LOS ANGELES — On New Year's Eve, many of us will be putting on our party faces. Eugene "Lucky" Lacaillade will be playing his 360th round of golf this year.
On New Year's Day, many of us will be swallowing aspirin and watching football. Lacaillade will be doing fairways and greens again. There are 365 days in a year, and little interrupts his daily march to the first tee.
"I only miss for bad weather or fishing," he says.
Lacaillade's golfing is more a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" than a Cal Ripken milestone. He is not a publicity hound, looking for attention. He didn't seek us. We found him.
He is 65, lives in Sun City, an Inland Empire area that has now mostly been taken over by the city of Menifee. He is no hopeless duffer. He plays to a 10.2 handicap and got it down to 5.6 a few years ago. He still plays from the blue tees, can still drive it 250 to 260 yards off the tee and can read the greens better than ever now after recent Lasik eye surgery.
He smokes about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day but says he quit drinking years ago.
"I guess I traded one addiction for another," he says.
He likes to play alone because he can sometimes get around the 18 holes in less than two hours. But he also has a set of golfing friends at the strangely named California Golf & Art Country Club in Sun City, where he is a member and lives in a condo off the fourth hole with a cat he named Doofus in an attempt to define its personality.
He says he plays mostly at California Golf & Art, formerly known as Cherry Hills, a regulation-size track that will never be mistaken for Riviera or Augusta National. Maybe not even for Azusa Greens.
But he branches out frequently to area courses more challenging and more blessed with fairway grass, such as Hidden Valley, Rancho California, Goose Creek and the Legends and Champions courses at Tukwet Canyon.
The Southern California Golf Association keeps records of golfers' daily scoring posts.
"Between Oct. 1, 2011 and Oct. 1, 2012," Lacaillade says, "they had me for 355 rounds."
He is asked if he would describe his personality as compulsive.
"You think?" he replies.
There are other obvious questions.
Is he married?
"No," he says.
Has he ever been?
He holds up three fingers, then elaborates.
"The first two ex-wives," he says, "we are still good friends. The third, well...."
He mumbles something about desiring mosquitoes to take up residence in her armpits.
He says he has three grandchildren and one great-grandchild, but none of them live nearby.
The nickname "Lucky" came from his 13-month service in the Navy during the Vietnam War. For a while, he was on an aircraft carrier, where he got into a big poker game.
"It was a couple of days before payday," he says. "The hands got bigger and bigger. Paper clips were our chips. Each one was worth a lot more than when we started. It got down to me and another guy, one final hand, seven-card stud. And I beat four spades with three deuces. The next day, guys on the ship started calling me Lucky Lacaillade, and it stuck."
The nickname was also validated later in the war when Lacaillade, then a door gunner in a helicopter, was shot down and survived.
"I still have nightmares," he says.
Originally from Concord, N.H., he came back from the war, moved to California in 1972 with his first wife and went to work.
"That's what you did then," he says. "You went to work."
His first job was in Commerce. He had no car and lived in Downey, so he walked.
"I'd start out about three hours early," he says. "Sometimes, I got a ride."
The golf obsession began in June 1994, when he was working for a towing company in Whittier. One car ordered towed in by police was never claimed. Lacaillade noticed a 9-iron in the back seat and asked, as the car was being taken away to be junked, if he could keep the golf club. The boss said yes and he began hitting tennis balls into fences, then over the buildings. A junkyard dog retrieved his shots, and somebody suggested he take up the game. So he did.
"The first day, on an executive course, I shot 104," he says. "Next time, 101. The third time, 89. I skipped the 90s."
On March 31, 2011, he retired from his job as a service advisor at a car dealership in Corona. The next day, his golfing life began.
"I love it because it is all on you," he says. "You play against par. Period. If you are a football player, say a quarterback, and you have a bad game, the team can play great defense and still win. You shoot a bad round of golf, it's nobody else's fault. It just sucks to be you."
He is interviewed Friday after Round No. 350 of 2012. He looks out on the course in satisfaction.
"I had to par the last four holes for 40-40," he says, "and I did it."
He will play both Christmas and New Year's days. The California Golf & Art course is locked up those days, but Lacaillade will play with the groundskeeper, who has the key.
Then, there is the most amazing item of all concerning Lucky Lacaillade and his thousands of rounds of golf. He has never had a hole in one.
"I've been within an inch or so a dozen times," he says.
Which confirms what anybody who has ever taken 7-iron in hand and swung it with serious intentions has known for years:
Life is not fair, and golf is worse.