We trudged toward the 18th green, my golfer and I, our three-day, 11-mile journey over the emerald hills and valleys of Hershey, Pa., all but a few yards from being over. People in lawn chairs were waiting for us around the green. There were several hundred in the gallery and they were applauding, which I thought was nice. The cheering wasn't for the person loaded down with the bag, of course. That was me. It was for the woman carrying the putter I had just handed her.

The 18th is the place where dreams come true, or where they just get strung along for another week. It's where one pro golfer wins the tournament on Sunday afternoon when the shadows get long. And where all the others pick up their balls and walk off, dreaming about the day they will be in her place.

"Someday," said Tracy Kerdyk, the 24-year-old LPGA golfer I've known for eight years, since she was the only girl on the boys golf team at Coral Gables High outside Miami. "Someday, I'll walk up 18 and everyone will be standing there, cheering for me. I can't wait for the day that happens to me. I'll turn to look over my shoulder at the leader board and my name will be there, right on top. When that happens, I'll have tears in my eyes."

I turned to look at her as we walked up the middle of the fairway. The 35-pound bag riding on my right shoulder turned with me. Clubs clanked. I smiled. Tracy and I had discussed everything over three days: cute guys in the gallery, side bets on putts made and missed, if we'd have time to play tennis later, where we were going to eat dinner, how and when to take a bathroom break. Now, on 18, she suddenly turned sentimental. The good shots, the bad shots -- they didn't matter anymore.

"In fact," she said, "I have tears in my eyes right now, just thinking about it."

THIS DAY, WE ARRIVED AT 18 TWO HOURS too early. Tracy was not among the leaders.

Her name never made the big board that flanks the green. She was one of those also-rans whose names appear down the list in the agate type Monday morning in the sports section. She was not going to win this golf tournament for which I was her caddie. She was simply going to finish tied for 54th, earn $679 for the week and move on to the next stop on the tour.

She and the two other members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association that she was playing with waved to the people surrounding the green and disappeared into a tent to add up their scores. A par on 18, a three-over 75 for the round, a week's work completed on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon. We went back to the hotel, changed, packed and checked out and still made it back to 18 in time to watch the leaders take that same walk and a woman named Cathy Gerring win the tournament.

Tracy has never won on the LPGA tour, but she's in just her second year and she will win, because she is very good. Gerring is in her sixth year. Until Hershey, she had never won. Leading on Saturday and tempting fate, Gerring asked her husband to fly in from Columbus, Ohio, for the final round. He almost flew to the wrong city. I don't know if it was nerves or what. Anyway, he got there. But another man, the person who taught Gerring and her brother, PGA pro Bill Kratzert, almost everything they know about golf, was back in Ohio and couldn't make it.

So, when tournament officials told Gerring right after she signed her score card that it was time for her victory ceremony on the 18th green, she said she couldn't go out there.

They told her to come along. Thousands of people were waiting. A high school band had just marched in.

Still she resisted. It turned out that she too had dreamt of this moment as she walked up six years' worth of 18th fairways.

"I'll be there in a few minutes," she said. "I've got to go call my dad."

I HAVE A FEW DISCLAIMERS TO ISSUE RIGHT OFF THE BAT. I took lessons as a kid, but I don't play golf now. I don't know golf. I don't watch golf. And I don't do sand traps. Or, at least, I didn't until this spring.

I'm a sportswriter at The Washington Post. I play lots of sports for fun, but I observe for a living. I don't cheer when the Redskins score a touchdown. I write it down. In my job, I'm on the outside, looking in.

Nearly a year ago, Tracy, then in the midst of a satisfying run that ended with her being runner-up LPGA Rookie of the Year, asked me if I wanted to caddie for her someday. Tracy is like a little sister to me. When she was in high school and I was beginning my career as a sportswriter at the Miami Herald, she'd come by the University of Miami press box to find me and talk. One day she was depressed and thinking of giving up golf. I told her to give it a few more weeks before she made up her mind. That was six years ago.

So she trusted me to carry her bag and play amateur psychologist for the week.

"As long as you don't mind that your caddie gives you absolutely no help," I said.

No problem, she said. I remembered that George Plimpton couldn't skate and still played goaltender for the Boston Bruins. He became my inspiration.

