While Webb Simpson was on his way to tying the course record at TPC Sawgrass Friday at THE PLAYERS Championship and ultimately winning the tournament, his caddie’s wife, Michelle Tesori, was also keeping track of another score outside the ropes.
“I’ve been keeping track of the number of people who have approached me today and said they know Paul (Tesori) or wanted to say hi,” said Michelle on Friday of the tournament, who subsequently glanced at her phone to take note of a rising statistic. “We’re at 40-something people.”
By the end of the second round, in which Simpson finished 9-under 63 and atop the leaderboard at 15-under, the number on Michelle’s phone had closed at 48.
“This is home for Paul,” Michelle said. “This tournament means the world to him.”
Born and raised
Paul Tesori, 46, grew up down the road from TPC Sawgrass in St. Augustine. He fell in love with golf at a young age due to the influence of his grandfather, who was a starter at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club for 30 years.
His first golf tournament as a fan was in 1977 at THE PLAYERS Championship when the tournament was first played at Sawgrass Country Club across the street. At the age of 9, Paul played at TPC Sawgrass before it opened to the public, hitting balls from the dirt of No. 17 with his grandfather and the first course superintendent.
“I’ve played this course over 700 times in my life,” said Paul, who lives with his family in Nocatee. “This place is extremely special to me.”
Paul attended the University of Florida, where he played golf, and later played a few years himself on the PGA Tour. He ultimately transformed his playing career into a caddying career, working with Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly, Chris Couch, Sean O’Hair and then Simpson, who hired Paul in 2010 after O’Hair fired him. In 2012, Simpson and Paul, who share a deep Christian faith, accomplished the pinnacle of their careers, winning the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Now six years later, however, this past weekend’s win at Paul’s old stomping grounds may have trumped that milestone.
“It’s different,” Paul said to the Recorder after winning THE PLAYERS Championship. “The roots mean more than the U.S. Open. The experience of winning the 2012 U.S. Open will never be erased from my mind. But this one, it’s different.
“I probably had a thousand people out there today, all praying for us because we needed every single bit of it, rooting, yelling and screaming,” Paul continued. “These are friends I had growing up, from the time I was 5 years old that I got to see, to new friends we met in the church or the community.”
After winning THE PLAYERS Championship at 18-under 270, Simpson himself acknowledged that Paul received more recognition and attention than he did.
“It was definitely Paul 100-fold,” Simpson said. “I had to spend extra time in the morning warming up because he'd take forever to get from the putting green to the range. I call him the mayor. He's the mayor around here. Everybody loves Pauly.”
One such reason for that love is the work that Paul and Michelle do in the community via the Tesori Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by the couple in 2009 to help those in need in Northeast Florida. Following the birth of their son Isaiah, who has Down syndrome, they expanded the organization to add programs for children with special needs.
On Wednesday, May 9, the Foundation hosted its annual All Star Kids Clinic at Sawgrass Country Club, gathering a group of local children with special needs for a golf clinic that included a special demonstration with Jordan Spieth.
“It’s such a special week for us,” Michelle said. “We kick off this week with our All Star Kids Clinic, which is one of the most special things we do as a family together.”
Fast forward four days, and Paul was able to win THE PLAYERS Championship with his family by his side, marking the first time he’s won a tournament with his wife and two children, Alexis and Isaiah, all in attendance.
“I thought a ton of my son today, and I thought what would he say to me right now?” Paul said. “He’d say, ‘Daddy, why are you nervous? What’s the problem?’ It was a calming influence thinking of him out there today. It was a hard round, and thinking about him calmed me down for sure.”
So, this place — Ponte Vedra and TPC Sawgrass — and this tournament — THE PLAYERS Championship — will forever hold a special place in Paul’s heart, making this past weekend’s win all the more special.
“This is going to go down as my biggest enjoyment win for sure,” Paul said, with a smile on his face and a tear in his eye.