The player-caddy relationship is a connection built on trust and often times resembles that of a friendship, but once it reaches a certain level of faith in one another it can bud into a strong family-like bond.
For Daniela Iacobelli (Melbourne, Florida) and Tyler Del Buono, what started as a simple friendship has molded into that bond and never been stronger than right now. Last month, Del Buono’s father David was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a very aggressive malignant brain tumor that forms from star-shaped cells called astrocytes.
“He also had a stroke earlier this year in May, then was recently experiencing the same symptoms,” said Iacobelli. “They went in and found an inoperable brain tumor, one that had progressed quickly. An MRI showed the tumor that was deep and they even did a biopsy, which was super risky. I can’t imagine if that happened to my dad.”
After a successful career at the Florida Institute of Technology that included a 2007 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship individual title, Iacobelli turned pro in 2010. Throughout her time as an amateur, she worked at Baytree National Golf Links. That’s where she met Del Buono.
“The first year I went out on the Symetra Tour, he was the replacement for my job at the golf course,” Iacobelli said. “When I came back in the offseason I was like who is the guy that took all my shifts. I ended up convincing him and my boss to let him be my caddy and then we both put in our two weeks.”
In 2011, they made the cut in eight of 10 starts with a season-best tied for 13th finish at the Santorini Riviera Nayarit Classic. Then in 2012 the connection clicked. They broke into the Volvik Race for the Card top-10 after Iacobelli’s first career win as a professional at the Symetra Tour Championship. Combined with four additional top-10 finishes on the season, Iacobelli and Del Buono ended the year at No. 5 to earn full LPGA Tour membership for 2013.
Meanwhile, David was there to support and to celebrate, not just the win but along the entire journey.
“His parents were always there around the course supporting us,” said Iacobelli. “They were there when I won in Daytona and we were all sipping on champagne or beer out of the trophy, I can’t remember. We all have pictures by the leaderboard because winning the tournament meant that I got my LPGA card. Both of them were there for that and with us traveling all over.”
Once on the big stage, they competed in 15 events, but only two cuts made created a tough situation.
“The last time Tyler caddied for me was at the [LPGA Qualifying Tournament] Final Stage in 2013,” Iacobelli said. “In 2014 he had to go and get a real job because I wasn’t producing as much money as either of us needed. He’s been my brother for so many years, and is only a text or call away.”
Life has taken both Iacobelli and Del Buono in different directions, but it hasn’t diminished the bond they formed on the course, especially in a time of need.
Beside his love for golf, David started his own business in Indialantic, Fla. called That Guy Handyman Service. He is also an avid NASCAR fan. The cancer David faces may bend him, but he won’t break with the support of Iacobelli’s golf family, his son’s network and wife Janice’s unwavering love. In the end, though, they’re all family, as well as all the people each has met along the way.
David underwent several tests in recent months at Florida Hospital in Winter Park before returning to his home in Satellite Beach. Now, he is receiving treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Dr. Christopher Baker, the co-founder of Orlando Neurosurgery and Medical Director of the Florida Hospital Orlando Spine Center, as well as Dr. Sherif Makar, a neurologist affiliated with Florida Hospital, have been there to oversee his battle, providing guidance and instruction.
“Bless his heart because he still wanted to ask me how I’m doing, where I’m at and how golf is going,” said Iacobelli. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Are you kidding? Don’t worry about me.’ No matter the situation, I know he’ll fight like hell.”
Iacobelli competed in the PHC Classic last week on the Symetra Tour and is in the Hoosier State this week for the LPGA tournament Indy Women in Tech Championship. She made silver awareness ribbons that players and staff wore in Milwaukee and will do so again this week in Battle Creek, Mich., for the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship. It’s a tribute to honor David’s fight that Iacobelli hopes will spread across the golf community.
“There’s so many girls on the LPGA and Symetra Tours that know Tyler and his dad, and I know they are behind him,” Iacobelli said. “Seeing how the men’s game was influenced by Jarrod Lyle’s fight, David’s is one that has a similar, but unique affect on the women’s game. Just like me and the Del Buono’s have built a bond through the game, we have also done so with so many people on and off the course. David is someone who always told me to fight and he believed in me. So I’m going to tell him the same.”
Friends and family of the Del Buono’s are striving to raise $10,000 to cover some of David’s expenses. They have started a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/help-david-amp-janice-del-buono) and with the help of Iacobelli, the family continues to build and strengthen around every dogleg and treatment session.