How does one become a star athlete? Refusing to settle for being pretty good was Jason Day’s path to the top of the PGA Tour, but not before he almost gave up on golf. A string of frustrating finishes had Day ready to quit on the eve of The Masters in 2011, and then the second round at Augusta changed his life.
Jason Day saw mixed results after turning pro
Jason Day turned pro in July 2006 at 18 years old and took advantage of a handful of sponsors’ exemptions into PGA Tour events to cash enough checks to get by. Playing on the Nationwide Tour in 2007, he became the youngest player to win on one of the PGA’s three primary American tours, and he earned his PGA Tour card at the age of 19.
The first two seasons playing against the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were rough, but Day broke through in 2010 by winning the Byron Nelson Championship to leap from 126th to 23rd in the FedExCup standings. Later, the PGA Championship began a string of three top-10 finishes, establishing Day as a weekly contender.
Day finished the season with more than $2.9 million in earnings, but he forgot by the following season how much he’d accomplished since his days growing up in Australia. After beginning 2011 with a top-10 showing, Day struggled in five straight stroke-play events, twice missing cuts. Worse, he was finishing further down the standings with each passing week heading to Augusta.
One day before The Masters, Jason Day was ready to quit the sport at the age of 23.
The second round at The Masters changed Jason Day’s life
Caddie Col Swatton and Jason Day’s wife, Ellie, talked the promising young golfer out of quitting before the start of The Masters in 2011. It proved to be a life-changing moment. Day opened with a 72 at Augusta and then shot a second-round 64 that made his huge news.
The third-round 72 kept Day in contention, and he made four birdies in the final seven holes on Sunday to challenge. Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to beat Day by two strokes, but the second-place tie completely changed the young Aussie’s frame of mind.
“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 this week after a practice round. “It was such a big difference between where I was and where I ended up being for that week.”
Day posted a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open later in the season, and even sagging to 88th on the money list in 2012 couldn’t discourage him anymore. It took Day until 2014 to win his second PGA Tour title, a 23-hole final against Victor Dubuisson in the WGC-Match Play, and then his career took off in 2015.
He went on an astonishing run over 15 months
Beginning in February 2015, Jason Day won eight tournaments in 15 months. The hot streak included the 2015 PGA Championship and concluded with The Players Championship in 2016. Jimmy Walker matched 67s with him on Sunday at the PGA Championship, leaving Day just short of a successful defense.
The run of success earned Day a 47-week stint atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
He has fallen off the pace a bit and his two most recent victories came in 2018. Still, Day was able to string together four straight top-seven finishes last summer, including a tie for fourth in the PGA Championship.
Day hasn’t been able to recreate the magic thus far in 2021, and his opening-round 77 at Augusta on Thursday doesn’t bode well for making the cut at the tournament that changed his life a decade ago. But at least he’s still playing the game he grew up playing.