Filipino-Australian Pro Golfer Jason Day: Life Lessons From His Mom, A Pen Pal Bride Success Story


Jason Day’s rise to No. 1 in the world began with a rusted golf club retrieved from a Queensland junkyard.

His mother worried that if not for golf, Day would end up like his father, Alvyn, whose potential was corroded by alcohol. Alvyn Day’s drinking left a scrap heap for Day, his mother and his sisters to sift through. It would take them years to see the beauty that can sprout from the rubble like a red poppy pointing toward the sun.

Day, the betting favorite to win this week’s Masters, won the most recent men’s major, the P.G.A. Championship last August. It was his first major victory in his 20th attempt, and he shed tears on the final green as he thought of his mother, Dening, and his two sisters back home in Australia and the sacrifices they made so that he might succeed.

“With everything that went on, for me and my sisters to come out pretty normal on the other side, I think a lot of that has to do with our mom,” Day said.

From his father, Day, 28, learned to play golf and fear failure. From his mother, he learned how to work as if failure were not an option.

On the eve of Australia Day in January, the tide of productivity had gone out in Day’s homeland, scattering workers to near and far vacation destinations. The national holiday fell on the last Tuesday of the month, and a sizable portion of the country’s work force opted to take a four-day weekend, leaving few hands on deck during Monday morning business hours at a shipping company in this port city.

But through Austral Asia Line’s locked doors, behind a vacant reception desk, barely visible over the cubicle partitions, Dening Day toiled at her desk, addressing import-export issues. She did not think twice before making the hourlong commute from home by train to sit in an office that was three-quarters empty.

“I don’t go on vacation,” she said with a laugh.

She did allow herself a leisurely lunch at the sun-dappled cafe tucked between two office towers, steps from her office. She was joined by the eldest of her three children, Yanna, who lives several hundred miles away and was in town with her fiancé for the long weekend. Her other daughter, Kim, is the mother of two, including a golf-playing son.

Over a two-Coke lunch, Dening, 58, filled in the details of her journey from a trapped wife to a self-sufficient life, which was no less treacherous than her son’s 10-year rise to the top of his sport.

Seeking an Easier Life

Dening shakes her head now, thinking of how she came to Australia in search of an easier life than the one she had in the Philippines. After studying nursing in college in Manila, she said, she took a job as a medical secretary and rented a room in a boardinghouse. Her landlady had a sister, who was single and whose name was registered with a marital agency in Australia. As Dening recalled, “They said, ‘Can we find a husband for her because she’s a spinster?’ ”
A letter of introduction from an Australian man seeking a wife arrived in the mail for the landlady’s sister, but she had moved to Italy. The letter fell into the hands of the landlady, who passed it on to Dening. The letter was from Alvyn Day.

On a whim, Dening penned a reply. That was how she “met” Alvyn.
“Maybe I was tired of Manila,” she said. “I maybe had enough of working as well.”

Dening looked at it as if she were writing her own fairy tale, moving to a strange, new world for a more comfortable, more contented life as a wife and mother with a Prince Charming conjured by the Fates.

But her new life in Queensland, after the wedding in the Philippines, was more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney. Alvyn, who had already fathered three daughters and a son from two earlier marriages, both of which ended in divorce, abused alcohol. He became belligerent when he drank, Dening said. When the girls were little, she said, her husband went through alcohol rehabilitation because his drinking was hindering his ability to keep a job.
“He went to a lot of rehabs,” she said.

Yanna, who is a year older than Kim and three years older than Jason, used to envy her brother because he grew up with the sober version of their father. As the baby in the family, Jason literally demanded his parents’ and sisters’ attention.

“He didn’t have a volume control,” Yanna said. “We called him Foghorn.”
At night, Alvyn watched television and smoked while cradling Jason. He quit his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit after Jason coughed up black phlegm while seated on his lap, Dening said.

Jason was formally introduced to golf at 6, a couple of years after his father brought home the rusty 3-wood from the junkyard, where the family found many of their household items. Soon father and son were spending every weekend at the golf course.

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News story from The New York Times.