Letter to My Younger Self

Dear 12-year-old Jason,

You’re laughing.

I’m telling you the truth, but you’re laughing.

There’s no chance, you’re thinking. No chance. You’re thinking I’m crazy. You’re thinking that nothing, right now, could be further from possible. You’re staring out at that vast, blue Beaudesert sky — it’s all sky — and you just can’t see it.

But trust me on this one.

You’re going to be the No. 1 golfer in the world.

No — I’m serious, mate. No. 1. The top of the mountain.

Give it 15 years.

You’re laughing. But not just laughing — I know that now.

You’re coping.

We all have to do it; we all have to cope. And we each do it differently based on the life that’s put in front of us.

You’ve had a tough one, lately, I know.

Since your dad passed … a lot has changed. You were there — actually, physically there. You watched him die. At 12 years old, to sit down and try to digest what happened … you haven’t been able to. You’re not going to be able to.

And that’s fine. That’s natural. But just know that this part will not be easy. This part will hurt, a lot.

With no way to look inward, you’re going to start to act outward. You’ll fall into trouble, increasingly. You’ll drink. You’ll get into fights.

As far as golf is concerned — you haven’t played for six months. Not since your dad’s cancer. Sure, you’ll still pick up your clubs sometimes. You’ll take your swings, maybe every other weekend, just to remember what that feels like. But it’s not the same with dad gone. It’s not, and it won’t ever be.

Your dad is the one who put a golf club in your hand. Without him … it’s like a math problem you can’t solve. You don’t know what fits where; don’t know the equation that will make your world finally make sense again. It’s just … hard.

You have your mom, though. You’ll have her, all this time. And for that you should count yourself lucky.

In the wake of your dad’s death — in the moments when it seems like things are falling apart most completely — your mom is the person who is going to keep it together. How, you don’t know. But she will.

And she is going to give you the piece of advice that will truly change you — that will end up meaning everything to you as you move through life.

She is going to tell you that it’s time to play golf again.

She is going to tell you that you have a gift, and that gifts aren’t meant to be wasted — not even on grief. And she is going to give you the opportunity to enroll in the Hills International Golf Academy in Queensland — and then tell you to take that opportunity.

Listen to her.

And be grateful. You’ll be too young to fully grasp what this means, and what sacrifice it will require from your family for you to attend the Academy. But you’ll have some sense. Trust that sense, and be grateful.

Be grateful for your sisters, who will forego college and careers, put dreams of their own on hold, so that your family can afford your tuition. Be grateful for your mom for recognizing your gift, for believing in it even when you ignored it, and for having the faith — and, through sheer determination, barely the means — to gamble on it. To gamble on you.

And be grateful for Col.

Sorry, you have no idea who that is.

“Col” is Colin Swatton, and you’ll meet him soon at the Academy. There isn’t a word in the dictionary that could encompass the roles that Col will have in your life, so I won’t try to find one. But meeting Col will change your entire trajectory — both as a player and as a person. He’ll teach you. He’ll coach you. He’ll caddie for you. He’ll open life’s doors for you. He’ll mentor you. He’ll support you. He’ll listen to you. And most of all, he’ll be there for you.

Col will teach you how to get from golfer to Golfer, and from young man to man. No one outside of your family will ever be more important.

No, scratch that. Col is family.

Turning professional won’t be a smooth transition. It will be what it is, right there in the name: a profession. A job. It will be … work. (Col will be there to remind you: If it wasn’t work, everyone would be doing it.) Your biggest problem, early on, will be that you want to keep your job too badly. Too badly to be any good at it, that is. “You want it too much” — I know, I know. You’re rolling your eyes. It sounds like a cliché. But it’s true.

Your main focus those first couple of years is going to be on keeping your Tour Card. It’s understandable. That card is your license to play professional golf. You’ll have worked your tail off for that card. That card will come to represent an impossible amount of sacrifice from those you love. It will represent the return on their investment — literally. A Tour Card means money … money that, frankly, at this point, you’ll need. That card will be sacred to you. Whatever happens, you’ll need to keep it. I get that.

But here’s a secret, just between us, that you’ll only find out after you’ve been on Tour for a while: “playing to keep your card” is the enemy of “playing to win.”

When you’re playing to keep your card, what you’re really doing is playing without a plan. You’re preparing vaguely. It’s week-to-week. It’s “pick your spots” golf. It’s not all-in.