Tracy and I picked Hershey because the purse of $300,000 wasn't the tour's largest. (The largest purse ever will be the $1 million offered at the Mazda LPGA Championship, which begins Thursday, July 26, at Bethesda Country Club; the winner will receive $150,000.) Tracy did warn me that the hills of Hershey were murder. I bought a Lifecycle and started working out.

I liked the idea of caddying for her. I'm never going to be allowed to stand in a Redskins huddle. I can't listen to John Thompson during a timeout. But here was a professional golfer inviting me to spend a week as her caddie, to carry her bag, to clean her clubs, to listen to her, to laugh with her.

That was one part of it. Another was the opportunity to write a story about someone I first wrote about eight years ago. I deal with all kinds of professional athletes now, but I knew none of them as kids. I wasn't there as they began. I didn't get to ask them what they were thinking, what they were dreaming.

With Tracy, I did. My sports editor in Miami asked me to write a feature on the 16-year-old girl who was shooting 73s and beating the boys. When I went out to talk to her, I found a totally driven teenager with an actual list of goals. Her long-range goal was to make the LPGA tour.

"LET'S GIVE A WARM Chocolate Town welcome to a graduate and two-time all-American from the University of Miami, a member of the 1988 U.S. Curtis Cup team and the 1988 collegiate player of the year, Tracy Kerdyk."

It was Friday afternoon, and the announcer was introducing one of the final threesomes at the start of the three-day, 54-hole Lady Keystone Open, a popular stop nearly halfway through the LPGA year. I stood beside one of the tee markers -- which are shaped like big Hershey Kisses -- with my hands on Tracy's upright blue and white Mizuno bag, watching Tracy tee it up.

Tracy was the last to go, following Lynn Adams and Martha Foyer, her playing partners for the day. She hit her drive. Her Titleist 8 landed in the fairway, and we both breathed a sigh of relief. She pulled her tee out of the ground as I gathered up the bag and scurried over to her. "I was so worried about you, I thought I might duff it off the tee," she said.

As Tracy and I were embarking on our adventure, I imagined the worst things that could happen: that I would step on someone's ball, walk in a player's putting line on the green, sneeze during someone's shot, yank the entire cup out as I pulled the pin from the hole or get fired.

We had been practicing since Monday at the site of the tournament -- the Hershey Country Club West Course -- so that I wouldn't make a fool of myself or, worse, of Tracy. That first day we had simply walked the course. Tracy brought her putter and two balls along. On the first green, after pacing off distances, she had tossed the balls on the green and told me to tend the pin. I knew what this meant: I had to stand beside the pin, grab hold of the flag and pin with one hand and pull it out of its tight hole when she hit the putt. Months earlier, over the phone from a tournament in Hawaii, she had issued her first warning to me: If the ball hits the pin while you're holding it, it's a two-stroke penalty. Two strokes at the top of the Hershey money list ended up meaning the difference between $45,000 and $14,250.

So she stroked the putt and I pulled the pin. As I brought it out, I put a nick in the grass above the hole. No, Tracy said, you can't do that. That little mark might change the way a ball rolls around the hole. If another golfer sees a caddie do that, it's big trouble. And the player is responsible for the caddie. So Tracy started getting nervous. I didn't blame her.

The rest of the day, I learned to stand with my feet together, shoulders thrown back, my free arm behind my back, perfectly motionless, as I held onto that pin. I pulled it out without hitting anything. I felt better, but I needed more practice.

My next work came Wednesday, the day of the pro-am. Pro-ams are silly but necessary. Tracy played with four amateurs, men of varying ability. The worst but most lovable was Sid, a county official from Harrisburg. He told Tracy that he wanted a kiss for every birdie putt he made. Tracy seemed safe -- until Sid sank two birdie putts in a row. Joyous, he even amended the rule to include the caddie.

Tracy returned the favor by telling Sid that if any of his drives didn't make it past the ladies' tees, he'd have to play strip golf. Now, one look at Sid, an older gentleman with an ample belly, had everyone rooting strongly for him to hit towering drives. On the first hole, it was a close call. The rest of the way, Sid -- and all of us -- were safe.

