Tour pros think of three things when preparing for a
shot--distance, distance and distance. For the last 20 years on
the PGA Tour, and since 1990 on the LPGA, the players and their
caddies have relied on one tool to calculate the yardage on
every shot: the precise and engaging books produced by George
A potbellied, 44-year-old Tour caddie turned yardologist, Lucas
hopscotches the country in a converted trailer surveying
tournament courses, drawing his sketches, managing the
production and setting up the distribution of his books, which
are commonly referred to as the Book, since on the Tour, Lucas's
work is gospel.
"I can't take the club back without it," says Tour player Lon
Hinkle. Andy Martinez, Tom Lehman's caddie, claims that "the
Book has done more to lower scores than any single piece of
equipment," while Jerry Higginbotham, who loops for Mark
O'Meara, attests, "Anybody who says they don't use it is lying."
But the highest tribute is the simple fact that every week the
unfailingly thrifty Tour pros pay ($12, $15 at the U.S. Open)
for the Book themselves.
"It gives me a rise to know the world authorities rely on my
work," says Lucas. "That drives me to be a perfectionist."
Top golfers judged distances by sight and feel until the early
1960s, when a few of them, notably Deane Beman and Jack
Nicklaus, began making their own yardage books. By 1970 some
caddies were sporadically publishing books, but they weren't
very good. Lucas took the enterprise to another level in 1976
when he came out with his first book, which he sold for five
dollars, at the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at the Colonial
Country Club. About half the field bought one, and almost
overnight Lucas's book became the Book. "Pros are spooky about
tastes," Lucas says, "so as soon as they bit at the first book,
I knew I was in business." It wasn't long before all the pros
were flipping through the Book nearly every week.
Lucas works hard to ensure the quality of his product. In
addition to surveying sites of significant amateur and Senior
tour events, he visits all of the LPGA and PGA Tour courses at
least once every two years. At new layouts he maps every hole
from scratch. At old ones he measures new sprinklers, bunkers
and landmarks, and rechecks old ones. On each hole Lucas places
prisms at the back of the tee and front of the green. Then he
stands on each sprinkler and landmark and fires the laser at the
prisms. A laser beam bounces off the prism and back to the
machine, providing a precise distance reading.
Lucas's caddying and playing experience--he has won the New
Hampshire Open (1979) and the Massachusetts Public Links
(1980)--gives him a sense of what information Tour pros want and
how they want it. "Any bimbo can measure," says Lucas. "I give
the nitty-gritty details. I know where they are apt to err. I
try to help them avoid mistakes." For example, many new courses,
especially TPC courses, have oddly shaped greens with several
sections, each of which pros visualize as a green within a
green. In those cases Lucas measures distances not just to the
front of a green, but also to the front of each section.
Lucas is constantly making improvements. A few years ago he
added a compass reading that shows magnetic north, to help
determine the prevailing wind. And his equipment is always
up-to-date. Lucas used a surveyor's cable until 1990, when he
upgraded to a $5,500 Topcon DM-A2 laser, which is accurate to
within two thousandths of an inch. This year, to back up the
Topcon, he began using a Bushnell Yardage Pro laser.
As much as anything, it is the Book's earthy authenticity that
makes it so popular. Lucas calls big mounds Dolly Partons and
smaller ones chocolate drops. Weird objects get highlighted,
like the sideways-growing tree along the 15th fairway at Pebble
Beach, which Lucas calls Poltergeist. Hazards are filled with
drawings of what Lucas calls the "terrestrial beings residing
within"--fish in streams, scuba divers in lakes and birds in
woods. And next to yardages for places where pros shouldn't be,
like 50 yards short of the green on a long par-4, Lucas jots,
J.I.C.Y.R.F.U. Translation: Just in Case You Really F--- Up.
There was a time when that phrase might have been applied to
Lucas. An Air Force brat, he grew up in England, Japan, Florida
and Georgia. Lucas was a good golfer but quit playing when he
entered Georgia Southern. Two years later he left school and
moved to Miami to work in the card room at the Barcelona Hotel.
