WHEN I was a kid I dreamed about becoming a Tour player, but by the time I turned 24, in 1974, I still had a two handicap and I was managing the card room at the Barcelona Hotel in Miami Beach. That's when I decided to learn the game from inside the ropes, as a Tour caddie. So that June, I said goodbye to the Barcelona and drove my midnight-blue '66 Austin Healey 3000 to Firestone in Akron in the hope of picking up a bag at the now-defunct American Golf Classic.
"Where do you caddie?" snorted the caddiemaster at Firestone.
Uh-oh. I had never actually carried a bag, so I said, "I'm a Tour caddie." That seemed like the perfect lie, except it turned out that the guy hated Tour caddies. "Get out of here and don't come back!" he shouted. Bummed but undeterred, I moved on to California and eventually got my first loop, for Bobby Walzel at the Los Angeles Open.
I made a triumphant return to Akron as a Tour caddie the following year and got my first exposure to Firestone's 16th hole, which was the hardest par-5 on Tour. It remains so today, as the pros will be reminded at the NEC Invitational. Firestone's 16th is like the 16th at Shinnecock, except on steroids. It's long, hilly and sinuous. The only flat spot is a narrow swath of fairway 65 to 95 yards short of the green on which players hope to land their second shots. That leaves an approach to a green that's so soft, shots often spin back into the pond.
*For 28 years--the last three months with his golden retriever, Woody--Gorjus George has drawn the yardage books that the pros use.