Caddies react to coronavirus pandemic

Scott Sajtinac, Jason Dufner
Caddie Scott Sajtinac with Jason Dufner. Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

EDITOR’S NOTE: At noon ET on Thursday, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced that events will continue without fan beginning Friday, March 13, with the second round of the Players Championship through the Valero Texas Open (April 2-5) — the final event before the Masters. You can read the Tour’s announcement here.

Late Wednesday night, after President Donald Trump addressed the nation, the NBA abruptly suspended its season and the NCAA basketball tournament announced it would go on without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PGA Tour released a statement with its plan to proceed with the Players Championship beginning today at TPC Sawgrass.

Here’s what the Tour said, as it pertains to its flagship event:

The PGA TOUR is aware of rapidly changing developments regarding COVID-19. With the information currently available, THE PLAYERS Championship will continue as scheduled, although we will absolutely continue to review recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and local health administrations. This is obviously a very fluid situation that requires constant review, communication and transparency, and we are dedicated to all three aspects. The PGA TOUR will provide an additional update by 12 p.m. ET on Thursday.

In the meantime, players in the field have been notified to be prepared to play Round 1, as scheduled.

 Fans who no longer wish to attend THE PLAYERS Championship may request a refund or exchange; details on how to do so will be announced shortly. Please visit PGATOUR.COM/THEPLAYERS for more information.

Lucas Glover – the 2009 U.S. Open champion and a three-time PGA Tour winner – for one, seemed baffled by the Tour’s lack of action, conveying as much in this tweet on Thursday morning:

With the decisions from the NBA, the NCAA, soccer federations in Europe and more (including schools and St. Patrick’s Day parades), it seems the reality of a world without sports – at least until COVID-19 is under some sort of control – could soon be around the corner.

READ: 20 years later, Hal Sutton and caddie Freddie Burns reflect on showdown with Tiger Woods at the Players Championship

Could you imagine a Masters Sunday at Augusta National – just weeks away – played without any patrons on the grounds if it’s played at all? With the way things are going, that’s a very real possibility.

So, what is COVID-19?

It’s an infectious disease. Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Muscle pain, sputum production, headache and sore throat are some of the less common symptoms.

COVID-19 spreads via respiratory droplets produced from the airways, often during coughing.

We wondered how, if it all, this is impacting PGA Tour caddies, who, like their players, travel often and are typically around large crowds.

“Everything that has been recommended by health authorities worldwide — washing hands, covering your mouth, etc., etc., is something I do as second nature, daily,” Scott Sajtinac, caddie for Jason Dufner and president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies told TCN. “And these precautionary measures should be a given, regardless of a viral pandemic.

“There is no possible way for the vast majority of stats and data being reported to us can be accurate,” Sajtinac added. “It’s way too soon for that. The sample size is way too small. These stats are so ‘doomsday’ leaning, it’s not helping the hysteria. There’s a toilet paper shortage for crying out loud. That’s embarrassing human behavior… but lucky for me, my player is sponsored by Dude Wipes, and I have a trunk full of them. I was sent a big-box care package from Dude Wipes, full of Dude Wipes, that I’ve been handing out to fellow caddies on the Florida swing. They were sent in good will a few weeks back, not to save me from shortage side effects of a pandemic.”

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar, believes change is coming on the PGA Tour.

“With all the other precautions being taken, it’s only a matter of time before something changes,” Wood said. “I would think the Tour would go in stages if it were to make adjustments, and I think the first step would be to hold tournaments and not allow fans in but continue play and at least have tournament golf to show on television.”

READ: 14 of the best ‘burns’ you’ve heard on the golf course | Unwritten rules of caddying

For now, that’s the step the NCAA tournament is taking.

Wood said he has installed some safety precautions of his own for Kuchar.

“I’m encouraging my man to not sign autographs for the time being,” he said. “I realize it’s a bit of a tough thing to do, especially with kids, but it’s the smart thing to do. Frankly I’m surprised the Tour hasn’t instituted a ‘no autographs’ policy until things settle down.”

Sajtinac isn’t one who’s much for greetings or celebrations that involve physical contact, so he’s not having any problem with the recommended guidelines to help prevent the disease.

“I’m not a big hand shaker to begin with,” Sajtinac said. “It’s an unnecessary way to greet someone. And I hate high fives. I looked like an idiot in many past attempts. So, like regular hand washing being a given for me, so too is avoiding the high five — or even the low five for that matter.”

For Heath Holt, a caddie for two decades, avoiding close contact while traveling isn’t too difficult to begin with.

“I have plans to drive 1,050 miles to Tampa for the Valspar Championship from home (next week),” Holt said. “After 20 years of caddying I actually enjoy having my own car on the road. I am not at the mercy of the airlines and rental car companies.”

Should the PGA Tour follow the lead of the NBA and ultimately suspend its season, that would put caddies out of work indefinitely.

The caddies we spoke to have some ideas as to how they would spend that time away.

“I’d go set up a tent at Yellowstone and watch wolves,” Wood said.

“If they cancel events, I’ll go home and play golf,” Sajtinac said. “My life personally, and our preparation for tournament play has not changed — and until information being presented to us through media outlets and health agencies becomes more consistent and credible, things won’t change too much for me.”

MORE: All the holes in one on the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass during the Players Championship

“I would do exactly what I did after 9/11,” Holt said. “I would go home and be a stay-at-home dad until the Tour cranked into action again.”

September 11, 2001. That was the only event in memory that the caddies could point to with as much uncertainty as this pandemic.

“9/11 was the only thing I can remember when they actually considered cancelling events,” Wood said.

Even then, it was only two events that were cancelled – the WGC-American Express Championship, which was scheduled to begin on Sept. 13, two days after the attacks – and the opposite-field Tampa Bay Championship.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps to help prevent illness:

Clean your hands often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
  • This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.

For more information, click here.

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