'll be good.
"It's more frustrating for me because just coming off the win at the match play, I was playing some pretty good golf. It was trending in the right direction going into Doral and the Florida Swing there. Just something so small, it's so frustrating, because everything else is fine.
"But you need your hands to grip the golf club, and every time it hurt when I swung the golf club. I would kind of flinch at impact, and you just can't compete against the best players in the world doing that."
The feistiness has been tempered. Golf, we’re told, is a humbling game. Always has been, from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus. It always will be. The putts that used to fall begin to hang on the edge. The game cuts you down like no other, because you’re playing an opponent that never makes a mistake: the course.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Scott grabbed the Masters, the one Day let slip away 12 months ago, squandering a lead with three holes to play, with bogies on 16 and 17, and missing the playoff between Scott and Angel Cabrera by two shots.
Day then won the World Cup and Accenture, and the last two weeks, Aussies won back-to-back tournaments; Steven Bowditch won the Texas Open a week and a half ago, and Matt Jones placed first in the Shell Houston Open on Sunday.
"It shows Australian golf is in a good spot," said Day, who, depending on how he reacts to the pre-tournament hype, may be in the best spot of anyone—or the worst.
Day had sought to be the first Aussie to win a Masters. Now he seeks to be the second, and a victory would raise him to No. 1 in the world golf rankings.
"I’m not trying to think about that," Day said. "I need to go out and not think about myself, not really think about the outcomes that could possibly happen, get caught up in stuff that can make my game go backwards.
"I think that’s what mental toughness is, to be able to stay in the present. My goal is obviously to be able to get to No. 1 one day and to have a green jacket, And I can do that in one week."
Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, is covering his 150th major golf championship. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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