Amid COVID-19, ‘The entire world has become our golf course and we are all members of it’

This last week has been chaotic for all of us.  Sadly, by the time you will start reading this article and by the time you will finish it, more people around our world will test positive from the Coronavirus COVID-19, and more people will die from it.

Facts are facts, but trust me: this article isn’t meant to scare you!  On the contrary, it is only meant to bring us altogether, ALL OF US, during these very challenging times.

COVID-19 is spreading faster than Brandt Snedeker’s putting stroke, Nick Price’s swing or Matt Jones’ place of play. Fast. But I choose to only spread positivity among everyone.  Because being positive is my own nature.  And we all need positivity somehow right now. To the eyes of so many: “I am just a caddie.”  But I have life and I can do so much good with it.  We have life and we can do so much good with it.

One of the most important caddie duties on the golf course during tournament rounds, if not the most important, is to somehow find solutions in order to keep our players calm, composed, relaxed, focused and positive during complicated situations. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t.  But at least most of the time we try.  It’s our job.

Right now, we all live in total uncertainty.  How fast will the virus keep spreading? Will I be OK? Will I lose my job? When will we play golf again?  When will the PGA, LPGA, Korn Ferry, Champions, European, Challenge tours, among all others, host golf tournaments again?  No one knows.

Our current reality is that the game of golf does not occupy the front seats of our minds anymore.  And frankly, it shouldn’t.

Caddie Basile Dalberto is heeding the warnings when it comes to COVID-19 and you should too.

The entire world has become our golf course.  And we are all members of it.  We need to take care of it, and to do so: we need to take care of ourselves.  The message is clear: STAY HOME. AND IF YOU DO GO OUTSIDE IN PUBLIC PLACES: WEAR FACE MASKS.

As an analogy, we need to scramble for pars, have some birdies from positive, inspiring actions and clearly: we need to avoid double bogeys and triple bogeys.  We all hate those anyway.

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It is time for all of us to improve our attitudes on this golf course.  Golf etiquette is what makes this game we all love so respected around our world.  Life is about choices.  And once again, we all need to make the right choices to make some birdies.

I’m not a doctor.  I know as much about COVID-19 as most of you do: not much.  We’re all surrounded by and exposed to constant information about the virus via the news channels and via the internet.  Some factual, some fictional.  We’re not sure.

But as most of the very best players in the game of golf always focus on the basics of the game: grip, posture and alignment, I strongly believe that it is vital for all of us to only focus on the basic facts we know about our current situation: COVID-19 spreads fast and COVID-19 kills.  Our respective governments are imposing strong measures in order to slow down the spreading.  We need to follow them.  But the most important fact is that our attitudes and actions determine the spread of this virus.

Once again, “I am just a caddie.”  I can only write about what it’s been like to be a European Tour caddie lately.  And I can also write about what my home country, Czech Republic, has done for its citizens and residents like myself, in order to protect us from the virus.

Sharing this with you will result, I believe, in learning positive lessons for the current situation.  I hope.  Some of you will agree with these opinions.  Some won’t.  But if you don’t, I’m just asking you to peacefully respect these opinions.  Please.  Our world needs respect more than possibly ever right now.  There’s no time for judgements at this point.  Because we’re all in the same boat.

The Coronavirus COVID-19 emerged in the last days of 2019, hence its name COVID-19: “Coronavirus Disease 2019,” and the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China.  When I first heard about it on the news, I didn’t pay much attention to it.  But as it got more media exposure, at the time of the outbreak, my first reaction was unfortunately a judgmental one.  Having been to China many times, having seen outdoor food markets there, and having seen the lack of basic hygiene, my first thoughts were: “well, with how the Chinese people live, no wonder they’re having this virus now.”

I didn’t take it seriously.  I didn’t care.  I thought that this was going to be their problem.  But obviously, it isn’t anymore, is it?  I do know that I regret my behavior now.  Basically, we, all of us, should not ever joke about any disease.  Because it could happen to any of us and to any of our loved ones.

If there’s one professional golf tour which was going to be challenged first from this outbreak, it was definitely going to be the European Tour.

Let’s face it: The European Tour is actually a World Tour, and it has been for many years.  Between January and May, the Tour travels to Africa, to the Middle East, to Australia, to India, and to Asian countries such as Malaysia and China.  Then, from May until late October, tournaments occur on European soil.  And on top of it: the real beauty and strength of the European Tour resides in its multicultural membership: players come from all over the world.  So do caddies.

READ: For veteran caddies — especially in Europe — there’s no place like home

It was during the Omega Dubaï Desert Classic, from January 20-26, that we heard more about the virus outbreak in China.  And the following week, it was the first time that some players and caddies wore face masks in airports and airplanes.  I wasn’t.  I was still a bit in denial.

In the first two weeks of February, the virus outbreak switched to an epidemic as thousands of Chinese residents of the Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital, tested positive, and many of them died quickly.  At that point, this epidemic made the headlines all over the world.  But still, would it impact golf tournaments?

Basile Dalberto taking a walk around an empty park in Prague.

On February 14, the European Tour decided to officially postpone both the Maybank Championship, which was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from April 16-19 and the Volvo China Open, which was scheduled to take place in Shenzhen, China, from April 23-26.