The pro-am was fun and games for the golfers but a real anxiety attack for me. They all knew I was a reporter masquerading as a caddie, but I still had duties -- like cleaning golf balls, tending the pin and carrying Tracy's bag, of course. Thank God for the evolution of shoulder pads in women's clothing. My shoulder never ached, not even after five trips (one practice, one pro-am, three for real) around the 6,300-yard course. I couldn't believe it. I gave full credit to Liz Claiborne.

Several holes into the pro-am round, I was struggling to keep my head above water. Tracy was pulling clubs, using them and handing them back to me, and I was trying to clean them with my omnipresent white towel -- half-wet, half-dry -- and put them back in the right place as I walked with the bag over my shoulder. I was failing, miserably. Half a dozen clubs were out of place. I set down the bag for Tracy's next shot, and she looked at it. Startled, she looked up at me.

"This cannot happen during the tournament."

There was no laughter in her voice. I was in trouble.

Thursday night, on the eve of the first round, I met in the hotel bar with Tommy Grogan, a 38-year-old former Wall Street sales rep who has caddied on the LPGA tour for five years for various players, including Cathy Gerring and Tracy. Tommy caddied for Tracy a month before I did, and he became my coach. His first piece of advice to me was simple: "Don't fall down."

I told him about my lack of organizational skills with Tracy's clubs. He said not to worry about it, and that if things got a little tense, I could even use the incident to loosen Tracy up. He said, "Tomorrow, a few holes into the round, even if every club is in the right place, I want you to mess a few up, put down the bag, look her right in the eye and say, 'It's happening!' "

My opportunity came early in the first round of the tournament. We had gone through a few holes and Tracy had parred every one, but when I set down the bag in the fairway, I noticed the 9-iron was where the 5-iron should have been, and vice versa. I hoped Tracy wasn't looking as I pulled the two clubs out to make a fast switch. She was looking. I shrugged and said my lines: "It's happening!"

Tracy smiled. A few holes later, when she was four over par, she wouldn't have laughed. Jokes only work at even-par or better.

Another trick of the trade Tracy wanted me to learn was to immediately hand her putter to her after a shot to the green. It was an exchange, really; she would hand me the club she had just hit, and I would give her the putter. It took me a couple holes to pick this up. Then, I got good at it. So good, in fact, that in the pro-am alone, I twice handed her the putter when her approach shot was not on the green. Sheepishly, I put the putter back in the bag and trudged on, waiting to see what disaster awaited us.

Tommy gave me one other tip. If my player was in a bunker by the green, I should have the putter ready to hand her when she hit out of the trap. On the 12th hole of our first day of the tournament, I had a chance to practice this little maneuver.

Tracy was in the sand trap; I stood beside it, holding the rake in one hand and keeping the bag still with my other hand. I leaned the bag against my leg and reached in for the putter as she dug her feet into the sand. Tracy has a very consistent game around the greens, but, for some reason, she hit a terrible shot out of the trap. I watched it pop up and settle into the rough well short of the green.

"Set down the rake," she said sharply. "Come with me."

Before I could move, she eyed the putter in my hand. I wished it could have turned invisible at that moment. And me with it. She had just hit her worst shot of the day, and there I was rubbing it in by foolishly holding the club that she could not yet use.

Tracy bogeyed the hole, saving herself the ignominy of a double bogey with a wonderful putt, an eight-footer downhill sliding to the right. I breathed hard.

"I feel so stupid," I told her.

"Don't worry about it," she said, handing me her putter.

The next hole, No. 13, she three-putted to go four over par. She wasn't concentrating. I began to worry she was so preoccupied with how I was doing that she wasn't concerned enough with how she was doing.

Walking up the fairway on 14, I told Tracy I didn't know what to say. I couldn't help her with yardage or club selection or the wind or reading greens, but I at least thought I could keep her loose. But that wasn't happening. I had told her the day before that, when the tournament started, we were both going to be confident and have fun.

"I have no confidence and I'm not having fun," Tracy told me.

Great, I thought. I had given up on the jokes I memorized for the occasion. I was stumped. How do things start unraveling in sports? Does poor playing lead to a bad mood? Or vice versa? It's like momentum in a football or basketball game. One moment a team can't be stopped, the next it can't do anything right. I still can't figure this out.

But coming up were the 15th and 16th holes, both par 5s, both birdie opportunities. Thank goodness. And sure enough, Tracy ended up with a three-foot putt for birdie on 15 and a seven-footer for birdie on 16. She made them both and finished the round with pars on 17 and 18 for a two-over 74.

