Jason Day building back golf-life balance after mother's passing
March 17, 2022
By Jeff Babineau , PGATOUR.COM
- March 17, 2022
- Jason Day carded an opening-round, 1-under 70 on Thursday at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Jason Day still is struggling to cope with the loss of his mother, Dening, who died two weeks ago after a five-year battle with lung cancer. He knows he will struggle to process such a great loss for a long time.
Getting back to what he does, competing inside the ropes with his second family on the PGA TOUR – as he is doing this week at the Valspar Championship – gives him some peace and returns him to some normalcy in his life.
“I’m OK. I’m doing all right,” an emotional Day said through tears early Thursday afternoon after his opening round of 1-under 70 at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course. “I’ll tell you what, if I was at home, I’d probably struggle even more. It’s nice to be out here with everyone, and I’ve had a lot of love from the guys.
His voice trailed off. His mother, Adenal “Dening” Day, was 65 when she died March 2, surrounded by her family. She was given a year to live in 2017 and made it five. She was a hard-working mother who provided for Jason and his siblings back in Australia after her husband, their father, Alvyn, died of stomach cancer when Jason was only 12. Jason first told the world about his mother’s cancer diagnosis at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, almost five years ago. He conducted a tear-filled news conference, said he could not focus on golf, and withdrew.
On Instagram after his mother’s death, Day posted a beautiful picture of Dening with their family in Ohio and wrote, “She fought so hard until the very last breath. I am forever indebted to her for the sacrifices she made for me to be successful, and for the person she helped me to become. We will miss her so much."
Day returned at THE PLAYERS Championship last week, where he was on the tougher side of the draw, shot 68-78, and missed the cut. He did not participate in any interviews with the press.
The TOUR has been under siege of late by talented players in their 20s who have been winning big tournaments and climbing the Official World Golf Ranking. At Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course on Thursday, Day, 34, was part of a terrific grouping of players from an era of their own, major winners all. He was alongside Bubba Watson, 43, and Dustin Johnson, 37. Johnson shot 67, Watson 68.
Watching Day fight to shoot a number below par on a day he didn’t drive the ball well (he hit four of 13 fairways) was a reminder that behind each performer on TOUR is a real life, complete with highs and lows, triumphs and losses. Whether ranked No. 1, where Day once presided, or No. 99, where he sits today, no player is insulated from everyday happenings that visit and impact families everywhere.Jason Day and his mom Dening were always there for each other, throughout life's ups and downs. (Courtesy of Mandy Leigh Photography)
Davis Love III lost his father, Davis Love Jr., in a tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of three PGA teaching professionals in November 1988. Love Jr. was aboard a short flight from St. Simons Island, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida, where he was to connect to another flight to take him to, of all places, Innisbrook Resort, where Davis III is competing this week.
Davis Love Jr. was only 53 when he was killed (Davis III is 57), and it was difficult for his son to return to the game that his father had gifted to him. Likewise, Love III lost his mother, Penta Love, who was 94, in December, and more recently dealt with the passing of his longtime instructor, the legendary Jack Lumpkin Sr., who died unexpectedly last month.
“I just lost Jack Lumpkin and had to go right back to the range and start hitting balls, even before his funeral,” Love said on Thursday after an opening 73. “We’re walking down the hall (at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center), and he has his name on it. I lost my mom in December, right before Christmas. Your moms are as much a part of your golfing life as your dads. They drive you to the tournaments, and I know Jason was close with his mother.”
Slowly, Love has learned that life moves on, and dealing with grief and loss gets a little easier, if not ever easy. When Love returned to the TOUR following the sudden loss of his father, veteran professional Andy Bean quickly pulled young Davis into a golf cart and drove him away to speak to him privately. Whenever Love sees Bean, it’s always one of the first memories the two share.
“We’re a family, a real traveling circus,” Love said. “You want to get back into the routine. It’s hard to do the first day, or the first tournament, but for a guy like Jason, he has friends at every tournament, and they’re all going to want to say something to him. So it’s a long process.”Your moms are as much a part of your golfing life as your dads. They drive you to the tournaments, and I know Jason was close with his mother.
Day once was ranked above every other golfer in the world, ascending to No. 1. He is a 12-time TOUR winner, counting a PGA Championship, PLAYERS Championship and three World Golf Championships among his victories. These days, as he resettles into his golf, Day ranks just inside the top 100, at No. 99. He last won in 2018. He is not in next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (top 64), nor is he in the field for the Masters, a tournament for which he has been eligible the last 11 seasons.
“My golf is good,” he said. “I’ve just got to tighten up a few things. A few more fairways today would have been nice, and a couple more putts could go in. Overall, I think it’s moving in the right direction, which is a good thing. First and foremost, I feel healthy, so I’m happy about that, too. It’s not the first time I’ve been outside the top 50. Obviously, it was difficult for me to get there (top 50) the first time, and I got to No. 1 in the world. It was a different part of my life. I had a lot of good things moving forward that were keeping off-course and on-course balance. Now, over the last two or three years, with injuries, and my mom, things have been out of balance.
“Priorities change. To be honest, for the first time in a long time – I’m obviously still going through it with my mom – but I’m starting to find that balance again, which is nice. I can go out there with a clear mind and play golf, and just enjoy myself.”
On Thursday, he was good, not great, not that the numbers really mattered. He was back inside the ropes at the traveling circus, his second family there to put a collective arm over his shoulder and support him. Will it be strange if he doesn’t get into the Masters? Sure. But Day can deal with that. It would mean an extra week at home with his family.
“The goal is to try to get there,” Day said, “and if not, sometimes it’s for the best.”
Jason Day drains 26-foot birdie putt at Valspar