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The Baltimore Sun

The words you are reading right now were typed by a man whose leg muscles feel like lumpy mashed potatoes. His shoulders ache like someone gave him a deep tissue massage with a jackhammer and a bowling ball. He fell asleep at his desk twice while trying to finish this paragraph.

That man, sadly, is me.

With the McDonald's LPGA Championship taking place at Bulle Rock this week, I had the bright idea to see if one of the professionals might be foolish enough to let me be her caddie during the Monday pro-am.

How hard, really, could it be? We've all seen Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, on television hundreds of times. It looks simple enough. You carry the bag, clean the clubs and the ball, check the wind and help read a few putts. If anyone tries to snap a picture during your player's backswing, you smash his camera and dunk his head in a water hazard. Simple, right?

Wrong. Oh, how wrong I was.

Fortunately, I'm much wiser for the experience, thanks to the kindness and patience of LPGA player Leta Lindley and her husband, Matt Plagmann, who has caddied for his wife throughout her 14-year career but agreed to let me make a mess of his "office" for a day. Though an LPGA media coordinator had pitched my idea to Lindley last week, I still wasn't sure what to expect when we met on the 10th tee at Bulle Rock.

Should I have worn pants instead of shorts? Did I have the right shoes? Was I supposed to count the clubs before the round began? Did Lindley and Plagmann really want to go through with this - during the week of a major championship, no less?

"Are you kidding?" said Lindley, flashing a warm smile as I shook her hand. "You're like my husband's best friend today. He can't wait to have the day off."

Plagmann's face, though, told a different story. I didn't exactly endear myself to him by accidentally calling him "Mark" on the first tee. And I didn't exactly inspire confidence when I mistakenly put the caddie bib on backward.

"Name goes in the front, caddie boy," Lindley said, laughing at my faux pas. "I think that's a good name for you - Caddie Boy. Can I call you that for the rest of the round?"

Why not, I said. And from then on, Caddie Boy it was.

In truth, I couldn't have picked a better duo to help me gain insight into the complexities of the relationship between a player and her caddie. Plagmann and Lindley met at the University of Arizona when they were college golfers in the early 1990s, and when Lindley, a four-time All-American, decided to give professional golf a shot, there was no one she felt more comfortable with on her bag than Plagmann. Even now, when she talks about her game, she almost always uses the pronoun "we."

"I didn't really care if I put the two of us in the street," Lindley said. "But I didn't want to worry about someone else needing me to play well each week."

A week and a half ago, in her 296th career start, Lindley, a petite, 36-year-old mother of two, won her first professional tournament, the Corning Classic. Her 4-year-old son, Cole, celebrated the victory by asking his mom if they could see how many Teddy Grahams they could fit inside the crystal trophy.

"We didn't really have a plan for all this," said Lindley, who also has a 1-year-old daughter, Reese. As we walked up the first fairway, I was already lagging behind. "I wasn't sure we'd make one year on tour, much less 14."

When we arrived at Lindley's tee shot, Plagmann let me take a look at his yardage book, which was only slightly more confusing, at least to me, than hieroglyphics. He had notes detailing how far Lindley hit it last year, how far she needed to carry the ball, how much the ball would roll, what the direction the wind usually blows, and about 20 other things I could barely make sense of.

I managed to look even more foolish when a slight breeze kicked up and sent her bag crashing to the ground.

"When you set the bag down, you always want to put it on flat ground," Plagmann said, shrugging off my stream of apologies. "That's the first thing you learn."

Plagmann did, however, make the executive decision to take Lindley's Odyssey putter out of her bag and carry it for the rest of the round. If, in the course of my bumbling, I managed to break one of Lindley's irons or woods, an on-call Callaway rep at Bulle Rock could just replace it. Break or lose her lucky putter, though, and Plagmann might be the one dunking me in a water hazard.

"There are only three rules to being a caddie," Plagmann said to me, stone-faced behind stylish Oakley sunglasses. "Show up. Keep up. And shut up."

To my relief, he paused and then dusted off a sly grin. "I can never quite manage the third one," he said.

In 14 years, Lindley estimated, she and Plagmann have had about eight fights on the course, which is pretty good considering they spend, essentially, 24 hours a day together. (The LPGA provides day care for their kids.) There are eight husband-and-wife caddie teams on the tour, and Lindley and Plagmann, by their estimation, have been together the longest.

"We only fight when he says something stupid," Lindley said. "He can't help himself sometimes."

"It's true," Plagmann responded. "I can't."

"But at the end of the day," Lindley told me when Plagmann was out of earshot, "I know no one is cheering harder for me than he is."

It's a sweet, tender moment, but I can't appreciate it too much, even after Lindley and I exchange a fist bump after she drains a birdie putt, because the soles of my feet feel like someone is frying them on a George Foreman grill. Every few minutes, it seems like I'm sprinting up a steep hill, trying to keep pace with Lindley, who is one of the fittest players on tour. I forget to pull pins, stand on her wrong side, lose track of her ball and let the bag crash to the ground for a second time. There is a rhythm to being a good caddie, almost like dancing, and I was rarely in step.

I furiously scrubbed the dirt off her Callaway each time she marked her ball with a red sequin ladybug, in part because ball cleaning was the only thing I was confident I couldn't mess up.

On the second nine, with the sun beating down on my sunburned neck, Lindley unzipped her golf bag and pulled out two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, offering me a grateful half. I tried to be cool as I wolfed it down and chased it with a liter of water, hoping it would distract me from the pulsing knot in my lower back, but I suspect Plagmann could see through my tough-guy facade.

"Don't feel too bad," he said. "It doesn't matter what kind of shape you're in. Nothing can prepare your body for carrying a golf bag. Every year, I take eight weeks off in the offseason, and I'm always sore after the first couple days."

By the time we reached the last hole, my mouth tasted like I'd just chugged a gravel smoothie. Lindley couldn't have been nicer about the experience, though. "You did great, Caddie Boy!" she said as I walked in the direction of my car.

I'd would have given her a bigger wave, but I was having trouble lifting my arms.

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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