SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Jason Day was just six years old when his father gave him a gift that would change his life forever.
Alvin Day was rummaging through piles of garbage at a rubbish tip in Australia when he spotted an old golf club that someone had thrown away.
A meatworker struggling to make ends meet, Alvin took the club home and gave it to his son as a present.
Blessed with natural talent, Jason swung the club on every chance he had so his dad took him to the local public course to let him play for real.
By the time he was eight, Jason was playing and winning junior tournaments and dreaming of being a professional. And Alvin was beaming with pride, telling everyone his son would one day be a champion.
That day finally came on Sunday when Day won the PGA championship, one of golf’s four major titles, at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
But Alvin never got the chance to see his son become a champion or even grow into a man. He died from stomach cancer when Jason was just 11.
The trauma of losing his father hit Jason hard. He began drinking alcohol at the age of 12 and getting into fights at school. Golf became his salvation.
His mother Dening, who was born in the Philippines, knew that drastic action was needed.
She was so poor that she would cut the grass with a knife because she couldn’t afford to fix the lawnmower, and would boil water on the stove so her kids could have a warm shower when the heater didn’t work.
But she took out a second mortgage on the family home and borrowed money from relatives to send Jason to a boarding school in southeast Queensland that produced Adam Scott, Australia’s first and only Masters champion, and Cathy Freeman, the Olympic gold medalist.
Dening was not at the course when Day won the title on Sunday. She was back in Queensland, at work, following the tournament on the internet.
“I was so excited and I‘m just so proud of him... it has been a long time coming for him,” she told Australia’s ABC radio.
“He has worked so hard at every tournament, he’s always tried his best and to win this one and the last major for the year is tremendous.”
Day was already in tears before he sank the final tap-in putt to seal his first major title as the enormity of what he had achieved overwhelmed him.
He threw his arms around his caddie and coach Colin Swatton, who he first met at the boarding school. Day credits Swatton with turning his life around, not just as his coach but as a father figure.
“He’s been there for me since I was 12 and a half years old. It’s been a long-time relationship between me and Colin,” Day said at his news conference.
“He’s taken me from a kid that was getting in fights at home and getting drunk at 12 and not heading in the right direction to a major champion winner. And there’s not many coaches that can say that in many sports. So, he means the world to me. I love him to death.”
Already one of the world’s best players, Day had been close to winning majors before, recording nine top-10 finishes before, but has had to endure more heartbreak off the course.
In 2013, he lost eight members of his extended family, including his grandmother, when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people.
So in the moments following his greatest triumph, it was no surprise that his thoughts turned to his family as his infant son Dash ran on to the 18th green to hug him then his wife Ellie, pregnant with the couple’s second child, joined them.
“I’ve changed so much from where I was and what I saw as a kid to where I am now,” he said.
”It’s just an amazing, amazing feeling, an amazing story to really be able to tell people that, give them insight on what I felt and the emotions that I’ve gone through growing up as a kid in Australia and losing my dad very young.
“But to be honest, I have no idea where I would be, what I would be doing, probably wouldn’t be doing much of anything. And I wouldn’t be challenging myself and trying to better myself if I didn’t have the people that I have in my life today.”
Reporting by Julian Linden