KAPALUA, Hawaii – Webb Simpson and Paul Tesori have told the story so many times that they've got it down to a buddy act, each one filling in the blanks for the other.
It was November 2010 when Simpson, a promising young talent just removed from a strong sophomore campaign, called the longtime caddie to gauge his interest in coming to work for him. Within minutes, though, the roles were reversed. Tesori started grilling Simpson about topics such as motivation and work ethic. The conversation turned into the pro selling himself to the man he wanted to employ.
Three years and four wins later, they’ve forged a bond that goes beyond the usual player-caddie alliance.
“Although it is a business relationship, I don't view him as an employee,” Simpson explained. “He doesn't view me as a boss. I tell him all the time, 'I'm not your boss. We're friends first.'”
Through three rounds, Simpson is tied for the lead at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, in position for a fifth career title. His caddie – his friend – isn’t here. Tesori stayed in Jacksonville, Fla., this week to be with wife Michelle for the birth of their son.
It had all the makings of some playful banter. If Simpson played well, he could joke with Tesori about not needing his expertise. If he didn’t, Tesori could tease him about being more valuable than he realized. Either way, the two friends would share in the celebration of the new baby.
There is no celebrating right now, though.
Isaiah Tesori was born on Saturday. He developed a seizure within 15-20 seconds afterward and is currently in the NICU at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“I'm getting details from different people, but I think he had an infection or a virus in his brain,” Simpson reported. “They were continuing to run tests last night and this morning.”
It’s a helpless feeling for the Tesori family, of course, praying and hoping for the best for little Isaiah.
On a much smaller scale, it’s a similarly helpless feeling for Simpson, who maintained that if he wasn’t five time zones away, he’d strongly consider withdrawing from the tournament in order to be with them.
“He wanted me to go out and play as I normally would and play hard,” he said of a text message from Tesori. “He's dealing with all that he's dealing with, and you know, when you have a close friend going through something like that, you want to be at least near him, give him a hug.”
Caddying for Simpson this week is Ted Scott, who is not only Bubba Watson’s regular caddie but a good friend of Tesori.
Prior to Sunday’s round, Scott inked the name “ISAIAH” on the bill of his cap and the initials “IT” on either side. Afterward, behind dark sunglasses, he couldn’t contain his tears.
“I want him to know I’m thinking about him,” he said. “He’s a good buddy; he’s a really good guy. He’s one of my closest friends, and my heart hurts for him and Michelle.”
Scott admitted he couldn’t stop thinking about them throughout the day.
“Oh, man. It was hard. It’s just hard not to think about him and what really matters. He’s a dear friend, and you don’t want him to have a kid who isn’t healthy or has problems. It’s just really hard to gather my thoughts together.”
Simpson paralleled those emotions.
“Paul sent me a text this morning, just told me he loved me and wanted me to go out and fight as hard as I would any other day, and that's what Teddy and I did,” he said. “You know, I felt like we were out there playing for Isaiah.
“Paul needs something to watch there in the hospital. It's been a long few days, so hopefully we gave him something good to see on TV.”
They certainly did.
Just as Simpson and Scott were finishing up their round, Tesori took to Twitter to describe what he just saw:
Sure, it’s a helpless feeling being so far away, but Scott soon learned that he was helping – in the only way he could.
“You always like to have some reason to fight,” he said. “When it comes to your friends, you’d do anything for him. If that’s something that can cheer him up in this moment, then it’s worth it.”
As if Simpson and Scott need any further motivation for Monday’s final round, they’ll do it for Paul and Michelle and Isaiah. They’ll do it to make them proud, they’ll do it because it’s the only way they can help, and they’ll do it to reap future rewards.
They both know, this week’s winner will clinch a spot in next year’s festivities here at Kapalua. As Scott said of his friend Tesori, “He deserves to go to Hawaii.”