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 Lucas.
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 Par-tons 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.