JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The scores on the leaderboard kept on dropping at a staggering pace.
Had it been a normal golf tournament, caddie Paul Tesori, a St. Augustine native and his boss Webb Simpson would have been in the thick of the applause walking down the fairway during the final round of Sunday’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, SC.
“You would hear some boys in the back patio who are cooking out in one of the condos in Hilton Head,” Tesori said. “They would yell out, ‘Happy Father’s Day, come have a beer, Webb.’ Something like that.”
Tesori, a St. Augustine High School graduate who has caddied for Simpson since 2011, said that it’s been an adjustment for him as the PGA Tour has cranked back up following a 13-week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans can provide an extra jolt in golf. The sound of the gallery in the distance can help tell stories.
How odd has it been for Tesori to be on the bag during a pandemic that has seen the elimination of fans at sporting events? It’s been almost like turning back the clock to pre-professional days. The high school memories from St. Augustine have faded, but Tesori said that he remembers the atmosphere of college golf well.
“I remember trying to win a national championship in Florida, with all, with everything on the line and you would have your teammates out watching you and your coach. And that was about it and then the other teams,” Tesori said. “You would have these big moments where you’d make a big putt to win an SEC championship and all you had was the roar of your own teammates.”
Sunday’s final round at Harbor Town was a wild one on the scoreboard. Forty-eight golfers had final rounds in the 60s.
Simpson was spectacular down the stretch, making birdies on five of his final seven holes to finish with a 7-under 64. Five other golfers finished within three strokes of Simpson, who was a staggering 22 under for the event and edged Abraham Ancer by a stroke. Simpson sank a 2-foot putt on 18 for a par to wrap up the win.
“I think the internal desires the same [with or without fans] …,” Tesori said. “If you transfer that 18th hole at Harbor Town and move it to the crowd and 18 at TPC, you’re gonna feel a little bit more, maybe a little bit more nerves, a little bit more of the anxiousness.
“I think at that at this stage of Webb’s career, he loves that, and he looks forward to that. When you’re playing well, I really think that it doesn’t matter as much with the fans being there or not. If you’re struggling a little, you need the fans there to kind of energize you and we’re looking forward to getting them back hopefully sometime soon.”
For Tesori and his wife, Michelle, the pandemic also slowed down their plans to do more with their foundation and premier event, the All-Star Kids Clinic. That event for children with special needs began in 2015 and slowly evolved into a headliner during tournament golf weeks. The clinic had included stops in four cities, but had planned 20 events in 2020 as its impact continued to spread.
“Michelle, my wife, was really excited that schedule came back. I think she had enough of me being home, I kept getting in the way trying to fix things and instead breaking things,” he said. “The more we can get back on the road and see these kids again, and also kind of get back to some sense of normalcy which it looks like it’s still gonna be a little while, I think we’ll all be better off.”