By Adam Schupak
AUSTIN, Texas – Raw emotion poured from Jason Day as he broke the news that his mother, Dening, has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Day wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve, his face a blotch of red, his eyes glassy and the words unwilling to fall from his mouth.
"Do you need a minute?" PGA Tour media official Chris Reimer said.
The impromptu news conference at Austin Country Club had been arranged after Day, the defending champion of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, conceded his match to Pat Perez after being 3 down through six holes, and withdrew from the competition, citing his mother's upcoming lung-cancer surgery.
"She's going in for surgery this Friday, and it's really hard to even comprehend being on the golf course right now because of what she's gone through," Day said.
Day said that his mother, 59, had a 3-4-centimeter growth in a lung, and had been given a terminal prognosis with 12 months to live. Day recently brought her from Australia to the U.S., where she had undergone a battery of tests.
It was a far cry from his playful demeanor just a day earlier during his pre-tournament news conference when Day sounded ready to go the distance again to defend his title. He joked that he was staying at the home of fellow Tour pro Nick Watney, and they were going to pass the time playing the video game Call of Duty, guzzling Mountain Dew and munching on pizza. He was ready to take no prisoners. What transpired between then and his decision to forfeit his match is unclear. There was no indication that there was any new information on his mom's condition, which might have led to his difficulties on the course.
Some will ask, with all that is going on in his personal life, what was he doing in Austin in the first place? A fair question, and one that agent Bud Martin addressed to the media. "The most important thing in her world is him playing golf and being happy," he said.
Anyone who watched the gut-wrenching news conference could see that Day was overwhelmed with emotion. A player who usually closes his eyes and pictures his shot before pulling the trigger, Day couldn't concentrate.
"He feels very bad about withdrawing, as any champion does," Martin said. "He just couldn't go on competing."
Day, 29, has a history of withdrawing from tournaments, citing back injuries or illness. Three weeks ago, he pulled out of the WGC Mexico Championship with a double ear infection and the flu. In 2015, he memorably battled vertigo during the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
For 51 weeks, from last year’s Match Play victory until mid-February, Day was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He is among the most gifted golfers of his generation, but he also has developed a reputation for being fragile and prone to drama. This latest incident will only embolden his critics.
The last time we witnessed him wiping away tears, it was because he’d finally won a major after countless close calls. Day shed those tears of joy in 2015, after a dominating performance at the PGA Championship.
Cancer has struck Day's family before. He was 12 when his father, Alvyn, who bought young Jason his first club at a pawn shop, died of stomach cancer in 1999.
"I've already gone through it once with my dad,” Day said, “and I know how it feels.”
His mother sacrificed so that Day could have a chance at a better life. She took out a second mortgage on their home in Australia, borrowed money from relatives and worked a second job to afford his tuition to the same boarding school that Adam Scott attended.
“I mean, we were poor,” Day said after his PGA victory at Whistling Straits. “I remember watching her cut the lawn with a knife because we couldn’t afford to fix the lawn mower. I remember not having a hot-water tank, so we had to use a kettle for hot showers.”
Day has done what any good son would do. He brought his ailing mother to his family’s home in Columbus, Ohio, where she can get the best medical attention that money can buy. What does this mean for Day's preparation for the Masters in two weeks, or even his appearance? It's too soon to say, but it pales in comparison to his mother's well-being.
"Whether he's playing that, I know that's something he wants to do,” Martin said. “But anyone around here that has a mother, I think you know that she comes first.”
Who can fault a son for that?
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @adamschupak