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Torrey Pines is a special place for Jason Day

Torrey Pines is a special place for Jason Day

Jason Day of Australia drives from the first tee during the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Jan. 10.

(Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

Dash Day was living up to his name.

As a couple of thousand fans surrounding the 18th green of the Torrey Pines South Course watched the trophy ceremony after Jason Day’s win in the Farmers Insurance Open last February, his dark-haired, then-2- 1/2-year-old son, Dash, charged into a bunker and was happily kicking up sand.

Ellie Day wrapped her arms around her husband while Colin Swatton, the man who is far more than Day’s caddie and coach, stood off to the side, an enormous smile lighting up his sunburned face.

In seven months’ time, Day would have four more victories in his greatest season, including the breakthrough major win in the PGA Championship.

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Eleven years earlier, Day celebrated on the same South green with no more than a couple of dozen people looking on, and only Swatton had a true inkling of his talents. As a 16-year-old Australian playing in his first big junior tournament in America, Day captured the Callaway Junior World Championship.

Until he won the Junior World at Torrey Pines, Swatton didn’t know his pupil was ready for a bigger stage. By the time of the second Torrey triumph, Day was married, a father and on the cusp of reaching the highest levels of his professional life.

“At the time when you win, you’re caught up in the moment. You’re thinking about what you’re going to say in your speech, and you’re meeting people,” Day, 28, said on a recent visit to Torrey Pines to promote the tournament, which begins Thursday.

“This is where it all started for me. If I didn’t win the Junior World here, then I wouldn’t have gone on the tear I did back home. It gave me so much confidence moving forward, that I could win on a [PGA Tour] golf course.”

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That kind of confidence has always been hard won for Day. He has been brutally honest at times about some of the difficulties of his past, especially about his difficult upbringing.

His father, Alvin, who worked as a meatpacker, cut down a three-wood he found in the trash as Jason’s first club.

But Day revealed in an interview with Golf Magazine last summer that his father physically abused him, and if Alvin Day had not died of pancreatic cancer when his son was 12, Day said he probably wouldn’t have ended up at the live-in golf academy where Swatton became his instructor and unofficial guardian.

Day has related that the academy was a last-ditch effort by his desperate mother, Dening, to get him away from his father’s drinking and drug use.

Like a parent, Swatton marvels at watching Day’s personal growth.

“He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime people that you find,” Day said. “It’s not about the money or any of that stuff. He cares about me and my goals in life. It’s more about love than anything else.”

Said Ellie Day, “They’re funny together. They’ll get annoyed and I’ll have both of them chirping in my ear. It’s like a marriage. But they’re so close and have such a special relationship.”

Swatton, who is married with no children, had his own life and goals, and he essentially gave those up to stick with Day.

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“I always tried to move forward in my career and life, to do something new and exciting,” Swatton said. “I’m sure I would have been involved with the Australian junior golf program and trying to advance it.”

He just happened take on that task in one package, with Day, much like countryman Adam Scott, inspiring a new generation of Aussie golfers the way Greg Norman did before him.

Day turned pro at 18 and came to America to play on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com). When at 19 he won a tournament in Ohio in 2007, Day became the youngest champion of a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.

He earned his PGA Tour card after that season, and in early 2008 Day was back at Torrey Pines as a professional — only 3 1/2 years after winning Junior World.

By that time, Day had added another key member to his tight-knit team.

Swatton and Day frequented a storefront Irish pub, Mavis Winkles, in Twinsburg, Ohio, where, yes, they hold a twins festival every year. Working at the pub was bubbly, 19-year-old Ellie Harvey, a girl from rural Ohio who was going to college.

Ellie took notice of the “cute guy with the Australian accent,” but the then-17-year-old Day was too shy to talk to her. It was more than a year later that Jason got up the nerve to ask her on a date. They went to Applebee’s, chaperoned by Swatton, of course, and were married in 2009.

Their second child, daughter Lucy, arrived in mid-November, and Swatton said he marvels at how Day manages the responsibilities. He points out that among Day’s younger rivals — Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler — none are married or have kids.

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“He’s got a lot of work and life commitments,” Swatton said. “That’s why I’m super proud of him as a dad and as player, but I’m most proud of him as a human being.”

tod.leonard@sduniontribune.com


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