Postponing the Chinese event made total sense to me.  But the one in Malaysia made me wonder… Is the virus already there?  Can it travel that fast?  I was a bit confused, and not the only one.  Little did we know, and this was only just over one month ago…

A lot has happened since.  On March 6, the European Tour officially postponed The Magical Kenya Open which was supposed to take place between March 12-15.  On March 11, they postponed the Hero Indian Open which was supposed to happen this week.  On March 17, the Tour postponed the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, which was supposed to take place between April 30-May 3 at Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain.  Thursday, the Golfsixes Cascais was cancelled and the Made in Denmark presented by FREJA has been postponed.  Both events were due to occur in May.

Moreover, and most importantly, the promoter of the Czech Masters cancelled the next edition of the tournament which was due to take place here in Prague between August 20-23.  To give you a clear idea: this is the same week as the second FedEx Cup playoff event on the PGA Tour, the BMW Championship.

Talking about the PGA Tour, as you all know, all tournaments are now either cancelled or postponed until the Charles Schwab Challenge, in the second half of May.  The Masters is postponed.  So is the PGA Championship.

Most upcoming golf events around our world are either cancelled or postponed.  So are all sporting events.  Without a doubt, our current situation isn’t about golf or all sports anymore.  It’s about going through this crisis in the best way possible.

As a European Tour caddie, I cannot thank enough the European Tour CEO Keith Pelley for protecting the players, the caddies, his staff, the entire community involved with the Tour, and all the fans during this crisis.  It must have not been easy to monitor the situation.  And it still isn’t I imagine.

I also watched the press conferences of Jay Monahan regarding his decisions, and I am sure that players, caddies, fans and so on are so proud and thankful now for his work and his strict decisions.

The LPGA also did a great job at protecting its players and everyone else involved with the Tour and the tournaments.

SAFETY IS OUR PRIORITY.

I took full consciousness of the severity of this crisis only six days ago.  In effect, on Friday March 13, I was supposed to fly to Miami for a holiday in Sarasota, Florida.  But I couldn’t sleep.  The virus was here in Czech Republic and I felt that everything here was going to change very quickly.  I took an UBER to the Airport at 4 a.m. to go cancel my flight as the airline’s website was frozen and once I got there, countless American students were there, hoping to get seats on flights as the University semester here was cancelled.

At lunch time that day, one of the European Tour’s employees, from Italy, posted a photo about the situation in Rome and begged everyone to stay home to stay safe.  Instantly, I realized the seriousness of our crisis, soon to be global, and I shared her post in order to bring awareness within my own social media network.

In the evening, here in Prague, the Czech Government announced the closure of all shops and restaurants.  We had 95 positive tested cases then and zero deaths, for a country of 10.65 million people.

And 48 hours later, the nation entered national quarantine.

Today, we can go outside only by wearing a face mask.  And for people who do not have one yet, a scarf covering your nose and mouth is allowed.

We currently now have 631 positive cases and still zero death, which is a phenomenal record in my opinion, compared to our European neighbors who really suffer.

Czech Republic handles this crisis well compared to others because of the very strict rules imposed by our government.  And if you don’t follow the rules, fines are heavy.

I saw a video today of college students in the U.S. having parties on the beaches of Miami and Georgia to “celebrate Spring Break.”  I was shocked. Pure ignorance and selfishness.

The only goal of my article is to bring awareness, nothing else.  I was ignorant myself and I was judgmental.  But thankfully, I’m not anymore.  So please: don’t be ignorant nor judgmental, and please make sure that your entourage isn’t as well.

WE ALL HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO BRING RESPONSIBILITY.

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Because ignorance during this crisis will kill.  This pandemic could possibly be the greatest challenge of our generation the way it is going.

We have seen countless generous, inspiring acts from our sports role models these last days in order to help the people who suffer the most in our crisis: Rudy Gobert donating $500,000 to various causes, Jason Heyward donating $200,000 to the coronavirus relief in Chicago, Jeremy Lin donating $150,000 to Unicef, Kevin Love donating $100,000 to events staff who are currently not getting paid, Blake Griffin also giving $100,000 to events staff, Karl-Anthony Towns donating $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for providing testing for COVID-19, Giannis Antetokounmpo donating $100,000 to workers at Fiserv Forum, 19-year-old Zion Williamson taking care of all workers’ salaries from the Smoothie King Center… and so on.

Hopefully, as the situation will worsen day by day and week by week worldwide, it will be interesting to see who among the best players in golf will go ahead and help the most in need via charities, foundations or from their own will.

IF YOU TRULY LOVE YOUR COMMUNITY, CITY, COUNTY AND COUNTRY, THEN THERE’S ALWAYS A WAY TO HELP, EVEN FROM HOME.

On my side, I’m a very lucky one on the boat that we are all on, and I am aware of it.  I’m 40 years old, healthy, having a nice apartment to quarantine in, living in a city and a country I love, with a great healthcare system, no kids to feed and to look after, and most importantly: no wife to listen to all day long, every day, under the same roof!  And no intention at all to lose my sense of humor obviously…

I will wait patiently at home these next days, like you all, and I hope to get tested at some point.  Because I want to help my community.

I FEEL THAT THIS CRISIS WILL TEST OUR SENSE OF HUMANITY AND SOLIDARITY.

Once again, we all have the ability to spread positivity.

BE SAFE. STAY HOME.

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