Tour Caddies Eager to Return from COVID-19 Hiatus
//As golf courses edge toward reopening, caddies remain in the lurch//
Golfers are peeking out from behind the rubble. As of mid-April, a whopping 51 percent of golf courses around the country had been closed due to statewide restrictions in the battle to contain COVID-19.
Even in states like Oregon, which hasn’t mandated golf closures to curb the virus, some courses have elected for a shutdown. The exalted Bandon Dunes, a six-course behemoth stay-and-play resort largely dependent on global travel, pulled the plug in early April. Bandon’s closure sent shockwaves throughout the golf community, particularly for the resort’s stalwart ranks of 350 caddies. The loopers are independent contractors, entitled only to income paid at the will of their players, likening the resort closure to a full windup gut-punch. Supporters are flocking to the caddies’ aid, though, having contributed more than $200,000 directly to the club’s jocks via a GoFundMe page alongside broad social media amplification.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Bandon Dunes, which will unbar its gates and resume play by May 11. The resort is also due to unveil its highly anticipated new track, the Coore & Crenshaw-designed Sheep Ranch, on June 1. Bandon’s caddies will get under the straps once again.
Despite caddies slowly getting back to work on the country club and resort circuits, tour-level bag bandits are still on furlough. The PGA TOUR, as well as other pro tours around the world, have set ambitious goals to get golf kicked up again—even without spectators. The PGA TOUR have their eyes on the Fort Worth Invitational at Colonial Golf Course, June 11-14, as their entrée back to competition. Nothing is certain.
Paul Tesori, caddie for 2012 US Open winner, Webb Simpson, recalls a shock when The Players Championship was canceled in March. “Selfishly, we were sitting pretty after one day, and it’s home for me. I thought we could’ve played without fans and kept people safe.” Simpson won The Players with Tesori on the bag in 2018.
Tesori noted the financial strain caused by the pause in play. “We had only played three times in 2020 and only five times in the entire season schedule. The Players Championship was the beginning of a six-tournament stretch in eight weeks.”
In addition to weekly Zoom chats with Simpson, Bubba Watson, and Ted Scott, Tesori has been staying busy tackling home improvement projects, and manages to play golf twice each week.
“My initial reaction was a state of shock, really,” said Chad Gonzales, a PGA TOUR caddie, on the shutdown. “At the time, we had already traveled to six events, five out of the country. So there was definitely some worry that we had been exposed to COVID-19. There were just so many unknown questions lingering.”
Gonzales, a four-year TOUR veteran, currently caddies for Austin Smotherman, a 25 year-old Korn Ferry Tour player out of SMU. He says the two talk once per week about the tour’s state of affairs. Before the shutdown, Gonzales and Smotherman had a fully-booked schedule: plane tickets, cars, housing, until everything shuddered to a halt. For now, Gonzales picks up a shift or two per week at his family’s tile company to get out of the house and stay active.
TOUR caddie, Matt Erwin, wasn’t as blindsided about the shutdown, but figured it would be more gradual, starting with eliminating spectators. Erwin had been splitting time looping for Kevin Stadler and Ricky Barnes, and was gearing up for the Valspar Championship before getting word of the hiatus.
In addition to daily text exchanges and building a remote putting routine with Stadler, Erwin is taking some time to get his body right. “The break has given me a chance to rehab my bad shoulder back to a hundred percent, so that’s been a positive thing I've taken from this pandemic,” he said.
If nothing else, TOUR caddies are eager to get back on the golf course. “I’m looking forward to the competition and process of getting better,” said Tesori. “You miss that when it’s taken away.”