I'll personally take credit for both birdies. I figured it was time to get silly on the 15th green when she gave me her ball to clean with my towel. I was a big Detroit Tigers fan in 1976 when pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was talking to the baseball. So I talked to Tracy's golf ball before handing it back to her. I held it close to my mouth and said, "You're in the hole. Go in the hole. In the hole."

Tracy raised her eyebrows, amused.

"You're talking to the ball," she said.

I couldn't lie.

"Yes," I said. "It worked for Mark Fidrych."

"Who's Mark Fidrych?" she asked.

On 16, I offered Tracy a slight incentive: $50 for an eagle. I thought there was no way she could do it; anything to change the mood and shake her up. She got the birdie, after I gave that ball another good talking-to. I kept my $50.

After being interviewed by a local radio station, Tracy told me to meet her at the driving range. For half an hour, I cleaned balls and she hit them. Rather than boring, I found this time delightful -- we had finished a round, I had had a good time, and we were still friends.

We walked to the putting green, where fans always gather. A fat guy in a black T-shirt critiqued Tracy's putting and drove her nuts, but he did buy her a Diet Coke. Tracy bent down to talk to a little girl named Erin and gave her an autographed golf ball. How many times had I watched pro athletes duck little kids? (When we got back to the hotel after dinner, a card was waiting for Tracy. It was from Erin, wishing her good luck. And Erin's father came out Sunday to walk all 18 holes in Tracy's gallery.)

Across the green, I spotted a little girl who was on the other side of the yellow rope separating us from the fans. Her father told me her name was Laura. She was 6 and wanted to be a professional soccer player when she grew up.

I didn't realize Tracy was listening. She stopped putting for a moment and walked toward her bag, which was lying nearby. She pulled out a red Magic Marker, took out a ball and signed her name on it, then walked over and handed it to Laura. She then went back to her putting.

"We're going to go home and put that in your dresser drawer," the father said to Laura. "We'll take it out in five years, and when we look at the name, it will be like looking at Nancy Lopez's name now."

In her room in her parents' house in Coral Gables, Tracy has a collection of souvenirs from her junior golf career. One of her prized possessions is a golf ball autographed by Nancy Lopez.

When Tracy came out of the University of Miami, having won more tournaments than any other collegiate woman golfer in history, there was no doubt she was headed for greatness. International Management Group, the sports management firm headed by author and entrepreneur Mark McCormack, signed her up. She appeared on a calendar in Japan with Curtis Strange. She played corporate pro-ams. She played a match with Ayako Okamoto for Japanese TV. Last year, as a rookie, she finished 51st on the money list, officially earning $64,644. She made an additional $35,000 in the JC Penney Classic in December in which she and PGA player Jay Don Blake finished tied for third.

Tracy figures it costs about $45,000 a year -- for airfare, hotels, rental cars, meals, caddie fees, etc. -- to live on the tour. It's a popular misconception that sponsors and tournaments always pick up the tab. Certainly, there are deals for clothing; Tracy gets paid to wear clothes made by Aurea. She also is paid to use clubs, bags and shoes by Mizuno, and Titleist gives her golf balls. Endorsement money is pretty good at the entry level, but the really big bucks come later. If you last.

TRACY TEED OFF EARLY SATURDAY MORNING, THE SECOND day of the tournament. She bogeyed the first hole, but she still was happy. We had come up with some new ground rules for the second round. Because I wasn't advising her on club selection as other caddies do, I was to make her feel as comfortable as possible when she pulled the club from the bag.

"That's the club," I'd say. "You've got the right club."

I had no idea if she had the right club. But I began to realize that positive vibes are everything in golf. That little white ball just sits there until you hit it. It doesn't move. In tennis, baseball, football, you name it, the ball moves and you react. Not this sport. It's incredibly mental, which meant I now was heavily into lying.

Five-iron? Six-iron? Who knew? Not me. But I knew my lines.

"Yes, Tracy, that's the right club."

Tracy knew I didn't know. I told her I felt really stupid saying those things. "That's what I want to hear, though," she told me. She knows she is impatient. All good professional athletes are. She's also moody and impressionable and young and talented. She wants to win now. Yet she knows I'm around to calm her down. A caddie has many duties, not the least of which is to read the golfer's mind.