From there he moved to California and tried caddying. In January
1974 he looped for Bobby Walzel in an event in Palm Springs on
the now defunct Second tour. Walzel won and asked Lucas to join
him on the Tour. Getting a nickname is a must for Tour caddies,
and with long blond hair and a suitcase full of toiletries,
Lucas got his quickly. Jerry Pruitt, Lucas's roommate and Lanny
Wadkins's caddie, dubbed him Gorjus George. "I changed the
spelling," says Lucas. "I liked j better than g, and I shortened
it to fit on vanity plates." A couple of years later Lucas had a
brainstorm. "I got to thinking, If somebody could put together
an accurate, concise book, it might be something," he says.
It was. In fact, business was so good that Lucas had to give up
his day job--he still occasionally carries for Nicole Jeray, an
LPGA player and friend. Lucas's last full-time gig as a caddie
was for Arnold Palmer in 1980 and '81. Lucas loved caddying for
the King, even after what happened at the 1981 Bob Hope Chrysler
Classic. Palmer accidentally knocked his ball off the tee on a
par-3 hole, and when Lucas bent down to retee it, Palmer lifted
his club, ripping a one-inch swath in Lucas's cheek. "It was
bloody, very bloody," says Lucas. "I ended up in the hospital in
a bed next to a guy Tip O'Neill had nailed in the eye the hole
before Arnie socked me."
Lucas had better luck with his books. While surveying, he
prefers to keep to himself, but Squeaky, the 8-month-old golden
retriever that goes with him everywhere, can make that
difficult. Two weeks ago at Oakland Hills, while Lucas was
mapping the course, an elderly man began petting Squeaky, then
told Lucas that he had waited only two days to replace his
retriever, which had recently died. "I told my wife, 'Go get
another right away,'" the man said, "'because when I get home
from work, I want to be greeted by a face that's happy to see
me, and you ain't it.'" Lucas, who is single and spends nine
months of the year on the road living in his furnished trailer
and the other three in a Florida hotel, could relate. "When I
meet a woman who looks at me like Squeaky," he says, "I'm going
to marry her."
With his peripatetic life, chances of that happening seem slim.
What woman would want to marry a man who lives in a trailer,
even if it has a vacuum cleaner, a microwave, a queen-sized bed,
air conditioning and DirecTV? But then again, what woman would
not want to marry a man who smiles every morning, no matter
where he wakes up? "My life can be lonely," says Lucas.
"Sometimes I wish I could be like the couples I see at the clubs
I visit. But then I meet these people and they say, 'I wish I
had your life.'"
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Lucas (opposite) used a laser to map the 16th at Oakland Hills, then sketched the landing area and the green (the locations are shown by the red boxes on the accompanying hole diagram). [George Lucas looking into measuring device]
B/W ILLUSTRATION [See caption above--Map of landing area and green of 16th hole at Oakland Hills Country Club]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION [See caption above--Hole diagram for 16th hole at Oakland Hills Country Club]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO The trailer Lucas and Squeaky share for nine months contains all the comforts of home. [Dog Squeaky and George Lucas]
B/W ILLUSTRATION [Map of landing area and green of 18th hole at Oakland Hills Country Club]
A MEAN 18TH
The USGA has this thing for finishing holes--it likes 'em long
and nasty, and if there's a chance to convert a par-5 into a
par-4, well, that's about as good as it gets. So it's little
wonder that the 18th at Oakland Hills has the blue blazers all
atwitter. It's long (470) and nasty (you call that narrow strip
a fairway?), and club members play it as a par-5. George Lucas,
who mapped Oakland Hills for SI (this sketch of the 18th is
exactly the same as the one that will appear in the yardage
books the players will use next week), went so far as to call it
the toughest closing hole in championship golf.
"The hole is a grizzly," Lucas says, "and it's weird because the
landing area at the dogleg is skinny, then gets fat beyond,
where guys like John Daly will try to bang it. That's a hard
visual for players to get comfortable with."
Lucas says each of the final four holes at Oakland Hills is a
beast. "Even mapping them out was hard and took a lot longer
than usual," he says. "I wish the boys luck, lots of very good