Jason's triumph over the top 64 golfers in the world rankings was actually not a big surprise; having been previously ranked as high as 9th best in the world was an indication that he has the ability to win. After winning his first US PGA tournament at age 22 in 2010, and placing in the top ten in six major tournaments in the past three years, Jason was heralded as one of golf’s young stars, and much was expected of him.
Despite validating the promise of greatness by taking runner-up honors at the 2011 and 2013 US Opens and at the 2011 Masters, he had not won again in America, raising doubts. As in any sport, only tournament champions get respect.
Jason's win last February against an elite field catapulted him to the rank of 4th best in the world. Although not among golf’s four major championships, the World Match Play is considered one of the most challenging tournaments to win. One must be consistently on top of his game to perform well here. Even Tiger Woods, the only multiple winner of this tournament, chose to sit it out this year due to a sore back.
The tournament has a unique format, different from regular pro golf tournaments where the best cumulative four-day score in the entire field wins. In the World Match Play, the players are matched one-and-one against another, similar to tennis tournaments.
In this knockout competition, a sense of urgency prevails in every match, because a loss means exit from the tournament. Thus only half of the players advance to the next round. This format demands not just skill in consistently executing the perfect swing, but also steely nerves coupled with a strong heart to withstand the tension and pressure of outplaying an opponent hole by hole, stroke by stroke.
Jason won all his matches and reached the Sunday’s final four. As the sun began to set into the Arizona desert, after an epic battle against Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, Jason was the last man standing to claim the champion’s trophy and the $1.53 million first prize.
His fame is growing far and wide and this victory has made Jason Day a recognizable name among American golf fans. Still in his mid-20’s, he has proved the superior level of maturity of his skill that he is considered a pre-tournament favorite for this year first major tournament, the Masters.
His Filipino Roots
It has been an incredible ride to the top for this Queensland native, born to a Filipino mother who left Tacloban City and immigrated to Australia 30 years ago. It is the same city that was totaled by Typhoon Haiyan last November. Rather than his latest triumph in Arizona, one can argue that his inspiring response to a family tragedy caused by the devastating catastrophe was the career-defining moment for Jason.
Jason and Adam Scott, the world’s number two in the rankings, composed the Australian team for the World Cup, the tournament among nations. This is a feather in Jason’s cap. It has taken him more than a dozen years of successful golfing around the world to earn his stripes and finally represent his country.
Introduced to golf by his father at the age of six, Jason immediately took to the game. After his father died when he was 12, his mother continued to support his passion for the sport by enrolling him at the Kooralbyn International School, which had a golf course.
He scored his first big win at age 13 by capturing the 2000 Australian Junior Masters held in the Gold Coast. Shortly after he collected the Australian Boy’s Amateur title, he made the Australian national squad and won the 15-17 boys division champion’s trophy at the 2004 Callaway World Junior Championships in San Diego.
The 2013 World Cup of Golf was contested in Melbourne, and the Day family had more reason to be especially excited for Jason. As they eagerly anticipated the tournament, which was to start in nine days, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines.
They learned from Facebook, the only link to Leyte at the time, that eight relatives including his maternal grandmother, had perished in that horrific storm. Jason's mother, Dening, saddled with grief with the loss of her mother, worried that her son would be emotionally burdened as he prepared his game.
Australians were cautious too of Jason’s mental focus for the week. He admitted to reporters that the tragedy had tugged at his heart in ways he couldn’t explain. "For me, being half-Australian, half-Filipino, after something like that happens, you tend to bend towards that way," he said.
On the eve of the tournament, Jason declared that although he was strongly feeling his Filipino heritage, he was proud to represent his country in the World Cup. His playing partner praised Jason for his courage. “Every credit to Jason for sticking around this week in a tough time and wanting to play and represent Australia," Scott said.
It was expected that Jason would provide a strong support to Adam, Australia’s top player, and he didn't disappoint; in fact he was incredible. One is wont to say, Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.
In spite of the gloom and despair that hung over his family, Jason kept his emotions under control and displayed great fortitude. He fought valiantly through four days. Adam’s game faltered early on but Jason’s superlative play kept Australia in the hunt. He stayed close to the leaders on the first two days, then, seized the lead on the third day.
When the final round ended, Jason had captured the individual champion’s trophy and with teammate Adam Scott rallying to place third, their combined scores made Australia the World Champions of 2013.
The ability to raise his game over the psychological toll of family tragedy may be the best formative experience for him. Perhaps, the win last November, which happened amid the personal devastation of Haiyan, is really the most significant moment in Jason Day’s young career. His proven resiliency will serve him well in every challenge ahead.
I. Wilfredo Ver is a former military man and an avid golfer.