COLUMBUS, Ohio — Adenil “Dening” Day was not watching golf that Wednesday afternoon in mid-March. She had no idea her son Jason had just withdrawn from his first match at Austin Country Club. Nor did she see him explaining why during a hastily arranged news conference. Yet, it was because of her that he decided to open his heart and pour out his emotions, as raw a moment as you’ll see from a PGA TOUR player. “She has lung cancer,” Jason told the media, unable to fight back the tears. “At the start of the year, she was diagnosed with 12 months to live.” Jason, the defending champion of the World Golf Championships–Dell Technologies Match Play, could no longer focus enough to compete. Torn between his desire to do as his mother wished – to fight on – and what his instinct told him – to be by her side – he finally cracked on national television. So he walked off the course, then fronted the media and revealed his mother’s tumor, the dire initial fears, and the new hope that surgery later that week might extend her life. Having lost his father to cancer when he was 12, Jason could not fathom it was happening again. He doggedly explored all options. Thus, he had flown his mother from Australia to his current home in Columbus, Ohio, to seek further opinions and care in the United States. Now he needed to be with her for the surgery. He needed to be there for his mother — as she had always been there for him. While there are plenty of people to thank for Jason’s rise to the top of the golf world, Dening is certainly a huge part of the journey. And though they now live some 9,150 miles apart in different continents, the bond remains strong. When all was revealed in Austin, it was certainly emotional. It was gripping. Plenty in the room were choked up. Afterward, Jason phoned his mother, telling her what had transpired and letting her know he was on his way to her. Only then did she know about the press conference. Eventually, Dening found video clips and saw the pain on her son’s tear-swollen face as he finally succumbed to the enormity of her plight. Then Dening — the ultra-tough mom who raised a champion — did what she rarely does. Like Jason earlier that afternoon, she started to cry. So much so that her daughter Yanna would joke later, “That’s her tears quota for the year.” But Dening’s tears were not of fear for what lay ahead. She wasn’t worried for her very existence like most of us would be. The tears stemmed from guilt. She never wanted her son to worry, even after being initially diagnosed with just a year left on earth. She never wanted him to stress. She never even wanted him to know. ‘She doesn’t talk much’ Yanna, age 32, is Jason’s eldest sister, who joined her mother on the trip to the U.S. for treatment. He has another, Kim, 31, who is back in Australia with kids of her own. Kim lives across the street from Dening, Yanna a few hours away. Jason, 29, obviously is a significant distance from Brisbane. Dening does not like to burden others with her problems. That’s why she was coughing up blood for three months before Kim noticed and alerted the other siblings, who then sprang into action as a team to make things happen. They weren’t taking chances – and with good reason. Dening had already kept one cancer scare from her children years earlier. “I didn’t want to worry them,” she says. She had a lumpectomy to remove what turned out to be a benign tumor in her breast, only telling the kids well after the event. Jason still shakes his head at the revelation. “She doesn’t talk much,” he says dryly. She does, however, write poetry. After that first cancer scare, she penned one for her kids, hoping to leave behind some wisdom for them. Now she’s had to battle cancer for a second time. Thankfully, surgery to remove the most recent tumor was a complete success and fears the lung cancer had spread were allayed. Some pesky cysts that clouded the initial diagnosis were removed from the liver. Dening must maintain regular checkups, but it appears she is out of the woods. She can pass on her wisdom in person, rather than on paper. It is, of course, a welcome relief for all involved. This family doesn’t need more rough times. They’ve seen enough struggle to fill 30 lifetimes – and no one in the family has fought more battles than Dening. It is no secret that Jason’s father Alvyn was an abusive alcoholic. He ruled with “iron fists,” as Yanna puts it, before he died. He insisted on controlling everything. This included his wife. Search for a better life Dening was born in a small village in the Philippines as one of 11 children. There was no electricity and no running water. While it was an extremely impoverished existence, she never felt wanting and modestly says, “We managed three meals a day.” Jason tells of having his own baths heated by kettle, and his mother cutting the lawn with a knife and scissors when he was a child. That was their economic hardship in Australia. “But we had luxury compared to where she grew up,” he says. Late last year, Jason was scheduled to play an exhibition match against Rory McIlroy in the Philippines before a back injury curtailed his trip. It was to be his first visit