And that, you’ll soon realize, is what it takes to win on Tour — what it takes to be great: You have to be all-in. You have to prepare with precision. Driving, putting, chipping, physical fitness, mental and tactical discipline … they’re all important. And if you’re playing merely to keep your card, then at various moments you’re going to neglect some of those things. It’s just inevitable. You won’t mean to, I know; but subconsciously you will neglect them. And you can’t.

You need to play to win.

You’ll learn a lot about winning at the 2010 PGA Championship.

No, don’t get too excited. You’re not going to win it. But if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to — and from the best seat in the house. You’re going to be the guy who plays on Sunday with the guy who ends up winning.

It will be Martin Kaymer — and you’re going to be amazed, all day long, by his performance. Just … how patient he is. He won’t even drive it very well. He’ll be a little off, the whole day. And yet, somehow, it won’t matter. That will make a big impression on you. You’ll see how well he keeps his composure; how he never panics. And you’ll see how no individual hole gets him too up or too down. You’ll see that he has one goal, from which he never wavers: to win the tournament.

At this point, you’ll be a good enough golfer to win a major if you’re clicking. But will you be good enough to win if you’re struggling? That’s the level you’ll need to reach, and the level Martin will demonstrate to you that day. You’re going to be disappointed to lose this one, but trust me: Those “How to Win the PGA” mental notes you’re taking — keep’em. They’re going to come in handy.

Measured by results, 2012 is going to be your worst year on Tour. But here’s my advice: don’t measure it by results. Because — and this is a promise — it’s going to be one of the best years of your life.

You’re going to become a dad.

It’s going to be difficult, of course, like anything worth doing. Having a family, for you and Ellie (oh, yeah, very important — keep an eye out for an American named Ellie) … that’s going to be unchartered waters. But you’ll just need to stay patient. Parenting is a complex skill beyond your wildest imagination. There’s this … selflessness to it that you’re not going to be able to comprehend right now. And in a weird way, there’s this selfishness, too. It’s a strange combination. But I’m telling you, mate: It’s magic.

And yeah, your golf is going to suffer a little. Be ready for that. Parenting a newborn while trying to compete at the highest level of a sport … it’s nearly impossible. And you’ll want to be a good husband, too. Ellie is going to deal with post-partum depression, after Dash is born, and you’ll want to be there for her. Dash is going to be growing, crying, laughing … just, existing … and you’ll want to be there for him.

In theory, you’re going to want to keep improving as a golfer; keep building on your momentum from the previous years; sustain a level of play at which you’re competing for majors. But in reality, during that first year, if it means not being by Dash and Ellie’s side, you’re just never going to want to be out on the course. You’re going to want to be with them. Every time, given the choice between golf and a family who needs you — there’s going to be a voice in your head, telling you to choose family. That’s good. Listen to that voice.

You won’t regret it. Being a dad — it’s the most satisfying thing you’ll ever experience. Having a child, and the pure love that you get from that child, is going to be more rewarding than anything you’ll ever get from your career. And when the time is right — and you’ll know when it’s right — golf will still be there. I promise.

So be patient.

Those “How to Win the PGA” notes I told you to keep? You’re going to need them in 2015, at Whistling Straits. You’re going to enter the final round with a two-shot lead over Jordan Spieth — a great player who will be going for his third major of the year.

And you’re going to play the round of your life.

You’ll shoot 67, to finish at 20-under-par — a new major championship scoring record.

In high school, before you wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, every morning, to practice … this is what you’ll dream about. This — a future, far-off moment in your head — is what will keep you waking up earlier and working harder than all of the other kids. This … is it.

“Jason Day, major champion.”

It will sound exactly as good as you hope.

A month later, you’ll head into a tournament called the BMW Championship, knowing that a win there will make you the new No. 1 golfer in the world.

If I told you that you win that, too, would you believe me?

You’re laughing again.

I can tell. You’re thinking I’m crazy.

But you just have to trust me on this one. I know that times are tough right now, and I know that you miss your dad — but you just have to trust me.

It might not always be easy, but it’s going to get easier. It might not always be good, but it’s going to get better.

And if you can’t see that, staring out at the Beaudesert sky — take my word. From the top of the mountain the view’s pretty clear.