10:30 AM EDT, May 7, 2009
Eighteen holes, no paramedics.
That's the Ambrose Bierce version of my Wednesday as Kristy McPherson's caddie at the Michelob Ultra Open pro-am.
And considering the tales of broken bones, bum backs and surgical repairs that McPherson's regular bagman, Thane Aalyson, spun, I'll take it.
Longer-form writers undoubtedly would note my scorched schnoz, scrawny legs — hey, they work for Allen Iverson — and one fireable faux pas.
But that would ignore our two primary themes.
Caddying is hard.
McPherson can play.
Casual fans may not know McPherson, a 27-year-old University of South Carolina graduate. She didn't dominate the amateur circuit and has yet to win in two-plus seasons on the LPGA Tour.
Be patient. She will.
McPherson has progressed steadily since turning pro and ranks 13th on this season's money list. Stepping to the final tee, she led this season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco, by a shot, only to be denied when close friend Brittany Lincicome eagled the par-5 18th at Mission Hills, Calif.
Given her superb ball-striking — McPherson ranks 10th on tour in greens-in-regulation and 12th in driving accuracy — Kingsmill's subtly challenging River Course should suit her. In fact, McPherson opened last year's Michelob with a pair of 68s before fading on the weekend with a 73 and 74.
"You remember more than I do," she laughed over the complimentary breakfast buffet.
When McPherson does win, the LPGA will add a valuable marketing commodity. Her Reba-caliber twang and down-home charm are magnetic, and not just to the sweet-tea crowd.
McPherson thanked every volunteer, signed every autograph and posed for every picture. By the time we'd hit the first fairway, she knew each of her four amateur playing partners by name.
Come the ninth fairway, she was comfortable enough to taunt Paul Stoddart, who'd just quaffed a cold one and struck a sweet approach: "Give the guy a beer and he actually hits the clubface."
At the 13th green, McPherson hazed Food Lion execs Jimmy Stegall and Scott Libbey for the store's failure to carry her favorite beer, a blueberry-flavored brew she discovered at last year's Michelob players' bash.
Potential and personality aren't McPherson's only assets. She also has a compelling personal story.
Bedridden for months by paralyzing joint pain, she was diagnosed at age 11 with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Medication and a strict stretching regimen allowed McPherson to return to the course, where her first instructor was her father, David.
Despite his 2003 encounter with bone and kidney cancer, David and Janice McPherson are devoted golf parents. They're driving here for the tournament along with other family members — sister Michelle designs McPherson's flashy Web site.
McPherson's tee time Wednesday was 8:18 a.m., and she instructed her caddies to meet her at 7:15. Aalyson and I were on time; she was not.
"I have an excuse," McPherson said as she unfolded from her courtesy Honda Accord. "We were talking about you at the house."
Turns out McPherson is bunking at the Kingsmill home of one of my college suitemates, and judging from his zip code, he's done quite well since our James Madison daze.
The parking lot was my first serious encounter with her golf bag. Unlike those I toted as a college kid, it is not light.
Aalyson estimated the weight at 40 pounds and warned, "A caddie's worst nightmare isn't rain. It's the threat of the rain."
Indeed, foreboding skies force players to carry an oversized umbrella and rainsuits for themselves and the caddie. When sunny, that gear remains in the trunk. When raining, it's used and not weighing down the bag.
As we strolled toward the range, Aalyson recited a litany of caddie injuries and maladies, including his own knee surgery and chronically cranky back. The most serious was the shattered ankle Paula Creamer's bagman, Colin Cann, suffered at Kingsmill in 2005, when he tumbled down an embankment adjacent to the fourth green.
Listening to Aalyson, one thought rushed to mind: Phidippides' fate after running the first marathon.
After all, we're dealing with someone who lost a slew of baby teeth falling over his shoelaces into concrete steps, and broke his right foot stepping on a garden hose.
This is Aalyson's first year working for McPherson and 20th on the tour — his first victory came with Lynchburg native Donna Andrews in 1993. He caught the bug when he met Jack Nicklaus' caddie, the late Angelo Argea, at a fishing hole.
Aalyson revealed a caddie's three best friends: Gore-Tex shoes (my feet were soaked after three holes), Advil and a laser GPS — the latter saves a caddie countless steps calculating yardage and is apparently accurate.
At the par-4 14th, Aalyson called the group's short approach 86 yards to the pin. Our best amateur, Phil Kazer, said we needed a 2.
McPherson delivered, holing a 56-degree wedge. That eagle and 16 birdies in the best-ball format gave the fivesome the winning score of 18 under.
Except for a brief shower as we played the eighth hole, the weather was fine. Better, certainly, than the caddie.
I didn't replace the head-covers on McPherson's driver and putter quickly enough, risking nicks on the most important clubs in the bag.
"Every time they stare at those nicks," Aalyson said, "they'll think of you. Pretty soon they get tired of those nicks, and pretty soon they get tired of you."
On the eighth fairway, I tossed McPherson the wrong ball, a serious offense. But not as serious as jinxing her after a perfect drive at No. 11.
"You haven't missed a fairway all day," I said.
Everyone gasped as if I'd announced I had swine flu.
Sure enough, McPherson drove into the left rough on 12.
Depending on their negotiating skills and the player's generosity, caddies can make a darn nice income. But they earn it. They are equal parts coach, valet and pack mule.
Kingsmill has some diabolical hills — the climbs to the range and 17th green were the worst — but as the round concluded, there was no searing pain or gnawing soreness.
"You OK?" McPherson asked.
"Fine," I said.
"Come by tomorrow," Aalyson said with a mischievous grin. "Let us know how you're doing."