The final six holes of last Sunday’s RBC Heritage were such a blur, Paul Tesori couldn’t wait to get home to watch a replay.
He drove 200 miles from Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head, South Carolina to Nocatee. He sat down with a couple slices of pizza and hot wings to see exactly how his golfer, Webb Simpson, rallied down the stretch for the couple’s second victory of the year.
Tesori, Simpson’s longtime caddie, said the lack of fans and a frenzied, yet quiet, rally by many of the PGA TOURS top players was too much to comprehend during the heat of battle.
Simpson birdied five of his last seven holes, including a tournament-clinching 18-foot birdie at No. 17, to break the Heritage 72-hole scoring record by two shots. A 7-under-par 64 gave Simpson a four-day total of 22-under, and it propelled him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
Tesori wasn’t hopeful after Simpson only made birdies on two of his first 11 holes, especially since everyone else was playing lights-out.
“Walking to 12, I wasn’t giving up, but it probably wasn’t going to be our day,” he said Monday. “Before you knew it, it happened so quickly. We all know golf is a momentum sport, but before we knew it, an hour later we were walking up the 18th fairway and you think ‘I don’t know what happened.’
“It’s only the second time Webb and I have won two [tournaments] in the same season, going all the way back to our first season in 2011. I see the difference in the kid then to the man I work for has been really special to sit back and watch.”
Together they’ve won seven times, including the 2012 U.S. Open and THE PLAYERS in 2018.
Wins at Phoenix and Harbour Town have helped propel Simpson to No. 5 in the world rankings. Yet Tesori’s most-lasting memory always will be the couple’s runaway win at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course in 2018.
“There’s not really much to compare,” Tesori said. “At THE PLAYERS, we hadn’t won in almost five years – I think it was four and three-quarter years – not that we keep count. He was the man all week at THE PLAYERS.
“So many guys had a chance to win this one, where at THE PLAYERS we pretty much knew it was on our shoulders. We just went ahead and got the job done. Nothing is ever going to replace the ’18 PLAYERS in my mind. I’ve told everyone it’s my biggest win as a caddy. Fortunate to win over 20 tournaments as a caddy, including 2012 U.S. Open [with Simpson]. THE PLAYERS, for me, blew them all away.”
Still, last weekend’s victory was special. Simpson beat Abraham Ancer by one stroke; Tyrell Hatton and Colonial winner Daniel Berger by two; Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann by three and Brooks Koepka by four.
Months earlier, Tesori was home hitting balls and playing golf. Now he’s back on equally-familiar ground – the Winner’s Circle.
Simpson opened this year’s PLAYERS with a 4-under 68 to trail Hideki Matsuyama by five shots. Shortly after the first round was completed, the PGA TOUR canceled the tournament – and the next 12 tournaments – to keep players and fans safe from the coronavirus.
Tesori, a three-time All-America player at Florida and part of the Gators’ 1993 national championship team, worked on his own game during the 13-week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TOUR resumed operations two weeks ago with the Colonial at Fort Worth, Texas. And like Heritage, it didn’t include fans.
“One of my fears going into this without fans was momentum,” Tesori said. “We saw a little of that at Colonial. Those guys at that level, when things aren’t going good and you make a putt for birdie, the jolt of energy from the crowd can kind of push you forward.”
The lack of galleries also made it difficult to judge what other players were doing.
“When Webb got to the 13th hole and saw the leaderboard, he was in shock,” Tesori said. “What was happening? Where are all these birdies coming from? The level of play from the field was so deep, like nothing I’ve ever seen. You would have known that from the past with all the roars, with Brooks going nuts and Berger making a big push. Joaquin making a push ahead. You would have heard it, but there wasn’t any.”
But it finally came into focus after Tesori watched a replay of their victory.