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3-month-old Isaiah Tesori's inspiring journey to Augusta

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Paul Tesori
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Paul Tesori, Michelle and Isaiah Tesori, with Bubba Watson, his wife Angie and their son Caleb. (Courtesy of Tesori family)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Michelle Tesori was in the delivery room when a nurse snatched her son Isaiah, less than a minute old and already mid-seizure, off her chest. In a blink, a team of stern-faced doctors surrounded the tiny child and then immediately whisked him out of the room.

Soon Michelle and her husband Paul listened in stunned silence as a doctor explained the dire stakes and offered a list of potential reasons that Isaiah's brief life was in significant jeopardy.

"Blood on the brain … brain virus …" Michelle recalled through tears Thursday, reciting a laundry list of parental nightmare terms, each more chilling than the last.

Isaiah was headed to a new hospital, the doctor said, across Jacksonville, Fla., to Wolfson Children's Hospital, where the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit might be able to save him. First, they quickly wheeled Isaiah, laying in an incubator, back to his parents. Through a finger-sized hole in the side, Michelle was able to reach in and touch him.

Then he was off, out the door, with no promises, just prayers.

That was three months ago this week.


Paul and Michelle Tesori were always going to get their son Isaiah here to Augusta National – here to the Masters.

Paul is a caddie for Webb Simpson. He used to work for Vijay Singh. Michelle runs a company that operates non-profits for athletes. They are a golf family first though, so much of their life revolving around Paul's schedule.

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Isaiah Tesori rests in Webb Simpson's golf bag. (Coutesy of Daydream Designs)

Sometimes on the PGA Tour it seems like all roads lead here, or start here, the first major championship of the season – the most hallowed grounds in the game where no matter how many times you've been, you appreciate getting to return.

This wasn't just a special place in the general way; it was a special place for them.

During a 2012 practice round, Simpson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, all close friends of the Tesoris, made a bet: If Michelle could find the only palm tree on the Augusta National grounds, she'd get the fancy wedding ring Paul had been saving up for.

Michelle didn't really care about a ring. She said the contest should be for a date to Paul's favorite restaurant, Subway. "That's all I wanted," she said. These are regular people.

Paul mentioned the wedding-band contest to Simpson, Watson and Fowler, though. Michelle and the players' wives were walking along with them. Watson decided to pull one on his friend by secretly pointing the palm tree out to Michelle. (It's easy to miss on the right side of the fourth green.) She told Paul she found the needle in the haystack.

"She had no chance without Bubba," Paul said this week.

"Paul pouted about it for two holes," Michelle said with a laugh. "Really pouted."

The whole thing was funny.

Then Watson and the other players made another bet. If any of them won the Masters that year, they'd pay for the Tesori wedding band. It was a comment that sort of floated off into the air, no one really paying attention to it.

"No one in the group is winning the thing and no one is buying a ring," Michelle figured.

Only Watson did win it, in dramatic fashion in a playoff. Later that night, surrounded by friends, he stopped a conversation and, according to Paul, said, "Do you know what this means?" Yes, a couple of them offered, you're now a major champion.

"No," Watson said, "it means I have to buy that ring for the Tesoris."

Everyone laughed. Michelle was actually against the purchase. Bubba and his wife Angie are close, close friends. A top tour caddie can make a very good living – a few hundred thousand a year – but the economic distance to a top player (who can make tens of millions) is significant. She certainly didn't want anyone to think they were trying to cash in on their friend's wealth. Later, Bubba had to sit down and reassure her that this wasn't about her, it was about him, his bet and that tree.

It was about a forever weekend for all of them at Augusta National, a special moment in time for the group. The bet was part of it. The ring was part of it. It had to be part of it.


Right after they whisked Isaiah off to Wolfson Children's, his parents packed up and followed. With that list of ailments potentially affecting their son running through their mind, the Tesoris took the most uncertain drive of their lives. Doctors were able to stabilized things. They began a battery of tests to pinpoint the issue.

Paul called Webb Simpson to tell him the news, although the conversation was mostly just sobs. Bubba and Angie Watson got word as they drove home from an Orlando Magic game. Bubba immediately pulled over on the side of the interstate so the couple could immediately pray for the boy.

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Michelle Tesori shows the ring Bubba Watson bought for her. (Courtesy of Ashleigh Dees Photograph)

The Tesoris and their friends are of deep faith. Paul and Michelle believed what would happen to their son was God's will. "As much as I loved Isaiah, I knew Jesus loved him more," Michelle said. "If he needed him more I did, then I would understand."

Still, it wasn't easy. They watched their tiny son attached to huge machines. They saw him go through test after test. They saw him come back with blood on his feet from one procedure.

"That was hard," Michelle said. "Really hard."

