LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Jason Day was an emotional wreck in the days leading up to the BMW Championship.
The former world No. 1 parted ways with long-time caddie and mentor Colin Swatton, saying the “chemistry” between the two was headed toward a potential “toxic relationship.” Day said he couldn’t risk the two’s bond, which began when he was a troubled 12-year-old who met Swatton at the Kooralbyn International School in Australia and started to turn his life around.
While Swatton remains Day’s coach, it was the latest disruption in a troublesome year that has challenged the Aussie. Bothered by a bad back throughout the year, Day, 29, also was unnerved in March when his mother, Adenil “Dening” Day, had a cancerous tumor measured at 3.5 centimeters removed from her left lung. She’s recovered nicely, Day said, which provided him some rare good news in 2017.
On the course, however, Day’s game has been off as he’s fallen from No. 1 to No. 9 in the world and recorded just four top-10s in 17 starts. So as the man who won five times in 2015 and three times in 2016 prepared for the third event of the FedExCup Playoffs this week at Conway Farms Golf Club, he had no idea what he would produce inside the gallery ropes this week.
But he clung to two memories – he had played well of late, and he destroyed Conway Farms when he won the 2015 BMW Championship, shooting 61-63-69-69 to win by six shots.
Well, new caddie, same old Day. For the second consecutive round, he overpowered the course and lit up the scoreboard. After an opening-round 64, he punctuated his 65 on a sun-drenched Friday with a hole-in-one on the 17th hole. At 13 under through 36 holes, he’s on the first page of the leaderboard in pursuit of his first victory since the 2016 Players Championship.
He trails leader Marc Leishman (62-64) by three shots.
“At the start of the year I felt like I was kind of fighting an uphill battle with myself, trying to force things too much and I feel like I’m just kind of relaxed out there right now,” Day said. “Even after the hole-in-one I wasn’t even amped. I felt my heart would be pounding more. I kind of went about my business. That tells me my mind is in the right spot.
“ … It has been awhile since I’ve been in this position but I’m not saying that it’s a surprise.”
Day’s ace came from 186 yards and he used a 7-iron. He got some great advice from his new caddie, Luke Reardon, before hitting the shot. Reardon is one of Day’s best mates and his former roommate at the golf academy in Australia and has seen him hit thousands of shots. So right before Day stepped to the tee, Reardon told him to hit the ball a little harder than normal for it to carry just a few yards longer. Mission accomplished.
“I feel like I’m a lot more excited having my buddy on the bag. Luke is doing a great job,” said Day, who has two career aces on the PGA Tour, the last coming in 2008. “Obviously not having Cole on the bag is different. Luke was a little nervous starting yesterday’s round … but he’s starting to kind of find his way. That’s the biggest thing for me … is for him to be able to be comfortable enough to have conversations with me out there because I mean, I’m out there saying should I hit this club or that club and we grew up together. He’s seen me hit a boatload of shots.”
Day’s ace was a windfall for the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full housing and tuition college scholarships to caddies across the country and is the lone beneficiary of the tournament. A BMW Hole-in-One Scholarship was made, which will provide a full, four-year scholarship worth $100,000 to the Evans Scholars Foundation. As well, Day won a BMW M760i, worth slightly more than $150,000, which he donated to the foundation.
Now he’d like to cash in again this week and next at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, the finale of the FedExCup Playoffs. The top 30 in the standings after this week head to Atlanta. Day was 28th in the standings but is now projected well inside the top 30.
“My biggest goal is to get to the Tour Championship to give myself a shot at winning the FedExCup,” Day said. “Right now I’m in a good spot for that.”
A much better spot than he was in at the start of the week.