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June 10, 2020

Tour caddies find themselves rethinking even the basics of their job

Darren Carroll

Todd Montoya, caddie for Brian Stuard, was a vigilant as anyone in practicing good social distancing during Wednesday's practice round at Colonial Country Club.

FORT WORTH — On the 10th tee at Colonial Country Club Wednesday, Mike "Fluff" Cowan stood apart from the golfers and caddies in his group, some of whom were getting reacquainted in slightly closer proximity. Cowan practiced the standard six feet of recommended social distance—“two club lengths,” according the signage around the Charles Schwab Challenge, which puts the advice in language everyone could understand.

There wasn’t much room, not with a brick wall on one side of the tee and the cart path on the other. But Cowan made it work.

“Fluff, social distancing,” said Mike Greller, who caddies for Jordan Spieth.

“I’m trying,” Cowan replied.

That’s what the caddies can do this week as the PGA Tour returns in uneasy times: They can make an effort, a gesture, a multitude of concessions. The Tour is asking caddies to change the way they work, from keeping their distance from others, to delegating who touches what, to liberally using the three packs of 10 sanitizing wipes the tournament provided to them in the weirdest kind of gift bag.

But will they? There’s no rule, per se, so there is nothing to enforce. As one caddie put it: “Is there a stroke penalty?”

No. Nor distance, either. But there is risk, which is something Tour officials are trying, as much as they can, to mitigate as they prepare to play their first competitive round in three months on Thursday.

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It’s all new and different to caddies such as John Curtis, who works for Dylan Frittelli. The Tour sent a text Wednesday morning to players, reminding them and their caddies to practice social distancing, avoid physical contact, wipe clean the flagsticks and bunker rakes and even golf bags. High fives? Highly discouraged. Curtis hasn’t shaken a hand since he returned from South Africa to go back to work at Colonial.

“I haven’t touched a flag all week,” Curtis said. (Frittelli putts with the stick in, which helps.)

Habits are hard to break, and caddies have many of them. Tim Tucker and Bryson DeChambeau suddenly must decide who touches the clubs. Paul Tesori and Webb Simpson now have to figure out who fetches a fresh ball. Who flips through the yardage book—Harry Diamond or Rory McIlroy? And Ricky Elliott and Brooks Koepka really need to talk: What happens if they win? Do they wave at one another? Do they bow? Text?

Never has the caddie-player relationship been so complicated in such a very human sense. “I feel like I want to respect everybody’s distance,” said Geno Bonnalie, the caddie for Joel Dahmen. “I want golf to stick around. If that means going overboard on precautions …

He didn’t finish the thought, sounding like someone ready and willing to go overboard.

And one truly is. Cursory surveillance Wednesday identified one such caddie observing absolute social distancing at Colonial, pandemic-textbook stuff. That example was Todd Montoya, who works for Brian Stuard. Montoya wore a mask. He let no one near him. When Stuard needed a club, Montoya put the bag on the ground, fairway or fringe, and ambled away. He also declined to discuss with Golf Digest his choices, which certainly merits respect under such conditions. In these circumstances, nothing’s safer than saying nothing at all.