He lived out of suitcases and on McDonald’s in the mid-’70s.

He played a competitive round of golf with Tiger Woods in the mid-’90s.

He also sold real estate, worked as a liquor salesman and as a deputy sheriff in Kennebec County.

It all has led Mark Plummer to one conclusion: Maine truly is the way life, and golf, should be.

“It doesn’t get any better than Maine,” said Plummer, who will tee off at 7:20 a.m. today in the first round of the 89th annual Charlie’s Maine Open at Fox Ridge Golf Club in Auburn. “Why would I go anywhere else? I’d get my brains beat in.”

That’s Plummer being modest.

The 13-time Maine Amateur champion is a legend on Maine’s links, where he has won three State of Maine Championships and a PGA, Maine Chapter event. He was also inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

But one title is missing from his impressive resume.

The Maine Open.

“I’ve been close a couple of times,” said Plummer, 55, a lifetime member at Augusta Country Club in Manchester. “I love the competition, with the mix of amateurs and pros. Having the pros makes it a much different tournament. I have just never got over the hump.”

True, but it seems to be the only one.

At 24, Plummer had professional aspirations, just like any other youngster who could drive the ball a mile and shoot in the 70s. Naturally, Plummer didn’t want to live the rest of his life with the “what ifs,” so he packed up his suitcase and headed south for a year.

There, he spent time on multiple mini-tours, barely making ends meet while moving from hotel to hotel and doing his laundry in whatever Laundromat he could find.

His biggest payday? A $1,100 prize he earned while on the American Golf Tour in Texas.

The kicker? He never received the check. The tour went out of business before he could collect on his earnings.

“I had to go see if I was good enough to make it professionally, or if I would even enjoy that type of life,” said Plummer, who won his first Maine Amateur title in 1973, three years before his trip south. “I am glad I did it. No, it wasn’t very much fun. I knew I needed to find a real job and play amateur golf again.”

And that he did. He won five Maine Amateur titles (including one at Martindale in Auburn) in the ’80s, three more in the ’90s and three straight from 2000-02.

But how do you pay the bills if you are not making money at what you do best? According to Plummer, it can happen by taking on jobs with flexible schedules.

“It wasn’t by accident that I worked as a deputy sheriff, in real estate or a liquor salesman,” Plummer said. “It was by design. Each job gave me a chance to get out to the course on a consistent basis. I had to make a living, but golf has always been a part of it.”

Tee with Tiger

At 19, Tiger Woods already had cameras following his every movement when he hooked up with Plummer at the 1995 U.S. Amateur Championship at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island.

But even then, Plummer saw a kid being allowed to mature, even if it was with an audience.

“You see a player like Michelle Wie, and you see someone that didn’t succeed at every level and gain confidence every step of the way,” Plummer said. “But Tiger was allowed to fail. He didn’t do it too much, but it was OK if he did. Even then, Tiger was probably stronger mentally than he was physically. And we all know how strong he is.”

Plummer agreed that Woods brought a new level of interest to the game. Kids in preschool are taking up the game.

“The more attention that golf can get, the better,” Plummer said. “Start the kids early, golf teaches you a lot about life, not just playing 18 holes.”

But has that added interest been a detriment to the level of golf in Maine?

“Without a doubt,” Plummer said. “In the old days, we’d have guys like (Lanny) Wadkins and (Jim) Dent playing in the Maine Open. It was the PGA and all of the state opens.

“Now, there are so many mini-tours that actually have money behind them, they all act as a farm system for the PGA. Now, the opens are more for local and regional pros. But it makes them more like homecomings, so that can be fun.”

Golf’s future

Watching Plummer swing, you know that he is a throwback. Much like Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer, his swing is “natural,” and is easy to replicate, because the body isn’t trying to do something abnormal.

That is far different from what Plummer sees in today’s players.

“(Professionals) are a bunch of clones really,” Plummer said. “It’s a reflection of schools, videos and computer analysis. All of them look the same, you will never see a swing like mine. Not that anyone would want to replicate it anyway.

“But I think that is why you don’t see guys succeed for a long period of time. When the pressure is on, they have to think about their swings. When you do it naturally, you can concentrate on your shot instead of how you are going to do it.”

The one aspect of today’s athlete that he has adapted to is the workout regimen. During the winter, he exercises 90 minutes per day.

So will that workout routine help him capture the coveted Maine Open title?

“Fox Ridge is a great challenge,” Plummer said. “My time is probably behind me. But I love getting out there, for the sociability of the game. Can I hold my own? Sure.

“But Fox Ridge is tough and I think it is a great venue for this tournament. The Lewiston-Auburn area really made us feel welcome last year, and that makes it worth the trip. A lot of the players make a long weekend out of it.”

Of course, at the end of this tournament, the L-A area will turn into the land of balloons and face-painting for the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

“Families will have a blast in Lewiston-Auburn all this week. It makes for some great planning,” Plummer said.

“(But) I think I will be rearranging my sock drawer on those days.”

He’s just happy he’s not living out of suitcases anymore.

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