It began to work. Tracy birdied No. 3. She parred No. 6 after hitting the ball behind a big willow tree. I reminded her that in addition to the fact that she had the right club, she was great at the tough shots, the trick shots, because her pro down in Miami, Charley DeLucca, spent hours teaching her how to hit balls from behind trees, out of water hazards, left-handed and even on her knees. Tracy is a product of a down-to-earth public course called Melreese, right beside Miami International Airport.

As a child, she used to ride her bike to practice with her clubs slung over her shoulder. When she got old enough to drive a car, she'd spend every possible moment at the range or on the course. Charley would have to come out to remind her to eat lunch.

By late morning, the wind was blowing toward us from the chocolate factory, and the air smelled like brownies. Life was good. Tracy birdied No. 9 to make the turn at one-under for the day. She had bogeys on 11 and 12 and a birdie on 13.

She birdied 16, and again my $50 eagle offer was safe. She parred 17 and was one hole away from a one-under 71 and a really nice round when she stepped up to 18 and hit her drive into the trees right of the fairway, forcing two marshals to take a dive. Jeez, I thought. I reached her ball well before she did, to find it in the high rough, beneath an evergreen. A bogey, at least. Shoot.

I knew she would be upset.

"I hate it when that happens," I told her as she came up to the ball. That brought a slight smile.

With a branch of the evergreen pressing on her hair, Tracy chipped the ball out onto the fairway, 20 yards from where it had lain. This was not good. From there, she hit a 6-iron -- "That's the perfect club," I said, of course -- and put her ball 45 feet from the pin. She needed that putt to save par.

"Well, we just made bogey," she said as we walked to the 18th green.

"What kind of attitude is that?"

"I hate this hole," she said. "No way am I going to make it."

I knew she was just talking, just blowing off steam.

Tracy had me tend the pin because her ball was so far from the hole she couldn't see where it was. I had done this a few times now and felt good about it. Tracy told me I was batting a thousand today, no mistakes. So I wedged my feet between the putting lines of the other two golfers, held the pin with my left hand and waited for Tracy to hit the ball. She had told me to walk completely away from the hole once I pulled the pin, so the ball couldn't possibly hit me and cause a two-stroke penalty.

She hit the putt, hard. It was coming fast. I took a few quick steps, reached the fringe of the green and turned around to watch that little white ball travel its last 10 feet and then drop off the face of the earth into that beautiful little hole.

The gallery cheered wildly. Still holding the flag, I raised my arms and pumped my fists. Tracy had her arms raised and was smiling one of the biggest smiles I'd ever seen. It was a tremendous par, Tracy ended the day one-under, she had most definitely made the cut to play the final day, and I was one happy caddie.

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I DID TO prepapare for Hershey was to read the LPGA caddie guidelines. No. 5 threw me: "Act like a gentleman at all times."

There are half a dozen or so women who caddie on the tour. Tracy introduced me to one of them, Chris Lebiedz, the caddie for Sherri Turner. Chris had hopes of being a pro golfer herself and played the mini-tour -- a minor-league version of the LPGA tour -- until she went broke.

She is 31 now. She played on the boys golf team at Lake Braddock High School in Burke, graduating in 1977. She has been a caddie for four years.

As I got to know some of my fellow caddies -- or "loopers" as they are called because they make the 18-hole loop again and again -- I realized I was a bit envious of them, and a little sorry for them too. Envious because they work outside all day under the sun in some of the most glorious settings imaginable. Sorry because they just aren't treated right.

For starters, they are fourth-class citizens, below even journalists. "I can't walk in that dining room right there," Chris told me, pointing to the next room. She didn't have the proper pass.

They don't make much money either. The going rate is $250 to $450 a week, paid by the player whether or not she makes the cut. If the golfer makes the cut, then the caddie also receives a percentage of the earnings. The usual breakdown is 10 percent for the caddie if the player wins the tournament, 7 percent if the player finishes in the top five and 5 percent if she makes the cut.

Most of the caddies cut expenses by staying with friends at tour stops or sharing motel rooms. Tommy Grogan had booked rooms for the next 10 weeks for himself and another caddie for $40 a night. "We do a lot of Super Savers with Days Inns," he said.

