In ascending to the pinnacle of golf, Jason’s story unfolded like a Filipino movie screenplay. It is rags-to-riches, from a seemingly lost juvenile to greatness, from family tragedy and illness to sports prowess and, in the last episode, coming back from recent setbacks and frustrations and being matched against the most formidable opponent there is. In dramatic fashion the bida (hero) prevails.
It all began in the small rural town of Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia, (pop. 6,000) where Jason was born. His Australian father died early, and growing up fatherless, he ran into bad company; at 12 years old he would go home drunk. They were poor, and his mother, Adenil Grapilon, known as Dening, who hails from Carigara, Leyte, made ends meet and took Jason to task. She got a second mortgage off their house and sent him to boarding school seven hours away. The school had a golf course, and there Jason found a purpose in life, a calling for self-improvement and a dedicated mentor, Colin Swatton, (who is also his caddie now).
There were clear promises in young Jason’s golf skills as he won junior titles and Professional Golf Association (PGA) titles; yet fortune did not seem to favor him. In 2013, as he was about to represent Australia for golf’s biggest competition among nations, Jason learned his grandmother and eight other relatives had died during typhoon Haiyan. Jason, however, made that tragedy an inspiration and won the World Cup for his country. He also emerged as best golfer of the tournament.
By compiling an enviable record of nine top 10 finishes in golf’s major tournaments in so short a time, the press anointed him as an emerging star, but Jason always fell short of winning a major title. Three times he led going into the last round only to fail. Last June he was leading in the U.S. Open, when he collapsed on the fairway because of vertigo. Last July in the British Open, he tied for the lead and then missed a short putt on the very last hole. Doubts were raised about his physical and mental stamina.
At Whistling Straits by Lake Michigan, Jason led again going into the last round. He was paired against Jordan Spieth, now ranked number one in the golf world, and a classic confrontation of young and powerful stars was waged. They tested each other, exchanging birdies with birdies, executing powerful drives and precise shot-making. At the very last hole, with just one short tap-in putt to be made, Jason set new record of 20 under par, the best ever in golf history. Most importantly, with a three-stroke lead over Spieth, he was not going to be denied his first major title this time.
As the setting Wisconsin sun shone on his face, Jason Day, true to his Filipino heritage, unabashedly cried tears of joy for all the world to see.
I. Wilfredo Ver is a former military man and an avid golfer.
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