What does the mind do to make a person's body shake so much?" was the question Meg Mallon asked me on that momentous afternoon at the 18th tee of the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club's East Course.
She didn't really want a textbook explanation of human physiology. A lighthearted remark to help her cope with what was happening would do. It was Monday, Feb. 4, and she was playing the last hole of the last round of the Oldsmobile LPGA Classic, in Lake Worth, Fla. Moments earlier, Mallon had made a four-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to move to 11 under par and regain sole possession of the lead. Her tee shot on the final hole, a 380-yard par 4, had just landed safely in the fairway, 165 yards from the flag and an anxious gallery.
Now, as Mallon waited for the other two players in her group to hit their tee shots, her brain was telling the rest of her body that after four years on the LPGA tour she was in the last group of the day, leading by a stroke and on the verge of winning her first tournament. That realization, along with the adrenaline racing through her veins, was making her quiver, literally, in her white lace-up Foot-Joys. Instinctively, she turned to me, her caddie, to help her lighten the moment. It didn't matter that I was a novice at caddying. I was the person she was relying on for comforting words and supportive smiles.
But my mind was blank. I, too, was caught up in the moment. Before signing on with Mallon for the 72-hole tournament, the only golf bag I had ever carried was my own. In fact, I had never been anything except a spectator or working journalist at an LPGA tournament. During my eight days of on-the-job training with Meg, I had gotten a taste of the sore muscles, cumbersome umbrellas in drenching rains and players' delicate psyches that those 90 men and 10 women who make a living carrying golf bags on tour contend with regularly. Now, though, I was about to experience a part of the job that some caddies dream about their entire careers and never realize—the thrill of carrying the winner's clubs up the 18th fairway on the last day of a tournament.
Before Meg and I could march triumphantly to the green, however, she had to get her ball there. To do that, she had to be focused but loose. As we walked along the fairway I whispered to her, "I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. If I had known you were going to ask something like that, I would have paid closer attention in biology class." The comment seemed to do the trick. She giggled and flashed me one of her trademark toothy smiles.
Meanwhile, up ahead on the 18th green, Dana Lofland, a 23-year-old LPGA rookie who had been breathing down Mallon's neck on the back nine, left her 10-foot birdie attempt a few inches short. All Mallon had to do to claim her first title was get her ball into the cup in three shots.
She paced off the yardage. I double-checked her addition while she pulled the three-iron from the bag. She swung, and her ball sailed toward the green, stopping four feet from the pin. Amid a roar from the gallery, I handed her the putter and wiped the mud and grass from the grooves of the three-iron. Mallon repaired her divot with her foot, swallowed a bite from a granola bar and began her victory stroll. The crowd was applauding wildly as she reached the green. Shouts of "Way to go, Meg!" came from the group of 30 or so players and caddies clustered near the grandstand. Dressed in navy blue, with a white sun visor crowning her brown hair, she looked positively regal, acknowledging the ovation with waves and a smile. When the pep rally ended, she sank the birdie putt, heaved her ball over the grandstand and hugged nearly everyone in sight on her way to sign her scorecard. For the four rounds, she had shot 66-70-69-71-276.
What an incredible odyssey it had been for us. At an LPGA tournament in Minnesota last August, I had introduced myself to Mallon because I wanted a closer look at one of the fairway woods in her bag. Chatting in the club-storage room, I casually said I hoped to write about her winning a tournament someday. On that summer afternoon, neither of us imagined what would happen a scant five months later.
In December, Mallon agreed to let me carry her bag for two tournaments so that I could glimpse LPGA tour life from inside the ropes. I ended up working only one tournament—the Oldsmobile—because Meg contracted bronchitis and withdrew from the second event, the Phar-Mor at Inverrary Country Club & Resort in Fort Lauderdale, before it started. I had decided to work for nothing except "the greater good of journalism," but if I had been paid, I would have earned between $275 and $350 for the week, plus a percentage of Mallon's tournament winnings—in this case, 10% of the $60,000 first-prize check.
Mallon wasn't on anyone's list of pre-tournament favorites at Wycliffe, and the odds against her winning surely skyrocketed when I showed up to carry her bag. Her record has improved every year since she joined the tour, in 1987, but she isn't a consistent scorer yet. Last season she played 28 events and won $129,381, good for 27th place on the money list, but she also missed seven cuts. I recall telling my editors at SI that she would probably play "well enough" to make my story interesting. I chose Mallon because I surmised that she had the ideal temperament for this assignment. Her fellow players had voted her "most popular" in an informal survey conducted by The Toledo Blade last season. She was easygoing on the course, and didn't throw clubs or scream. Working with me didn't change that. She was patient and considerate, no matter how many times I bumped into her with the bag, stood in the wrong place on the green or dropped my towel on the course.