Last Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines with winds up to 195 mph. Day was in Australia, relaxing with his family and gearing up for the World Cup, in which he was to play for his home country alongside his good mate Adam Scott. Based on the early reports, Dening believed her family members were safe. But days went by without any contact, and finally her brother was able to make his way from Manila to check on the missing relatives. "They were gone," says Dening. "Everything was gone." Her mother and another brother perished in the storm, along with six cousins, part of a death toll that exceeded 6,000.
Jason has never visited the Philippines, but he was devastated for his mom. Still, Dening insisted he compete in the World Cup to honor the lost family. Her son played some of the most inspired golf of his life, joining with Scott to win the team title and holding off his countryman for individual honors. "My daughters and I, we couldn't stop crying," says Dening. "Our hearts were full of so much happiness and sadness."
Day connected with his ancestry in a new way by helping organize aid to the Philippines, and being there for his mom and sisters galvanized the family. "We're all closer than we've ever been," he says.
It's one of the many reasons that Day says, "I feel more settled than I ever have." In an act of true love, he has forsaken year-round golf weather to relocate with Ellie and Dash to Columbus, Ohio, so they can be close to her large extended family. (It doesn't hurt that Muirfield Village is 20 minutes down the road; Day is a member, allowing him access to the excellent facilities and to pick Jack Nicklaus's brain.) How comfortable Day has become in his own skin was obvious during sudden death of the Match Play final. After Dubuisson pulled off a second straight miraculous escape from the desert, Day just shook his head and laughed. "That was like a summary of his entire career," says Shear, his trainer. "He could have hung his head and said, 'Ohmygawd, I'm never gonna win again.' I wanted to see what Jason's face looked like at that moment, and when I saw his smile, I turned to my wife and said, 'There's no way he can lose.'"
The next logical step for Day is to finish off a major championship. Augusta National appears to be the perfect venue for him. Why? "Because he hits it high and long and straight," says Scott. "That's a good recipe around there." Anywhere, actually. Adds Martin Laird, "His putting and chipping are ridiculous. He's known as a bomber, but I'd put him in the top five on Tour for short game."
When he looks back at last year's Masters, Day thinks not of the final-round birdies on 13, 14 and 15 that propelled him into the lead but rather what happened next. "Walking to the 16th tee, it felt like I had shortness of breath because everything started getting really quick," he says. "It was like, Man, I've got to slow things down. But I couldn't. It's like you're in a car on snow or ice and you're trying to keep it straight. But it doesn't want to go straight." He failed to account for the extra adrenaline and airmailed the green, leading to a bogey.
Now, in pressure situations, Day slows himself down by talking through his options with Swatton. But a perilous road is a good metaphor for a player who has traveled so far. Over the phone from Australia, Dening is asked what she thinks sustained her son during his long journey to stardom. The line goes silent for a few seconds while she considers the question.
"Belief," she says. "He always believed he could make it. I don't know how, but he did. That's the most powerful force there is. Belief."