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Quail Hollow: Caddie sees the softer side of the PGA Tour

Isaiah Tesori is on a road trip and he’s in demand.

“We’re getting a lot of requests from the wives,” said Isaiah’s father, Paul Tesori, who will take his usual spot as Webb Simpson’s caddie as the PGA Tour makes its annual stop in Charlotte for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club. “They want to see the baby boy.”

Isaiah is the infant son of Tesori and his wife, Michelle. Born in January with severe health issues, Isaiah battled back, recovered quickly and helped his parents discover a world of support and understanding they might not have known was there.

“This is a dog-eat-dog and very individual sport,” Tesori said. “But it’s been great to see the camaraderie, the love and the closeness that we really have out here. We’ve found out about that first-hand.”

Isaiah was born Jan. 4 in Jacksonville, Fla. But within the first three minutes of his arrival, Isaiah developed several life-threatening complications, including a seizure, swelling and leaking in his brain and a heart-valve issue.

Isaiah was quickly transported to a neonatal intensive care unit at Jacksonville’s Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where his condition soon stabilized. He was out of danger and could go home.

“For all that to go away – to be erased – was miraculous,” Tesori said.

Doctors also told Paul and Michelle that Isaiah had Down syndrome.

“Didn’t matter,” Paul Tesori said. “We had a healthy baby. We threw a healthy-baby party. I don’t want to sound desensitized to what Down syndrome can mean, but there are so many happy, joyous families with kids who have Down syndrome. We are one of them now. There will be some bumps in the road, but we’ll be ready for whatever comes.”

Support for Isaiah flowed in from around the golf world and beyond. In 2009, Paul and Michelle founded the Tesori Family Foundation, which provides grants and donations to community-based organizations for under-privileged kids. Donations to the foundation, which now includes a “Team Isaiah” section that financially aids Wolfson Children’s Hospital and, soon, the Special Olympics, have come from tournaments, sponsors, players and caddies.

The Christian rock band Tenth Avenue North holds an annual charity golf tournament in Cary each August that is co-hosted by the Tesori foundation and former Duke golfer and friend Kevin Streelman.

“Everybody making donations in (Isaiah’s) name,” Tesori said. “It doesn’t end.”

Then there was the emotional support they felt, particularly from Tesori’s fellow caddies, including Ted Scott, and players such as Bubba Watson (and his wife, Angie), Streelman, Gary Woodland, Keegan Bradley, Jonathan Byrd and Brandt Snedeker.

The Charlotte tournament is Isaiah’s third. He’s also been to the Valspar Championship near Tampa, Fla., and the Masters. At Augusta, he was decked out in a white caddie’s suit while Simpson played in the par-3 tournament the Wednesday before the Masters.

The flight to Charlotte was Isaiah’s first.

“He’s such a great traveler, but I feel like we’re cheating a little bit,” Tesori said. “When people saw us getting on the plane with this little baby, they probably, thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be not good.’ But one personality trait of kids who have Down syndrome is they don’t cry much. He slept the whole way.”

Tesori said he doesn’t expect Isaiah to make many more trips this season.

“He’s a trouper,” Tesori said. “We’ll go to Augusta and Charlotte every year. He’s doing well, health-wise, and gets around with us just fine.”

Simpson and Tesori’s relationship is close – personally and professionally. They had been working together for just one year when Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.

So Simpson has keenly felt and observed what Paul and Michelle are going through.

“I’ve seen people get out of their comfort zones and be vulnerable and talk about that they’ve been praying for Paul or they’ve been thinking about Isaiah,” said Simpson, who has two young children with his wife, Dowd. “To see that and be part of that has been neat for me. I’m just thankful that I got to walk through that with him.”

Tesori and Simpson always look forward to the Wells Fargo tournament. Simpson now lives in Charlotte, which is Dowd’s hometown. As they do each year, Paul and Michelle – and now Isaiah – are staying with Dowd’s parents. A year ago, they learned Michelle was pregnant with Isaiah during the Wells Fargo tournament.

“So this week holds a lot of meaning to us,” Tesori said.

Isaiah will also turn 4 months old on Sunday, the same day of the Wells Fargo championship round.

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