They live week to week. There are no benefits for the caddies, no security blankets.

"You're only as successful as your player," Chris said. "If she's not making cuts and making money, you're not making money either."

Caddies are coaches, friends, teachers, spies. They've been known to go out before or after their player's round and hide behind trees to scout opponents. They know everything. In that bag, they carry all that's important to a player: money, car keys, aspirin, tampons. Sometimes, when you see a score in the high 70s, it had nothing to do with the wind or course conditions. The caddie knows. It was just that time of the month.

Despite my perceptions going in that caddies are the kind of people who couldn't hold down 9-to-5 jobs, most of those I met were intelligent and highly capable; they'd just rather be on the tour.

"This is my Walter Mitty thing," Tommy said. "We're all a family. Just don't loan anybody money."

THE LPGA IS 40 YEARS OLD THIS YEAR. Gone are the days of Patty Berg and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who won 31 tournaments before her death in 1956. She earned about as much for those 31 victories -- $66,237 -- as Tracy did last year.

There are 144 women, including Tracy, playing on the tour with exempt status, meaning they don't have to qualify for events. Other, non-exempt players fit in where they can.

Tour members can play up to 39 events this year, although no one golfer plays them all. Total prize money is $18 million, $4 million above last year, nearly $17 million above 1975. Betsy King, the tour's latest star, earned a record $650,000 last year. Twenty women have become millionaires playing golf.

But all is not completely well with the LPGA.

The LPGA has an identity crisis. It has tried to showcase its prettiest players as pinup girls, and took some heat for that. It has focused on the increasing number of mothers and children on the tour, but that's not particularly appetizing to network executives trying to sell women's golf to male viewers. And it now seems to have settled on women as athletes.

"These are athletes who are women, and it's very popular to sweat," said Bill Blue, a polished former liqueur executive, who took over what some called "the worst job in golf" when he became commissioner of the LPGA 18 months ago.

Why was his job perceived this way? First of all, women's sports have always been perceived as second-class. Then there were the constant comparisons with the PGA tour, and the emergence of the senior men's tour and its tremendous popularity. For example, the reason the LPGA Championship is being held in Washington is that its old site, in Cincinnati, decided to go with a seniors tour event.

The LPGA is so concerned with marketing itself that it has brought in a consultant named Beverley Willey to do the players' hair, advise them on their makeup, touch them up before TV interviews and even take them shopping.

"The girls are very visible," Willey said. "We're marketing this tour all the time. You would think that just because they're the best golfers in the world that that should market itself. But it doesn't. So we have to go beyond that. The general public expects a little bit more of lady athletes. I don't think it's fair that they expect to see a perfect woman playing golf, but I do think that's a fact of life. You're being clever to acknowledge that and to do something about it."

Sex appeal sells. Bill Russell, when he was a commentator on NBA games years ago, said the shorts and sleeveless uniforms were one of the draws of his sport.

Spend a few hours in an LPGA gallery and there can be no doubt about it. I once watched Cathy Reynolds, a very attractive LPGA veteran, hit a tee shot into the rough, and heard a man tell his buddies, "She's still the prettiest girl out here."

Nancy Lopez, the savior of the LPGA a decade ago and still its No. 1 draw, believes that when men come out to watch a tournament, "they'd rather see femininity versus the other. People appreciate a feminine woman who can go out and hit the ball 250 yards. We should be clean and crisp and nice to look at. I like to watch that kind of person too."

This preoccupation is shared by a majority of women on the tour. Tracy and I talked about which outfits looked best on her, her earrings, her nails, her shoes, you name it. Tall socks are preferable to footies because they look softer, consultant Willey says. Golfers don't wear sunglasses because, in addition to depth perception problems, they hide their faces. Tracy wears a sun visor because it bears the name of her sponsor, but it also keeps her hair out of her face. (That works for caddies too.) And, in boring moments on the course, we even discussed the way certain golfers walked, which ones carried themselves well, which ones did not.

As I looked around, I realized the tour has its share of tomboys who never grew up.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Willey said. "I've not been exposed to what they've been exposed to either, sportswise. Also, their trainers and coaches usually are male, so they're not going to worry about sunscreen or makeup. So I try to help as much as I can."