to his mother’s homeland and they would have raised money for locals who are still rebuilding from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, where eight members of Dening’s family, including her mother and brother, were killed. That kind of tragedy is one reason why her homeland was a place most wanted to trade up from. “It’s what Filipinos do,” Dening says. She took the first step of escaping many years ago when she moved to the big city – Manilla – for her higher education. The idea at the time was to ultimately find a way to the United States. She started down a path toward a nursing degree, but upon seeing a newspaper article that revealed how in demand medical secretaries were in the U.S., she shifted her focus. Having passed college, she spent seven years working in Manilla “wearing high heels and nice clothes” but still dreamt of finding a way out of a third world country and into better circumstance. And then one came. A letter from Alvyn Day arrived at the boarding house where Dening lived. It was for her landlady’s sister who had registered with a marital agency in Australia. But the sister had since left for Italy and the letter was passed along to Dening. On a whim, she decided to reply. Australia sounded like paradise. Here she would live a charmed life, perhaps of luxury, with a handsome, rugged Australian man. After enough correspondence, it was agreed Alvyn would come to the Philippines, marry Dening, and the two would return to Australia to start a life together. Seemed a fairytale … but instead it was a nightmare. Not as advertised Rural Queensland can be a beautiful place, but in all fairness, it is far from the glistening coast and sandy beaches that are Australia’s primary drawing cards. While the coastline wasn’t that far away from Beaudesert, and later Rockhampton, Dening wasn’t seeing any of it. “I got taken to the meat works (where Alvyn had work) or I got taken to the farm,” she says of her introduction to Australia. “The grass was as tall as your knees, and you’d walk, and it’s so itchy on your feet and on your legs when it touches. “I couldn’t believe we were staying in this little caravan in the middle of nowhere.” Add to this the struggles of having a very limited English vocabulary and the revelation Alvyn would drink a lot and become violent … well, it was not the existence she had anticipated. Alvyn had already been through two failed marriages and the reasons began to surface When Yanna was a toddler, a line was drawn in the sand when a drunk Alvyn put his daughter into the caravan wall just because she was trying to climb all over her daddy. “At the time, I took him to court. I said, ‘You might hurt me but you’re not doing that to my kids,’ ” Dening recalls. The resolution was rehab and no more drinking. It was only temporary. He eventually slipped back into the bottle. By the time Kim and Jason were added to the family, Dening was surviving, but barely, as her mind and spirit continued to die. “It was very tough, and I had in the back of my mind, I can’t live like this. I have to do something about it,” she says. “It was so very hard because I was so new (to Australia), it was very hard to find anyone to turn to, and I kept thinking I didn’t go to school just to be like this.” Spending her days in front of a television and doing sewing jobs to help make ends meet was not enough. The feelings of inadequacy had grown to the point that she asked Alvyn if she, too, could get a job at the meat works. “He said, ‘You can get a job, but all your money will go straight to my bank,’ and I said, it doesn’t matter. At least I am out and I am active,’ ” she recalls. When not working, Alvyn would make many trips to the local landfill, looking for things that could be repurposed and sold. Dening was the upholsterer on reclamation projects. Jason’s first golf club came from the garbage dump, the story now part of his lore. And so Dening would work as a secretary and continued to do her sewing on the side, settling for about an hour of sleep most nights. Work till 4 a.m., back up at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfasts and lunches for Alvyn and the kids. The $1,000 promise As Jason began to show promise in golf, Dening saw the chance of an escape for her son. She might not have had her fairytale. But perhaps he could. She was already chaperoning his tournaments on occasions after coming across more of Alvyn’s abuse. Helping her pre-teen change shirts one day, she noticed bruises all over his chest. When she asked where they came from, the reply was “dad.” Jason has revealed there was numerous physical beatings at the hand of his dad in his youth. “Dad tried to drive me with the driver,” he says of another time in his early years. According to Jason, Alvyn would punish him after events in the parking lot, with closed fists. “Nothing was ever good enough, even winning,” he says. Yanna recalls Jason being yelled at after victories for things like not hitting putts aggressive enough, or falling short of some score target Alvyn had set. “[Jason] would beat much older kids, even grown men,” she says. “It wasn’t enough for Dad.” And so Dening