THAT’S Jason Day, who finished third at the Masters Tournament last Sunday in Augusta, Georgia, ahead of Tiger Woods and other golf greats like Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
It was a bit surprising that our sports journalists paid little attention to Jason, the first golfer with Filipino blood to ascend the Olympic heights of what many think is the most difficult sport in the world.
Early in the final round last Sunday, Jason even seemed on the way to wearing Augusta’s trademark green jacket of the champion, and was the leader at nine under, ahead of the eventual winner, the Australian Adam Scott and the Argentinian Angel Cabrera, who placed second. But such is the game of inches; Jason missed three putts to fall behind the two in the last three holes.
No matter, I’d bet now— as many in fact did when he finished 2nd in the 2011 Masters—that he’d be the next Tiger Woods. After all, he’s just 25, while the winner Scott is 32 and second- placer Cabrera is 43. Tiger at 37 may have already peaked.
Jason at Augusta demonstrated much of what makes golf different from other sports: supreme tranquility that seems to be meditation in motion, yet with a focused mind. With his pre- shot routine of staring for unusually many seconds at his target, visualizing the flight of ball, he plays patiently golf’s inner game. Jason’s swing was so effortless and so smooth that Tiger’s seemed to be jerky, and too tense.
In news accounts, Jason was merely identified as the “other Australian”, who placed third at Augusta with 7 under.
Jason’s parents though are immigrants to Australia. His father Alvin is from Ireland, a country known for its love of golf and which has produced over the decades some of the greatest golfers, among them Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw. His mother is a Filipina, Adenyl (“Dening”) Grapilon from the third- class municipality of Carigara in northern Leyte, the outskirts of where the New People’s Army still operates. News accounts of Jason’s life say that his parents got together by mailing each other, and that both were workers in a meatpacking factory.
Jason’s story no doubt is another indication of how Filipinos have spread throughout the planet, so much so that Filipino blood is finding its way in the arteries of the best of the human species.
But it’s more than that. Jason’s ascent to become one of the world’s top ten golfers is an inspiring story, a classic tale of how the father provides the son the vision, with the mother taking care of the nitty-gritty of how that vision will be fulfilled.
And then, there’s the critical ingredient—the individual defying fate, and deciding, as that Wiliam Henly poem put, to be master of his fate, captain of his soul.
Jason related an embarrassing episode in his life, which reminded me of a very common practice of struggling Filipino immigrants in the US ( which actually inspired the enterprising among them to start the ukay- ukay craze in our country):
Asked by a golf writer if it was true if he wore “Salvation Army” clothes in his youth, he answered:
“Yeah, five bucks a bag. We’d go there with 10 bucks, and my sisters and me would cram in as much stuff as we could. I turned up at school one day in this shirt I had from the Salvation Army—it was this tight, button-up, short-sleeve T-shirt that was two sizes too small for me—and everyone from school teased me because they said I looked like a refugee. They said, ‘Did you just get off the boat?’ I was the only Asian kid in my school so they thought I was just off the boat.’
But as was the theme of one of my favorite movies—Woody Allen’s “Matchpoint”— sheer chance is more often as important as our will.
Jason’s career started out with his father finding a discarded old three wood in the garbage bin at his workplace and gave it on a whim to his three-year old son as a toy. Jason kept swinging it a tennis ball for hours that his Dad thought he was a natural, and could make career out of it. His father nurtured his interest, and by six, with a halfset of used golf clubs a neighbor gave, he was playing regularly at the public course near their home in the small town (population: 15,000) of Beaudesert, Queensland.
But then chance took a different turn. When he was 11, his father died of stomach cancer, a month after it was diagnosed. He was devastated, as I think most pre- teens who idolize their father would. Jason narrated that period of his life: “I didn’t really care about anything. I was very wild. I got into trouble a lot [ and] did all the bad stuff.” He had even become an alcoholic, and regularly got into fist fights at school.
I don’t think his mother Dening was a golfer nor would have known that it is a sport one could make a fortune on. Still though— and probably because it seemed to her as the only way to turn around his son’s life— Dening sold the house she and her husband got to own from their working- class wages in order to send Jason to the $ 20,000- ayear Kooralbyn International School in Brisbane, a renowned boarding school with a golf program. (Another alumni is Adam Scott who won the Masters’ last Sunday.)
Jason’s mentor Colin Swatton described her determination: “Jason’s mum, Dening, did what she had to do to put him through the academy. For as long as I have known her, she has always worked one or two jobs in a bid to give Jason every opportunity to do well. She has done exceptionally well.” Jason even credits his mother for the kind of determination he had demonstrated in the golf tours, that she would methodically and ruthlessly pursue his king on the chessboard until it was cornered.
I can’t help quoting quotes to describe Jason’s life, this time the Roman “Fate favors the brave.” Swatton, a golf coach at Kooralbyn, thought he had a rare talent for golf that he became Jason’s golf guru to this day. He has been by Jason’s side in all tournaments, as his caddy.
There was another chance event for Jason, but only so since he was already into golf. In the school’s dorm, somebody left a book on Tiger Woods which related among other things that he was already a scratch player at 15 years old that Jason vowed to match that feat. Most probably it was also the fact than a half-Asian like him could be the world’s no. 1 golfer that inspired Jason.
Turning professional at 19 years old, Jason has become the world’s no. 7 golfer at 25, and I’d bet he’d be no. 1 soon, the very first Pinoy golf great.
“I want to become No. 1 in the world. I was taught in my life, by my parents, that you don’t get anywhere without working hard,” Jason said. Words not only of wisdom, but of respect.