Jason Day almost quit golf two days before the 2011 Masters. Then he nearly won it
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ten years ago this week, on the eve of the 2011 Masters, Jason Day almost quit golf.
Imagine that, if you will ... a 23-year-old just hours from his first start at Augusta National Golf Club, every kid's dream, and thinking about withdrawing.
He was that discouraged after a handful of poor tournament finishes.
Day's inner circle, which included former caddie Col Swatton and his wife Ellie, talked him out of it. He shot 72 in the first round, then went low on Friday with a 64, beating playing partners Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler by five shots.
After another 72 in the third round and an even-par first nine on Sunday, Day birdied Nos. 12, 13, 17 and 18 to post a 12-under-par 276, a record for Masters rookies and good enough for the clubhouse lead with Australian countryman Adam Scott.
Unfortunately, Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to lap everyone, so Day finished two shots back. But he still has fond memories of a week that almost didn't happen.
Photos: Monday's Masters practice round
"It was nice to be able to turn around and shoot 64 on Friday and think that I was going to quit the game of golf on Wednesday," Day said Monday at Augusta National, after a practice round for his 10th Masters start. "It was such a big difference between where I was and where I ended up being for that week."
It took Day nearly three years to win his second PGA Tour title but it was a thrilling 23-hole final against Victor Dubuisson in the WGC-Match Play.
Then, the following year, he launched one of the best periods of extended play in recent years on the PGA Tour with eight victories in 27 months, including the 2015 PGA Championship, two FedEx playoff events, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a second Match Play crown and a dominant performance in winning wire-to-wire at the 2016 Players Championship.
He was No. 1 in the world rankings, and the sky was seemingly the limit.
Day has leveled off since then and has won only twice since his Players title, both in 2018, to give him 12 titles for his career.
He has gone nearly another two years without a victory but said his body, which has often failed him through a series of back injuries, and mind are in a good place.
So good, that he said he has set his sights on getting to the No. 1 spot in the world again -- he's 48th this week -- and staying there.
"My goal is to get back to No. 1 in the world, and I know that I'll definitely do a lot of things differently just because I've been in that position beforehand," he said. "If I get back there ... hopefully I can actually extend and have longevity at No. 1 like a Dustin [Johnson] or [Greg] Norman, Tiger [Woods], something like that."
Day said he has matured at the age of 33, and it's obvious a few questionable performances don't cause him to think about giving up the game he loves -- as it almost did in 2011.
He said he's not nearly as impulsive and doesn't focus on results so much that it consumes him.
"To be driven by results to make you happy, that's very temporary, and your emotions go up and down," he said. "To the point where you're always constantly thinking about it."
Day has posted a pair of good performances in recent months, a tie for seventh at Pebble Beach and a tie for 18th at the WGC-Workday Championship in Bradenton.
He missed the cut at the November Masters last year but tied for fifth in 2019, with 67s in the second and fourth rounds. It was his fourth career top-10 finish at Augusta.
Day was asked if he felt as if he were "playing under the radar" this week.
"I feel like the game is kind of shaping up in a nice way," he said. "Playing under the radar is nice sometimes. I'd much rather be in the spotlight because you're playing good, but right now I've been here since last Friday, so I've had a lot of practice getting in under the belt and I'm looking forward to the week starting."
As far as his body goes, Day said he's in the best shape of his life, after 16 MRIs since turning pro.
Jason Day's Masters Record
He's emphasizing the mental part of his game, rather than the physical. Day said he knows how to work smarter, not necessarily longer -- although he has been on the property since Friday.
"I've just got to do things differently now," he said. "I'm not 21 anymore. I've just got to ... prepare a little bit differently. I think it has to be more on the mental side now than anything else. I'm doing a lot more visualization off the golf course than I've ever had in previous years, just due to the fact that the mind is probably the strongest thing that you'll have out on the golf course, and if I can't put in the work as much as I used to, then I'll have to do it off the golf course and with my mental game."
Day said the course is more to his liking in returning to April.
"Obviously last November it was really soft," he said. "If you've walked the golf course, it's playing a lot firmer, which is great. I think that's the best thing that we could possibly have is a firm golf course."