It’s been an Akron mainstay for nearly two decades, but now the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational is getting ready to pack up its golf bags and leave Firestone Country Club.
Throughout the evolution from the World Series of Golf, to its current format and moving forward to the Senior Players’ Championship next year, one man has seen it all.
For more than 65 years, Paul Lazoren has had a front row seat to every tournament at the club. His career at Firestone started when he was a 9-year-old cleaning clubs for cash tips.
“I could make $7 or $8, and that was a lot of money back then,” Lazoren said. “It was a great life, I got very lucky."
Lazoren became a caddie at the club, and when got a bit older, he got up close and personal with his childhood hero, Arnold Palmer.
“Arnold Palmer was my idol and I got to caddy for him,” Lazoren said. “On the first tee, I can feel my hands shaking because I’m caddying for The King. He looked over and said ‘Paulie, I’m nervous enough for the two of us, relax.”
Palmer has a special place in Lazoren’s heart. Their frequent interactions in the clubhouse have led to countless stories over the years. Palmer was notorious for fiddling with his clubs after a round.
“He shot a 65 in the world series of golf, and a 65 is a great round. He came in and slammed his putter and bent it. And I looked at him and he goes ‘I left a couple out there,’” Lazoren said. “The next day he shot a 75, so he must have bent it the wrong way.”
The man affectionately known as “Paulie” around the course has even caddied for a pair of winners.
In 1965, Lazoren caddied for Gary Player when he won the World Series of Golf.
“First place was $50,000 and the caddie takes home $2,500,” Lazoren said. “We were walking down the fairway on the 18th hole and he said ’young man, you’re about to win a lot of money.’
"I said, ‘Yeah, so are you!'" Lazoren recounted. "I used that money to buy my first house. It was great.”
Over the years, Lazoran has grown into a legend of his own at Firestone. He can recall nearly every iconic moment, including Tiger Woods' famed “shot in the dark.”
"That’s probably one of the greatest shots I’ve ever watched because it was dark. People don’t realize what the cameras did,” Lazoren said. “There were people lighting lighters like a concert. And hit it in the dark and I think he knocked to about three feet. It was unbelievable.”
As the WGC Bridgestone heads off to Memphis next year, Firestone won’t be left empty handed. The country club will be home to the Senior Players Championship beginning in 2019.
Still, Lazoren will cherish the memories that he made, and some of the new ones he’s yet to make.
“I think what I like most is when the players get involved with the kids. There was a little girl who ran up to Rickie Fowler and said ‘Can I have your picture?’ He said ‘No, but you can take one with me,” Lazoren said. "She lit right up. I think things like that mean so much in sports.”