LAKE FOREST, Ill. — So about that caddie switch.
It certainly was awkward the other day to listen to Jason Day describe how much he cares about his long-time caddie, Colin Swatton, while dumping him at the same time.
The man all but took on the role of Day’s father back in Australia at a time when a young kid who had gone astray needed some guidance. Then he helped him with his golf game, coached him through his formative years as a pro and served as caddie and coach while Day ascended to No. 1 in the world rankings.
Their relationship dates back 17 years and the caddie aspect 11. After a rocky 16 months without a victory, compounded by back problems and motivational issues, Day, 29, decided to make the switch and put one of his old buddies on the bag with just two events to play in the PGA Tour season.
So far, it’s working.
Day couldn’t match Friday’s exploits, which included a hole-in-one and another eagle. But his 1-under-par 70 on Saturday kept him in touch with the lead and gives him a chance to win at Conway Farms Golf Club, where he won the BMW Championship two years ago.
“Leish is playing spectacular,” said Day, who trails third-round leader Marc Leishman by 5 strokes. “I’ve got to come out and play really good golf because he’s not making any mistakes. He’s hitting it in the right spots, hitting it on the greens and holing putts. That’s a good formula for success, and it’s going to be tough.”
Day, who is tied with Rickie Fowler in second place, didn’t seem too bothered. He is happy to be in the mix during what has been an emotional week, with constant questions about the change on his bag.
As uneasy as that caddie switch still seems, golfers are known for seizing upon such a shake-up. Although it was a shocking move, Day seemed to suggest that he was blaming Swatton for his poor play, even though he knew otherwise.
Luke Reardon, a high school friend and accomplished golfer in their earlier days, got the assignment.
“I think my mindset is a lot different,” Day said. “I feel like I’m a lot more excited having my buddy on the bag. Luke is doing a great job. He walked the course two, three times this week just to make sure all the numbers are correct.
“I think he was a little nervous starting [the first] round. Had to tell him to get out of the way, people’s lines and stuff. But saying that, he’s starting to kind of find his way.”
That alone could have been a problem. The last thing a golfer needs is for his caddie to be running afoul of protocol, just one more distraction. But getting past that, Day said there is more of a comfort level than might have been expected.
“The biggest thing for me is for him to be able to be comfortable enough to have conversations with me out there,” Day said. “I’m out there saying, should I hit this club or that club? We grew up together. He’s seen me hit a boatload of shots. We’ve played pretty much every Wednesday and every Saturday together throughout our high school years, and being able to have those conversations, putting my 100 percent trust in his ability to be able to tell me, ‘OK … I think you should hit a different club …’ that’s the communication that is needed, especially for me to be able to perform the way I have.”
Going into the final round of the BMW Championship, Marc Leishman finished with a birdie for a 3-under 68 on Saturday to extend his lead to five shots over Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.
Forgive Rory McIlroy if it seems he’s in a hurry at the BMW Championship. With hopes of defending his FedEx Cup title all but dead, it’s understandable if he’s anxious for this season of injury and disappointment to be over.
Keegan Bradley needs a strong showing at the BMW Championship to earn a spot in next week’s Tour Championship, which would erase the bad taste in his mouth from missing out on two of this year’s majors.
Of course, Swatton had that experience and more: 11 years of caddying for Day, including on some of the biggest stages. That’s a lot different than Wednesdays and Saturdays in Australia.
Plus, it can be much different when the pressure is suffocating and a caddie is faced with a dilemma: Does he tell the player what he wants to hear or what he needs to hear?
All of that is likely of little concern to Day at the moment. He has put himself in contention and is looking for a victory that would make this year look quite different. It won’t be easy on Sunday, as catching countryman Leishman appears a tall task on a course where big mistakes are unlikely.
But if nothing else, Day has secured himself a higher FedEx Cup ranking and some momentum heading to the Tour Championship next week, where another big-money tourney awaits.
“It’s slowly building,” said Day, who began this year at No. 1 in the world and has dropped to ninth. “I’m just trying to do that. At the start of the year, I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle with myself, and I feel like I’m just kind of relaxed out there right now.”