Opening a Door to the past

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – The name came up late during the round at Riviera, as it must. Jim Morrison was Robby Krieger’s writing partner, his inspiration, his friend, and though it’s been 40 years since Morrison died, he is never too far from his ex-guitarist’s thoughts.

“I still have Jim dreams,” says Krieger, 65, as he steers the cart down the fairway at No. 15. “In the dream, he is still around and we are still playing. Everything is good.”

That’s not to say everything isn’t pretty good these days, either. Krieger is still doing what he loves, playing music – he and former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek perform about 70 shows a year ‐ and playing golf, a game he took up long before the ’60s, long before his life, and the lives of so many others, changed forever.

It's been 40 years since Jim Morrison died, but Robby Krieger still dreams about his friend and writing partner.

Krieger was 10 or 11 when his father, a new member at Riviera, got him a lesson with Betty Hicks, who had captured the 1941 U.S. Amateur and played on the new LPGA Tour. Krieger doesn’t recall what he learned that day, but he was soon at Riviera on a regular basis, earning good money as a caddy on the weekends.

“I got $5 for a single bag, $10 for a double, sometimes $12,” he said.

Several years later, he joined his high school golf team in the Palisades, although his prime motivation was not to become the next Ben Hogan.

“I did it to drink beer,” he laughs. “You were away from school. You could do anything you want.”

It’s safe to say Krieger is now a lot more serious about the game. He becomes quite frustrated, in fact, by his poor putting over the front nine, pleading guilty to a case of the yips.

“Hit the ball,” he tells himself after leaving a putt short on No. 5.

There is even a profane word or two, though Krieger could never be mistaken for his father, Stu, a mild-mannered rocket scientist who suddenly transformed into volatile ’58 U.S. Open champ Tommy Bolt when he played golf.

“My dad was famous around here for throwing clubs and swearing,” Krieger says. “He never had a bad word for anyone – until he got on the course and became this maniac. He got kicked out of here like five times.”

His son, however, found other outlets – first surfing, then rock ‘n roll. There would be no time for chasing a little white ball when there were more glamorous dreams to chase. The Doors, fronted by the poetic and controversial Morrison, hit it big in the ’60s with such classics as “People Are Strange,” “Hello, I Love You,” and, of course, “Light My Fire.”

Krieger knows “Light My Fire” better than anyone. He wrote it.

“We only had about 10 original songs,” Krieger says. “So Jim said, ‘Why don’t you guys try to write something?’ I decided I was going to write about earth, air, fire or water.”

After only a few days, he felt pretty sure he had come up with a good one, and the band agreed, but the true test came when they performed at the popular Los Angeles club Whisky a Go Go.

In 2007, Robby Krieger (left) and keyboardist Ray Manzarek received stars on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.

“Every time we played it there, people would go nuts,” Krieger says.

He is asked why the song, more than any other Doors’ tune, still resonates five decades later.

“Nobody had ever put those three words together … light … my … fire,” he says.

When prompted, Krieger repeats the famous story involving the producer of “The Ed Sullivan Show” who warned the band not to sing the lyrics “can’t get much higher” on national television. Morrison agreed, but then broke the agreement on the air.

The producer was livid.

“You will never play Ed Sullivan again,” he told the Doors.

Morrison was not intimidated.

“We already played Ed Sullivan,” he responded.

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Krieger did not pick up a club, except for an occasional round with his father. Then came the one round which brought him back to the game, this time for good.

Krieger was spraying the ball all over the place, and he was not too happy about it.

“I can’t be this bad,” he told himself, vowing to hit the range until he could play the game the way he did during his youth.

The hard work paid off. Krieger eventually got his handicap down to a 5.5, but, because to back problems, he plays to about a 10 these days. He gets out about twice a week.

During the round at Rivera, the back is the least of his problems. He is exhausted, getting about an hour of sleep the night before because his dog, Uma, named after actress Uma Thurman (“She’s blond and has blue eyes”) injured her eye and had to be taken to the vet. He called several times to check up on her.

Still, Krieger finishes the front nine on a positive note, making a 20-footer for par at No. 9 for a total of 47.

The back nine goes much smoother, starting with a par on the short, yet dangerous, 10th. Pars at 12, 16, and 17 lead to a sparking 41, and an 88 for the day. Given the night he had gone through, he seems quite satisfied.

Over the last few holes, much of the talk centers around Morrison, and the ’60s.

“We thought we were changing the world,” Krieger says. “Then Nixon got back in and it was all over.”

Losing Morrison, who died at the age of 27 of a suspected drug overdose, took Krieger about five years to overcome. All he can do is imagine the other great songs the two might have written together.

“He was definitely the most influential person in my life,” he says.

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Michael Arkush is an editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011