"People are watching how you dress and how you act," said Lori Garbacz, the class clown of the tour, who once had her caddie carry a lawn chair so she could sit in the fairway and read the Sunday paper between shots.

The LPGA is trying to market itself as a sport to be watched by the emerging female golfing population (four out of every 10 new golfers are women, Blue said) and by men who can identify more with the LPGA game -- unlike the PGA, women pros play a brand of golf that some men could hope to match.

"It's been such a male-dominated sport," Willey said. "Look at the clothing. The shirts. All they did was take a man's shirt and put a ladies label in it and sold it in the ladies side of the store."

Even on the tour, there is a lack of respect. The small towns love the LPGA, but in Hershey one day, a local kids' driving competition was being held on the range as the pros tried to practice. In Atlantic City a couple of weeks later, the players had to tee off early and clear out of the locker room by mid-afternoon Saturday so the country club could host a wedding reception. It's impossible to imagine those things happening on the PGA tour.

Still, the women of the tour persevere. And thrive, mostly.

"A lot of us have come from modest means, some have come from the country club atmosphere," Lori said. "But the one bonding thing, I think, is we're all in this together. We're women. We're a minority in sports, and we're building something. I think we're very aware that we're judged by a different standard than men athletes are. We're under more scrutiny. For 150-some women together, we get along remarkably well in a competitive environment. We're pretty much a big family. We try to take care of our own."

WE STARTED OUR FINAL DAY IN Hershey the way all the others began: Tracy got up and turned on the Weather Channel, the official television station of the LPGA. Hang around LPGA people for a while and they'll talk about what was on the Weather Channel the way we non-golfers talk about what was on "L.A. Law."

This morning, the predictions were for rain at the tournament, so we packed the necessary gear. The umbrella always is with us, but the bag gained a few pounds with the other stuff. Tracy said it would be "a clown act," with the juggling of umbrella, clubs and clothes. (The Weather Channel was totally wrong. We had sunshine all day. So I got to carry the gear for nothing.)

In the room, Tracy was busy getting the bag ready for the final day, making sure her caddie hadn't lost one of her 14 clubs and getting her things together for the trip to Wilmington, Del., site of the next tour stop. She travels for three or four weeks at a time, then goes home to take a week off, see her family, work with Charley and do laundry before going back on the road. During this stretch, she went from Miami to Hershey to Wilmington to Atlantic City to Providence to Miami, in three weeks.

She spends hours a day on the phone in her room, making plane, hotel and car reservations and talking to family and friends. When we'd come back from dinner or playing tennis, there would always be another message to call her boyfriend, her parents or her management group.

On Sunday, we went to the course an hour before her tee time, as usual. Tracy began the third round at one over par, eight shots behind Gerring. We teed off at 10:40. The leaders weren't going to arrive at the course for another hour, at least. They teed off at 1.

Just as we did Saturday, we began with another bogey. But it was a significant bogey. I helped Tracy make a decision on a club.

Tracy drove into the left rough. We walked to the ball. She told me her choice was either hitting a 4-wood, which she would have to coax around a bunker to get to the green, or hitting a 4-iron to lay up in front of the bunker. The safe choice was the 4-iron, she said.

"Nuts to that," I said. "It's the final day. Go for it."

She hit a wonderful shot just off the green and chipped on, but two-putted. The putter didn't feel quite right. She told me she had taken one Motrin back in the room because her stomach was upset. Now her hands were shaking slightly. She also told me this couldn't be used as an excuse. I nodded but kept looking at my watch to see when it would wear off.

Although she didn't feel great, Tracy hung in there nicely. She remained one-over for the day through the seventh hole. It was then that I thought it was time to liven things up a bit and once again offered some financial incentives on her putts.

On the par-3 eighth, I offered $30 if she made a 15-foot putt for birdie. She did.

On nine, she faced a 36-foot putt, breaking hard to the right, for birdie. I put up $30 again. She knocked it in.

"I'm a money player," she said joyously.

This, by the way, was legit. We didn't exchange any money because I didn't carry any during the round. Caddies are known to bet with their players on important shots. Most of the time, they're playing for drinks.

Now Tracy was one-under for the day, even par for the tournament. After parring 10, Tracy ran into disaster. Bogey, bogey, bogey. The wind changed, but something else did too. How does a happy camper, with birdies on eight and nine, suddenly lose it? I was befuddled.

