AKRON, Ohio — Jason Day’s caddie for his practice round on Wednesday was a bit taller than normal. And compared to who usually carries Day’s bag, this new guy has one helluva jump shot.
Ahead of Thursday’s first round of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith served as Day’s caddie, spending time around the putting greens and walking the back 9 with one of the world’s best.
The two met through Smith’s sport of choice and hit it off, leading Smith to ditch the court for a day in favor of a few fairways.
“I actually know him through watching basketball,” Day said.
“I go up to watch the games, I got to meet J.R., we’ve been good buddies ever since.”
Day took time before many of his shots to explain something to Smith, or to detail what he was tying to do on that given swing. The goal for the day was for Day to help lower Smith’s handicap from an 8 to a mid-5, and probably have a few more laughs than a normal practice round.
“I’ve got a secret weapon,” Smith said for his golf-game improvement plan. He added that his biggest problem is looking up too early in his swing and working out of the rough. Day had the answer.
“You’ve always got to think about that target,” he told Smith.
“There’s nothing worse when you’re standing up (to hit) and you don’t feel good about it, you’re thinking about a hazard, and it takes you off your game. When I think about my target a lot more, all the distractions go away.”
It was a rare day in which the caddie might have received more crowd attention than the player, even with Day being a former No. 1-ranked player in the world and currently No. 7.
Smith often played with the growing crowd and responded to yells of “Go, Cavs!” or “Go, J.R.!” as they worked their way along the back 9. One younger fan, on the 18th tee, yelled out, “Thanks, J.R., for not leaving like Kyrie,” which warranted a couple of “ooohhhs” from the crowd but no reaction from Smith.
Smith did hit one shot after being egged on a bit by Day and the gallery. On the 18th tee, Day hit a monster drive and then turned to Smith, who momentarily left the bag, grabbed Day’s driver and warmed up.
The drive wasn’t entirely on track, ending up in the trees, but Day was quick to point out that he had been carrying a 45-pound bag all day. Which, in a way, was Smith’s workout for the day.
“It was heavy,” Smith said of carrying the bag. “It got heavy like the seventh, eighth, ninth hole. I don’t know how he does it four days in a row.”
Day did have a compliment for Smith’s short game with his putting, chipping and his ability to read greens, so the day was salvaged.
“Happy for sure,” Smith said, relieved. “I feel like the guy who just asked the head cheerleader to the prom and she said, ‘Yes.’ So, it makes me feel good.”
The advice wasn’t only traveling one way, though. Day asked Smith about being mentally tough while in a slump, something that can transfer from sport to sport.
“I asked him, ‘If you’re struggling in a game or something, how do you pick yourself up?’ ” Day said.
“He said, ‘You know what, it’s just a game and (you have to be) able to relax, go out and know that you still have the skill and ability to make these shots.’ …
“So to be able to hear that coming from his mouth, even though I’ve maybe gone through a bad stretch of golf, as long as I keep working hard, I’ll get out of it as long as I don’t have to attach myself to the negative side of playing poorly.”
LeBron James, not wanting Day to recruit Smith off the basketball court with his newfound golf knowledge, jokingly tweeted, “Don’t leave us for the tour (at)Therealjrsmith!!!”
It’s not likely — even if Smith from 23 feet, 9 inches on the green might be a touch better than Day from behind the 3-point line on a basketball court.