COVID Caddie Diary: Observations from Day 2 of the new normal
Editor’s note: Periodically, Scott Sajtinac — caddie for Jason Dufner and president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies — will be filing a diary to give you an inside look at life as a caddie during these uncertain times. This is his second entry from the Charles Schwab Challenge, which marks the restart of the 2019-20 PGA Tour season that came to a screeching halt 12 weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The forecast was for a scorcher today. With predicted temperatures pushing a hundred in the shade, we decided an early start was probably best — a 7:30 a.m. meet on the top putting green by the first tee. A quick warm up and a 9-hole practice round with Jimmy Walker, Patton Kizzire and Rickie Fowler. Since I got into town, I’ve been racking my brain as to how this Charles Schwab Colonial tournament week is actually different.
Sure it’s different; little things here and there. There’s a few more hoops to jump through with testing, and sanitizing clubs and equipment, safety protocols that are a must on-site. Special cleaning pods for our Jani-King towels. There’s minimizing touch points, social distancing, no handshaking whatsoever, which is amazing by the way — a horrible way to greet people anyway. But this is all stuff we’ve been slowly implementing for weeks now in our regular lives off the course, at home, and is by no means a hinderance to our jobs.
Standing on the top putting green waiting for Duf seemed like any other Tuesday morning. Guys were on the putting green doing their drills. Coaches and caddies hawking strokes and set ups, ironing out any kinks since our last tournament three months ago. Caddies and players exchanging quarantine stories. A couple players who are parents comparing home-schooling notes, acknowledging how their 7-year-olds are smarter than them. The conversations are different, but this seemed business as usual, and nothing really jumping out at me to answer that question, “how is this week really different?”
That’s when I glanced to the first tee behind me. Standing on the box, barely a set of eyes on them, was world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and world No. 5 Dustin Johnson, casually leaning on their drivers waiting for the fairway in front to clear. Just a couple of members trying to get in a quick nine. No fanfare. No cheering. No kids screaming for autographs or scores of spectators on their tiptoes trying to get a glimpse. No army of photographers or journalists who would eat this shit up. It was just a couple dudes waiting to go play.
The fairway cleared in front of them. DJ pegs it up and lets rip with driver, a large echo bouncing off the wall of champions that’s built next to the first tee. Not a clap, not a shout, not a murmur. Just dead silence. Rory tees it up, lets rip with a loud crack and off they saunter down the fairway together, just two dudes going to play golf. The only sound is the same two players talking about how their 7-year-olds are smarter than them.
Now I can’t be sure that I was the only one to watch them tee off, but I can be sure those that did could be counted on one hand. And I can be sure that that has never happened ever to those two, practice round or not, ever.
That’s what’s made this week really different… so far. But it’s just day 2.