insisted on being around more. Then Alvyn died of cancer, and 12-year-old Jason went off the rails, began drinking and getting in fights. Kim ran away from home for years. But it was a seminal moment for the Day family — while it was hard to lose a parent, they gained their freedom. Their independence. All three admit the chances of Jason making it in the sport if his father had not passed away would have been slim. The control would still have existed. Maybe Jason could have made it through like some tennis stars have under parent dictatorship, but more likely Jason would have come to resent the game. So Alvyn’s passing was where Dening knew sacrifice had to be made to give Jason a chance. His local coaches had said there wasn’t much else they could do until Jason grew up, and became stronger and longer off the tee. At the rate he was spiraling out of control, she feared his talent would go wasted. Worse still, so would his life. And Dening wanted so much more for her children. At a crossroads, she borrowed money from Jason’s uncle and then sold the house to get him into a boarding school with a golf program. It is there, at Kooralbyn, he met Colin Swatton, his current coach, caddie and father figure and his raw talent began getting the nurturing it needed. Jason, with the realization of how much his mum and sisters had sacrificed, became a dedicated worker. Early mornings, late nights. Whatever it took. Just like mum. As Jason continued his rise in the game, Dening put her son first, no matter the sacrifice. He had always practiced his craft with secondhand equipment. His first pair of golf shoes were an old ladies pair. He fished for golf balls in the swamp at his course. His clubs were a mismatched hodgepodge kindly given from a neighbor. It wasn’t until his late teens he got something brand new. A driver. Dening told him if he could get to scratch he could have it. She assumed it was going to stretch her budget at around $250 Australian. When Jason met her terms, she found out it was $1,000 at the golf club pro shop. (Brand new drivers routinely cost around $700 Australian, but at the time the Australian dollar was underperforming compared to the U.S. dollar, inflating the cost.) “But I made a promise, so I got it for him,” she recalls. Kind but firm To be fair, nurture on the golf course was never a strength of Dening’s. Still isn’t. While never crossing the line like Alvyn so often did, nevertheless she maintained the strict side of Jason’s golfing life. She didn’t want him to have girlfriends. Or distractions. Her methods certainly weren’t all kisses and hugs and everyone gets a trophy. With Alvyn gone, Dening felt she needed to keep things somewhat firm to keep her boy on task. Keep him fighting to be the best. “One time she came at me all spider monkey-like with an umbrella during a tournament,” Day says. Indeed, Dening had whacked her son on the backside with a golf umbrella, during a tournament. But it wasn’t for poor play. “It was for swearing and a bad attitude,” she says. A playing partner was reacting poorly to his own play and Jason had fallen into the same trap. Dening was having none of that. “Ironically, she swore when telling me not to swear,” Jason laughs. To this day, her expectations remain high. She struggles to watch him on television without getting worked up and when she does make it to watch an event live, those that know Jason well can sense her presence through his play. He still wants to prove he’s doing his best, trying his hardest. He’s pushing for mum. Early in his career, when he had several near-misses in big events (Jason had nine top-10s in majors before his major breakthrough at the 2015 PGA Championship), she had to remove herself from the coverage often. “It was very hard. If my television could speak, that television would have sworn back at me so many times,” she says. “I would swear and go back to the garden, 20 minutes, go back in and watch, and so on. “You just want him to succeed and you know he can do better… so it’s hard.” During the Australian Open in 2011, when Jason was contending heavily but falling back from the lead, he made a birdie after a rut of holes. “It’s about time, Jason,” came the loud and disguisable voice of Dening between green and tee box — much to the amazement of many spectators. Before the end of the tournament, where he would finish fourth, Dening had walked off. “He could do better,” she defiantly says now. It is why when Day was leading into the final round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015, Dening did not stay home to watch it on the television. In Australia, it was already Monday morning as he was coming down the stretch and trying to hold off Jordan Spieth. Dening went to work like she always does. “I would’ve had a heart attack if I was watching it live,” she says. She checked in on the scores online occasionally but couldn’t bear to watch. Finally, a co-worker confirmed he had won and she could watch his celebrations. “I was very thankful that it happened because he’s been aiming for it a long time, working so hard for a long time. And for it to happen, it’s sort of a culmination. I gave a