Baggin it for the day

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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.

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