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Recovering from COVID-19, LPGA caddie hopeful for safe return to competition

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Missy Pederson is analytical by nature.

It’s one of the reasons she ranks among the best caddies in the men’s or women’s game.

When she scouts a course for her longtime player, Brittany Lincicome, she isn’t just stepping off yardages. She’s helping design a game plan in a system she calls SWOT, where she identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that await.

With golf shut down during this coronavirus pandemic, Pederson was just about as thorough scouting around her Minneapolis home and neighborhood, with face masks, disinfectant wipes and a plan for navigating safely.

Still, 13 days ago, she began experiencing tightness in her chest, as if some warm drink she swallowed wouldn’t go all the way down.

A massive headache and fever followed during a mostly sleepless night.

When she awakened the next morning, her sense of smell and taste were gone.

Pedersen visited an urgent care center that day and submitted to an uncomfortable swabbing of her nasal cavity, but she knew what the test was going to confirm six days later.

She contracted COVID-19.

She’s the first LPGA player or caddie to publicly confirm she has it.

“I know I would be considered a mild case, but this is probably the sickest I’ve ever been in my life,” Pederson told GolfChannel.com.

Pederson’s fever was finally coming down Monday, but she still isn’t feeling right and remains in quarantine.

And she still can’t smell or taste anything.

Food, she says, is disgusting.

Pederson enjoys pizza as her favorite comfort food, but she can’t stomach anything beyond toast or eggs.

“Food’s just texture to me right now, even foods I like,” Pederson said. “It’s the weirdest sensation. It’s difficult eating. I almost barfed eating chicken noodle soup.”

Pederson is 39, a former Division III All-American college basketball player at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She didn’t pick up a golf club until she graduated, but, remarkably, she still played her way on to the Futures Tour, now the Symetra Tour. She’s a fitness fanatic who loves working out, but the virus still knocked her off her feet. She struggled with shortness of breath.

“Missy is so healthy,” Lincicome said. “She works out every day. She eats clean. I just assumed she would be OK, but I was a little scared for her when she told me, because you don’t really know with this thing.

“But she seems to be doing better.”

Pederson had a nervous time a week ago, when she was so exhausted she could barely stay awake over a two-day period. She went back to the urgent care center, worried that her excessive sleepiness was a symptom of hypoxia.

“I didn’t have to be intubated or go on a ventilator or even be hospitalized, but even the mild form of this is pretty uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s worse than any flu I’ve ever had.”

Pederson is grateful for a strong support group of friends in Minnesota, who regularly check in by phone or from outside her front door, leaving groceries and supplies at her doorstep. She said LPGA tour operations officer Heather Daly-Donofrio, tour president Vicki Goetze Ackerman and fellow caddies and tour friends also check in on her.

“The LPGA really is a family,” Pederson said. “I’m so appreciative of all the support.”

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In her time at home, Pederson has paid close attention to news of the economy’s re-opening across the country. She’s following plans to restart tour golf, too.

Her COVID-19 experience gives her special insight most golf folks don’t have.

Yes, she wants states to be smart about how they restart business, but she’s also eager to get back to work.

“It’s such a tough thing,” Pederson said. “I’m concerned about it, having been personally affected, knowing the potential harm that could be done, particularly for people like my mom. I’m concerned about the vulnerable in our communities.

“As somebody who hasn’t had my normal income for a couple months now, I totally recognize the desire to get back to work. I get it. I’m there. I would like to see things open up, but only if we have protocols that can be agreed upon and enforced. If we’re just going to go willy-nilly, I don’t know that I’m comfortable with that.”

Pederson wants to work, but she is concerned seeing emotions threaten to override reason.

“That’s not going to get us any closer to figuring this out,” she said. “I don’t have a political agenda. I’m not trying to prevent people from living their lives, or to interfere with freedoms. I just want us, as a collective society, to figure out one of the craziest times of our lives, in a way that is going to be beneficial to all of us. That’s going to require some really uncomfortable dialogue.”

Pederson hopes governmental leaders will be as thorough and transparent as LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is being with his tour constituency as the tour plans to return.

“He’s a terrific leader in how communicative he has been with us,” she said.

Whan: Resuming is a responsibility, not a race

So why a mid-July return when other sports – and golf tours – anticipate starting sooner? Here are two reasons.

Pederson sees a world that is mostly untouched by the actual virus itself, a world where the majority don’t know a single individual who has contracted the virus.

She was like that.

“For most people, I’m the only person they know who’s infected,” Pederson said. “For most people, it’s a totally anecdotal story. It’s a media story.

“You start to get a little fatigue in that. You start wondering: `Is it really out there? I don’t know. I don’t have it. Nobody I know has it.’ I understand that. It’s human nature, but there are stark reminders this is no joke. It’s real.”

The challenge in going back to work will be elevated for Pederson.

Lincicome is a new mom, having given birth to her first child, Emery, 10 months ago. Pederson hopes she will have immunity when it’s finally time to take up Lincicome’s bag with the LPGA scheduled to restart at the Marathon Classic in late July, but Pederson can’t be certain of that.

“We don’t even understand if antibodies are permanent,” she said. “I’m not going to put myself in position to be a threat to Brittany, Emery and 'D.' It would be a huge relief to know that I’m not.”

D is short for Dewald Gouws, Brittany’s husband.

The working relationship of players and caddies may be the most challenging dynamic in golf’s return, if the pandemic remains a threat. It’s going to be difficult for players to social distance from caddies, with clubs being passed and interaction occurring in four- and five-hour rounds.

Pederson doesn’t mind being a real reminder of what’s at stake playing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am a reference point now,” she said. “It’s is no longer a hypothetical. It’s no longer just a media story. You do know somebody personally who has it, and it is something to take seriously.”

Pederson would love if she recovers with immunity, not just as protection for herself and Lincicome, but for her plasma’s possible viability in protecting the entire tour community.

“There’s so much uncertainty in all of this,” Pederson said. “There’s such a constant influx of constantly changing information, every day. Who knows where we will be in July.”

Pederson hopes its in a safer, healthier place.