HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – As Jason Day made his way down Harbour Town Golf Link’s 18th hole on Wednesday, the distant cadence of a bagpipe rode a warm breeze across Calibogue Sound and the sounds coming from the iconic lighthouse suggested cocktail hour had started early in the Lowcountry.
The Australian couldn’t have been any farther from Augusta National, in mind or body.
It seems to be a rite of heartache that the media fixates on the past long after those involved have moved on.
For Day, his near miss on Sunday at Augusta National lingered into the early hours of Monday, but by the time he’d made the 3 ½-hour drive to Hilton Head Island he’d turn the metaphorical page.
“I thought about it a lot that night,” said Day, who held a share of the lead through 69 holes until he bogeyed two of his last three to finish alone in third place and a stroke out of a playoff won by Adam Scott. “It’s not what I did (on Sunday), but what I did to get there that I’m trying to focus on right now.”
For professional golfers, dealing with disappointment is part of the gig, an occupational hazard that can’t be cheated. How that process manifests itself with each player is as individual as a golf swing, and just as unscientific.
“I just choked,” said Boo Weekley when asked how he dealt with losing a playoff to earn his first PGA Tour title at the 2007 Honda Classic. “I had a nightmare or two after it, right out of the gate. But everybody is different out here.”
Luckily, both Day and Brandt Snedeker, a 54-hole co-leader at last week’s Masters who struggled to a closing 75 and tied for sixth, have Harbour Town, all 7,100 yards of quirky cool that is the competitive equivalent of a reset button.
As demanding and draining as Augusta National can be, Harbour Town is something of a psychological respite.
They call it beach casual in these parts. Snedeker calls it “therapeutic” following last week’s pressure cooker.
“It definitely gets it out of my mind,” Snedeker said. “Sunday night was tough. Anytime you have a chance to win a major championship and you don’t do it, especially the Masters, a tournament I’d give my whole career to win, it’s tough. If it’s not tough, then I need to find another job. It’s supposed to be tough.”
Simply moving on may be even more difficult for these two bridesmaids.
Both Day and Snedeker had come close at Augusta National before. Day finished tied for second at Augusta National in 2011, when Charl Schwartzel birdied his last four holes to win; and Snedeker began the final round two strokes off the lead in 2008 but struggled to a closing 77 and tied for third.
On Wednesday in sunny South Carolina, however, both figured this time was different. It wasn’t because Adam Scott – and runner-up Angel Cabrera – birdied the last hole to force overtime or Sunday’s rains that soften the blow, it was time.
“I think this one is easier because I know I’m going back (to the Masters),” Snedeker said. “2008 was tough because I didn’t know. I was a young kid on Tour; I didn’t know how my career was going to unfold. Now I have a good idea what I’m doing.”
Day also took solace in the notion that the 77th Masters is not the end of the road for his green jacket dreams.
“I came (to the Heritage) in 2011 and it was pretty much the same, a whirlwind,” Day said. “My mind was thinking about the week prior. This week I’m a lot more prepared than I was two years ago.”
The pair has also been savvy enough to avoid too much input. Reliving Sunday in their own minds is one thing; listening to others do it just won’t do. Both have put up a media firewall as a result, largely avoiding the non-stop chatter on television and the Internet.
“You definitely don’t seek out the Golf Channel or Twitter, there is so much negative stuff out there and you try to turn away,” Snedeker said.
As hard as Sunday was for Snedeker and Day, this time does feel easier. Maybe it was the moment, maybe it’s maturity, or maybe it’s the bagpipes and non-stop happy hour of Hilton Head.
Dealing with disappointment is never easy, but the warm breezes coming off of Calibogue Sound make the healing a little easier.