big sigh of relief. Kimmy was crying,” she recalls. Yanna says the final putt going in was when it seemed every struggle they had ever had seemed justified. “Every hardship, every bad word we endured, punch, kick, whatever, the moment he did that, we all felt the same,” she says. “All of a sudden the family just had this weight taken off our shoulders, and we were at peace then. There was a purpose. There was a reason.” A fresh start This peace they earned had been missing in 2017. But as the two siblings and their mother sit in Jason’s Columbus home — just hours before Dening will be heading back to Australia with a clean bill of health — it is evident the mood has swung severely over the last few weeks. The emotional rollercoaster ride has thrown them for loops, tossed them up and down, but ultimately, they enter the station feeling better for the ride. “It’s definitely made us more aware of our family, brought us definitely closer,” Yanna says as Jason nods. From a depth of despair that had Jason breaking down in tears during his basic activities – the morning shower, a gym workout, a video game session – a new hope has emerged. Jason is free again. The stress that plagued him has lifted. His focus is returning. Dening can return to her own loves in Australia. To her garden, to her poetry, and working has long made her happy. She will head back to her office job where she too feels free. At age 59, she shows no signs of retirement; in fact, it is the last thing she wants. Jason has offered to have her stay in luxury in Ohio but the simple freedoms of home have her in a good place mentally and she fiercely wants to continue making her own way. “I just like to make decisions without worrying, without be bothered by someone else,” she says. “You’re free to go somewhere else. You’re free to do with your own time. You’re free to do everything.” Jason jokes he can hire her as his maid. If she won’t come as a gesture of goodwill, perhaps she’ll come to work. But also, back in Brisbane, Kim’s son Cooper has taken up golf. He’s showing promise now as a pre-teen. He’s heading to the same golfing academy Jason and Swatton finished at (the pair moved to Hills International College after Kooralbyn shut down for a while) before they turned to the pro life. And Dening is back in her element, helping a young boy maintain the straight and narrow path and maximize his potential. “You get a rush, mum,” Yanna says. “If you saw how it was when Jason was little, it’s just like on repeat.” She’s back on the sidelines, not getting spider monkey-style with umbrellas, but yelling out encouragement, driving him forward. As for her first golfing prodigy, Dening says her boy still has great things to achieve. Things she’s grateful she’ll now be around to see. And just as she did throughout his upbringing, she starts putting a little heat on him. She starts to stoke his competitive fires. As he heads towards defending his title at THE PLAYERS Championship — which he won emphatically in wire-to-wire fashion in 2016 to make it an incredible seven wins in 17 starts at the time — she attempts to get him back into that dominant headspace. “Before the end of the year and beyond,” she says of a timeline for seeing the best of Jason Day again. “He still has to win. To get more wins. And one major is not enough.” Jason agrees saying, “No, it’s not enough,” and then the conversation turns into a true family moment, as the women try to infuse more belief into Jason. It is seamless chatter, as if it has happened many times before. In the early years, there were multiple times where Jason exhibited just the slightest lack of self-belief and it bit him hard. When it came to the crunch, he wasn’t sure he belonged, and he would almost subconsciously take himself out of the mix. “People would say, man, look at this guy, he’s a ball striker, he’s got good touch, all that stuff. But, and I think it stems back to my dad, I was like, I can’t feel or see that,” Jason says. While his father may have beaten the belief out of him, the women in his life, including American wife Ellie, are part of a big team always trying to pump it back in. Ellie has taken over the day to day support role and helps Jason immensely but on this occasion it’s the old guard at it again. “You haven’t reached your full potential,” Yanna says. “Jason – you really have all the skills. You can do more,” Dening adds. “I don’t think I have reached my full potential yet,” Jason admits. “It comes down to mentally – how much you want it more than anything else.” Dening nods, looks him in the eye and adds, “Yes, it’s the hunger, as well. It’s not only mental. Always keep pushing. Keep working.” Yanna jumps back in. “I think you’re going to have some things manifest in the next couple of years, I really do think that the best is yet to come,” she adds. “I think this is just the start of something big.” Jason tries to take in their praise. “Well I am in a good place now. Less distractions,” he says. “And now I know how hard I need to work to get back to the top. So, it is time to put in the work.” After hearing his commitment to the grind, Dening nods. Her work here is done.