"It really doesn't matter anymore," Tracy said as we walked up 14, now two-over for the day. "I have nothing to lose."

I looked toward the sky. There must have been 1,000 ideas floating around up there of things I could say. Again, I knew she didn't really mean what she was saying, but I wanted to throw something back at her, something that might help. I told myself that Tracy plays better when she's on edge, when she's in trouble, when she's angry. So, I thought to myself, here goes, and I tried to sound as furious as possible.

"So you're looking for something to play for, huh? Try this. My story. You're ruining my story by the way you're playing."

Tracy turned sharply to look me right in the eye.

"Damn you!" she said.

"Damn you!" I shot back.

We didn't say anything to each other until she chipped onto the green and waited for Myra Blackwelder, one of the women she was playing with, to putt.

Tracy leaned over as I stood next to her on the fringe of the green, a couple of feet from the gallery.

"You really hurt me with that comment," she said, the words piercing the air.

I started to smile.

"You believed that?" I said. "I just wanted to get you going. The story's all set. Come on, I was just joking."

If it was possible, Tracy got even angrier. She made her putt for par, slid the putter into my hand, yanked her driver out of the bag and stormed off.

I didn't mind. At least we'd stopped that string of bogeys.

Ah, but 15. The great thing about golf is that every hole is a new beginning. Unless you're in a funk. Tracy hit her drive so far to the right, it was almost in the 16th fairway. As I followed her into the rough, she stepped on the restraining rope to get over it. Every other time she did this, she didn't move until I stepped on the rope and went by too. But this time, she charged on, leaving me to nearly trip over the snapping, knee-high rope.

Tracy next hit a 4-iron across the fairway and into an almost impossible position, in the rough, in a rut, on the side of a hill, heading down, 122 yards from the pin. It wasn't hard to imagine her next shot going about 70 yards straight down to the bottom of the hill. Can you say double bogey?

We arrived at the ball. We were speaking again.

"I think I'm going to hit an 8-iron here," she said.

"What other club can you hit?" I asked.

"I think this is it," she said.

An idea came to me. One of the all-time great motivational lines was said by Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, as he sent his players out to face the Soviets:

"You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours."

So, just before Tracy stepped up to the ball, I tried a variation:

"You've practiced this shot a thousand times for this moment."

It wasn't the Soviets against the United States, but we amateur psychologists have to use our good lines anytime we can.

Tracy hit the ball as well as she possibly could have; it bounced onto the green, rolled past the pin and even earned her a little applause from the gallery. If I hadn't been holding the bag, I would have applauded too. She didn't sink that putt, but she did make her putt for par. Other than her putt on 18 the second day, that 8-iron was her finest shot of the tournament.

On 16, I upped the eagle challenge to $100. Tracy told me she'd give me back my $60 if she didn't birdie the hole. Unfortunately, I got my money back.

She bogeyed 17 to go three-over for the day and four-over for the tournament. She missed a 16-footer for birdie on 18 and tapped in for par.

I caught up with her at the edge of the green, before she went in to add up her score and sign the card.

"Am I fired?" I asked, laughing.

"Heck, no," she said, breaking into a smile. "You can do this for me any day."

PERHAPS SOMEDAY I WILL. BUT I'D rather be standing in the gallery on 18, applauding as she walks in with the last group and turns around to see one name, her name, on top of the leader board.

This day, that seemed so far away. She and I sat at the edge of the green watching Cathy Gerring putt out to win the Lady Keystone Open by one stroke over Pat Bradley and Elaine Crosby. Gerring finished at 208, eight-under par, and ended up holding one of those larger-than-life checks made out for $45,000. Tracy ended with a 220, four-over, and wouldn't have made expenses if I hadn't been working for free and picking up some of the costs.

"It's hard to sit here watching this," Tracy said to me. "I want to be her."

That's something Cathy Gerring un- derstands. A week later, reflecting on her victory, she said, "I always wanted to be the winner too. I don't know. Maybe I wanted it too much. I wasn't ready to win. And you know what? I finally realized how you get ready to win. By simply playing week after week. Oh, and one other thing. By watching other people win."

Christine Brennan last wrote for the Magazine about covering the Redskins.