They found strength in each other. Calls and texts from across the golf world helped. From players and their wives. From caddies and their wives. At the Tour event that weekend, Kevin Streelman wrote "Isaiah" on his visor. Zach Johnson won and discussed the Tesoris to the media after.

"The golf family, I didn't know how close it was," Paul said. "Especially with me being a caddie. I don't want it to sound like, 'Oh, poor me,' but caddies are a little second tier. They are. We aren't players. But … it's been amazing; it's been the most emotional thing I've ever seen."

[Slideshow: Kids invade Augusta National]

Isaiah's life was out of immediate danger, but doctors told the Tesoris to expect him to stay in ICU for up to three months. It was early January, so that meant going home in early April, or Masters week, they thought. So that became the goal. They'd just live in the hospital until the Masters.

Isaiah would be home by the Masters.

Instead he was out in a week. Doctors found no lingering, life-threatening problems. Isaiah would live, although he had the genetic disorder Down's syndrome. The Tesoris took that as a positive, a blessing. They could deal with that. They'd still have their son.

"He's amazing," Michelle said of her son, tears running down her cheek. "He's perfect."


Perfect didn't end the angst, of course. Paul needed to be back to work, back out on Tour. No parent wants to leave his new baby, let alone in this situation.

Simpson and his wife Dowd tried to do everything to ease the pain, pass the time and be supportive. Golfers crossed practice greens if only to give him a hug. Angie Watson seemingly wouldn't leave his side.

And during a practice round at Riviera, Bubba saw Paul out of the corner of his eye, sprinted across the third fairway, through a bunker and offered a tearful hug and a quick prayer.

"He told Paul he was going to put money in an account so Isaiah could do Special Olympics as long as he wants to," Michelle said. Simpson also was part of that program. Seemingly everyone was offering help.

Back in 2010, the Tesoris founded the Tesori Family Organization, a charitable fund to do an array of good works, from feeding the homeless, to buying laptops for disadvantaged students, to delivering on prayer requests.

Now it included "Team Isaiah," which, in part, supports Wolfson Children's Hospital – from feeding the round-the-clock staff with home-cooked meals to setting up a new mom's corner to aide in the stress for already exhausted new mothers.

Suddenly the support went beyond other players and caddies.

The PGA Tour asked what it could do. Tournament organizers from the Thunderbirds, who run the Waste Management Phoenix Open, to events in Greensboro (N.C.), Charlotte and Hartford (Conn.), donated. Charles Besser, CEO of Intersport and the founder of the Double Eagle Club hospitality facility across from Augusta National, gave. Izod, the clothing line, stepped up. This is a partial list. It's come from all corners.

For a caddie, Paul keeps reminding.

"We've been shocked from Day 1," he said. "It doesn't stop."


By now the Masters meant something else to Paul and Michelle, something more than the palm tree bet and Bubba's victory and the date they were told, in the darkest, most desperate of moments, that they might – might – be able to bring Isaiah home.

Now it was the place they could bring their boy, right on schedule, just like they always planned.

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Paul Tesori and his wife Michelle. (Courtesy of Ashleigh Dees Photograph)

"This is one of the most special places in the world," Michelle said. "And for us to be able to experience it like we do, to have the connection we have here. … Three months was the target to get out of the hospital. And instead, it's been three months and he's here."

Thursday, while his dad worked and his mom followed on the back nine, Isaiah stayed with Paul's sister at a nearby rented house. On Wednesday, though, Isaiah was here at the Par 3 contest, dressed in a miniature white caddie outfit just like his father. Famous golfers cooed over him. Sergio Garcia sprinted in to meet him. Women doted on him.

Here was Isaiah Tesori, the unlikely star of the show.

"It's so great," said Simpson, who fired an opening round 74. "I had my kids out there also, and to see Isaiah there, in his bib, alive and healthy with Michelle and Paul was just incredible."

The Tesoris expected to bring their son here and over the years to come show him the palm tree and teach him about the silly bets and "Uncle Bubba's" green jacket. Now they're here, marveling instead at what he's already shown them, what he's already taught them about life.

So Wednesday they posed for a group picture, the Tesoris and the Watsons, smiling and proud that a day of normalcy everyone prayed could have happened.

"You forget because they are our friends," Paul said, "but this is my son's first Masters; he's at Augusta National with a Masters champion who loves him like he is his own son."

"People don't get it," Michelle said of all the professional golfers who have been so great to them. "People see the pink driver [of Watson] and people have strong opinions about these guys. But Bubba and Angie as human beings are phenomenal. Webb and Dowd. So many of them.

"The most generous, giving hearts."

She's crying again but these are different tears from the endless ones that flowed since Isaiah entered the world and changed everything. They aren't of fear or uncertainty or even hope and faith. These are grateful tears. These are the tears of knowing.

"What an amazing thing we've had happen," Paul said to his wife. "What an amazing thing."

And with that, he gave her a hug.

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