Golf caddies wonder how close is too close

Missy Pederson is eager to get back to work caddying for the two-time major winner Brittany Lincicome on the L.P.G.A. Tour, which is scheduled to resume its season in July, five months after it was suspended because of the coronavirus crisis. “I’m chomping at the bit,” Pederson said on Tuesday in a telephone interview from her home in Minnesota.

Pederson’s enthusiasm, however, had been tempered by the results she had just received. Despite taking what she thought were all the necessary precautions — venturing out only to shop for food for herself and to deliver food to others in her community while wearing a face covering — she tested positive for Covid-19.

“It’s definitely caused me to stop and really think about how we want to approach this,” Pederson said.

Pederson’s diagnosis illuminates the challenges confronting golf — especially the caddies, swing coaches and trainers whose jobs typically bring them into close contact with players — as the sport snaps out of its pandemic-induced hibernation. How can caddies communicate effectively with their players about distances or club choices when they are standing at least six feet apart?

Pederson said she was the first person she knew to have tested positive for the virus. “That’s why it makes me so nervous when people are so confident that it’s absolutely time to get back playing or are absolutely against it,” she said. “You can’t with 100 percent certainty say how you might contract it.”

On the same day that Pederson received her diagnosis, the PGA Tour, which is eyeing a mid-June return in Texas, sent its members a 37-page document outlining a course of attack that it hopes will provide “an example for other professional leagues out of the gate” as they seek to resume suspended seasons and begin delayed ones.

The tour’s plan calls for insulating the players in a kind of made-for-TV diorama that includes their caddies, a limited number of tour personnel, clubhouse staff, swing coaches and independent trainers at each tournament site. They will all be required to submit to pre-event viral testing, daily health questionnaires and temperature checks, and to follow six-foot social distancing guidelines. Tournaments will be off-limits to agents, managers, family members and spectators to reduce potential exposure to the virus.

Off the course, the players and caddies will be encouraged not to stray from the tour’s isolated environs, which includes a designated hotel and chartered flights from one tournament city to the next. “This is an effort to maximize the health and safety of all participants inside the bubble,” the plan said.

Despite the tour’s best laid plans, the protective bubble may burst the first time a player is uncertain about the yardage or the break of a putt and requires a second set of eyes.

“Your caddie is going to be the one person that it’s going to be very difficult to always practice social distancing from,” Dustin Johnson, the former world No. 1, said Thursday in a teleconference.

Another player on the teleconference, Rickie Fowler, joked that he’ll hold a club like a fencer’s sword to keep his caddie, Joe Skovron, from getting too close. When talking over yardage or club selection, Fowler said there will be no more whispering. “We might have to speak up a little bit more than normal to talk from more than a few feet away,” he said.

Matthew Wolff, the third player on the call, envisioned a scenario in which nobody comes between a player and his or her caddie.

“One thing that I heard is that I think it’s important to maybe stay with your caddies, or anywhere that you go, your caddies goes as well,” Wolff said, “because that way if you’re being safe and you’re making sure that you don’t have it, your caddie would be like following the same rules as you, and if you both get it, then I’m sorry.”

John Wood, who caddies for the nine-time tour winner Matt Kuchar, said he will consider wearing surgical or golf gloves on both hands as an extra precaution but would probably eschew a face covering unless it is required.

“I won’t be able to breathe out there and my glasses will get all fogged up,” Wood said in a telephone interview.

He added, “The only thing I’d worry about is a secondary outbreak.”

Pederson shares Wood’s concern. She decided to get tested for Covid-19 after developing a few of the telltale symptoms, including a loss of smell and taste. It took two weeks for her to receive her results.

“It’s not something that any of us should be taking lightly,” Pederson said, adding, “It has to be one of those things where there’s an absolute, unwavering commitment to ensure that everybody is safe.”

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