You couldn’t have painted a prettier picture and rarely could have told a better golf story.
Jason Day tapped in to win the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, then began to cry. His caddie and longtime mentor, Colin Swatton, held his head in disbelief before hugging Day.
Day’s mop-topped son followed, and then his wife, and then Day and Swatton stood on the 18th green, explaining how a problematic teen in need of a father figure had become a champion.
“To have him walk up the 18th hole with me was just a special, special thing that I could never forget,” Day said then.
Wednesday morning, Day played in a pro-am, even giving swing tips to an amateur as they walked down the ninth fairway at TPC Twin Cities. He’ll compete in the inaugural 3M Open beginning on Thursday, having earned his reputation as one of golf’s nicest people and most puzzling contenders.
When he won the PGA, Day held off Jordan Spieth when Spieth was the world’s best player and set a major-championship record by shooting 20 under par. He is one of three players, with Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy, to win the WGC match play multiple times, and he won the Players Championship in 2016.
Day hasn’t won the PGA Tour in more than a year, and he missed the cut twice in majors in 2018. This year, he has finished fifth at the Masters, 23rd at the PGA and 21st at the U.S. Open.
He belongs to a class of golfers who could be picked to win any major and who will need to more often justify those predictions to have the kind of career they covet.
“My game is kind of starting to take a turn,” he said on Wednesday.
The strangest bend in his career led to him hiring Steve Williams, Tiger Woods’ former caddie.
Day’s father died of cancer when he was 12. Day has told stories of his father’s violence and alcoholism. After his father’s death, his mother enrolled him in the Kooralbyn International School in Queensland, Australia, where Swatton became his father figure and coach, the man who straightened him out when he strayed.
Swatton helped Day to a No. 1 ranking, but Day replaced him in 2017, saying he wanted to preserve their friendship after a spell during which Day felt frustrated with his performance.
Swatton remains his swing coach. Day said Wednesday that Williams has become his new mentor.
“He’s created a lot more discipline in myself with regards to my game,’’ Day said. “I’m working a lot harder now than I had previously, in the last couple of years. Whether that ultimately returns in good results, we’ll see. I’ve just got to be patient with it.
“We’re still trying to win tournaments this year, but 2020 is when we’re going to fire on all cylinders and try to get things going, because I think with all the work and the process that we’re trying to put forward, hopefully that kind of starts to pay dividends next season.’’
Day ranks 18th in the world. Williams may be the rare caddie willing to tell him that’s not good enough.
“It’s nice to be able to have a caddie who has done it all and is willing to say, ‘If you don’t work hard, I’m off the bag,’ ” Day said. “So that kind of gives you a kick-start in the right direction. He’s very positive, he keeps you pushing forward.’’
Working with a player who never wants to offend anyone, Williams could reprise his role as Woods’ bouncer. That would be an intriguing combination for the first winners of the 3M Open — a player anyone could pull for, and a caddie who can intimidate fans who think it’s clever to scream, “Get in the hole!’’ on the first tee.