Redemption Day for Jason

SHEBOYGAN, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 16: 2015 PGA Champion Jason Day poses with the Wanamaker trophy after the Final Round at the 97th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 16, 2015 in Sheboygan, WI. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Admit it. You may have shed a tear—or at least felt a tug—when Jason Day welled up on the final green Sunday.

Well, even if you didn’t, it was a beautiful moment for the 27-year-old Australian and for golf fans at Whistling Straits and watching on TV. A boy from a humble background who loses his father at 12 and overcomes early struggles with alcohol as youngster becomes a great professional golfer, but he can’t close the deal in the biggest events.

It’s the archetypal redemption story. Seeing Day finally break through after suffering so many heartbreaks made this a sweet story because I think many of us can see a little of ourselves in Day. He’s no phenom like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, or increasingly it appears, 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson who became the third youngest LPGA Tour winner in history when she won Sunday.

On one level, it’s hard to relate to a millionaire touring professional with four PGA Tour victories, but in aspiring to reach his goal as a major champion, Day came agonizing close so many times only to see the prize slip away. Progress is slow and disappointments are many. That’s just life.

Whether it’s a tournament golfer, a person aiming for a promotion, higher grades, more sales or whatever, the question is always the same: how do we move forward from disappointment? In those moments, emotions can become so overwhelming, we define ourselves as losers, chokers or we just don’t have what it takes.

But the stories we make up about ourselves are just that—stories. They do not define who we are. It’s extremely difficult to maintain this perspective, but Jason Day serves as a great example of someone who used his failures as springboards.

Day felt absolutely crushed on the final green at St. Andrews when his putt that would have put him in the playoff came up just short. At both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship this year that he had shared the 54-hole lead of a major but failed to win, and he lead the 2013 Masters with three to play but failed to close the deal.

In his very next tournament after St. Andrews, the RBC Canadian Open, Day once again found himself on the final green with another opportunity to win. But this time, he willed his long birdie putt into the hole and it stood up for the victory.

In preparation for the PGA Championship, Day worked hard on his physical and mental game, but the greatest influence came from elsewhere.

“The biggest thing that prepares you for something like this is just the sheer experience of failure, looking at failure not as a negative but as a positive. Knowing that you can learn from anything, even if it’s bad or good. And that really gets you mentally tough,” he said.

“If I didn’t have that failure, I wouldn’t be standing here today with the trophy.”

Sounds easy, almost pithy, like something you’d hear a friend say, or a feel-good slogan: It’s ok, just learn from it. It’s hard to do, but it’s on the money. Yet, Day also had the support of Colin Swatton, his caddie, coach and mentor since he was 12. With Swatton’s guidance and Day’s own resilience, he could focus on what he learned rather than on the enormity of the emotions. That’s the other cool piece of the redemption story; when we ask for help—or accept it — we can be much stronger.

That can be hard to do as well, but that’s a story for another day.

Picture: PGA of America



About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!


  1. Great advice Tim, for life and golf