Mondays With Murray: She Doesn’t Need the Kindness of Strangers

This week we take you to Riviera Country Club for the 2019 Genesis Open.

The Genesis Open is a PGA Tour stop in southern California. It was first played 93 years ago in 1926. While it has gone by a few different names over the years, around here we just call it The LA Open at Riviera.

The 2019 Genesis Open runs from Monday through Sunday at The Riviera Country Club.

Today’s Jim Murray classic is from 1990 where he breaks down the daunting challenge that is Riviera Country Club.






She Doesn’t Need the Kindness of Strangers

  Hogan won here. So did Snead, Byron Nelson. Tommy Bolt won his first tournament here, Johnny Miller almost his last.

  Nicklaus never won here. Neither did Palmer. But a Pat Fitzsimons did. So did a T.C. mondaysmurray2Chen. It was their only tour victories.

  Riviera is a grande dame of American golf courses. A golf tournament at Riviera is like a World Series in Yankee Stadium, an opera at La Scala, a waltz in Vienna, a war in the Balkans. Fitting. The way it should be.

  But the proposition before the house is, is she a fading old dowager living in the shadows of a glorious past, a scrapbook golf course? Today, they build golf courses with three-story traps, doglegs to nowhere, artificial lakes, railroad ties instead of real tees, man-made obstacle courses more suited to training a group of Marines than testing athletes, 18-hole Halls of Horror, as distorted as amusement park mirrors.

  Riviera may be the last golf course they held a U.S. Open on that they didn’t hopelessly try to trick up. In fact, it’s the reason why they began to remanufacture Open courses. When Ben Hogan and two other players broke the old Open record here, the U.S. Golf Association vowed never to let that happen again even if it had to put quicksand in the traps.

  The USGA was horrified, but the facts of the matter were, Hogan would have broken the Open record underwater that year.

  But that was then. Now, Hogan’s Riviera record (275) gets broken more often than the federal speed limit. Fitzsimons tied it in 1975. Hale Irwin broke it (272) the next year. Nine guys have broken the old Hogan mark in the past 14 years. Lanny Wadkins shot a 264 in 1985.

  So, is Riviera yesterday’s roses? Is it cowering in a corner with its hands over its head saying “Please don’t hit me anymore!” as the world’s best pros descend on it this week for the 1990 Nissan Los Angeles Open?

  Hardly. Riviera is still one of the world’s best pure tests of golf. It’s a golf course, not a booby trap.

  The test of a golf course is, if you play your shots right, you make birdie. If you don’t, you make bogey. It’s not a course, as Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial was before they ironed it out, where your scorecard reads “4-4-3-11,” or “3-4-9.” It doesn’t have blind shots, it doesn’t have any water on it. It doesn’t have unfair bounces. Its only eccentricity is a sand trap in the middle of one green. It’s like a British Open course. It can be handled. But you better bring your A-game. No lucky bounces here.

   They shoot low numbers at the Riv now because the equipment is better, the balls go farther, the competition is tougher. And the PGA is not interested in having one of its weekly tournaments look like a truck-drivers’ flight at a municipal track in Terre Haute.

  There were years when, in advance of the L.A. Open, the club would dutifully grow ankle-deep rough till the fairway driving area would be barely 22 yards wide. The members would struggle with it. Then, on the eve of play, the PGA’s Jack Tuthill would arrive, take one look at the narrowing and order “Cut it back!”

  Riviera is nobody’s pitch-and-putt patch. Lanny Wadkins shot 264 here in 1985. But he shot an 84 in a third round only a few years earlier. When the weather cooperates, Riviera can be rewarding. When the wind blows off the sea (or land), it can be as penal as Alcatraz.

  Riviera is not some parvenu in the neighborhoods of the golf world. It is not a mass of insecurities like some resort course that feels it has to be just this side of a climb on Mt. Everest to command respect. Riviera knows what it is and where it belongs. Its ego is not bruised by 63s. Like the Brits, it can say, good on ya, mate!

  They are in order:

  No. 1 — If there’s an easy hole at Riv for the pros, this is it — 501 yards to a big green from an elevated tee. You have to get your birdies here. If you don’t get birdie or eagle on the last day, forget it. In one memorable L.A. Open duel, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson both eagled this hole on the last day. You’ll hate to leave it. It’s like saying goodbye to Kathleen Turner.

  No. 2 — The golf course starts here. A 460-yard par four that the members play as a five. Weiskopf was lying four in a fairway trap here one Open when he suddenly realized he had the flu. He must have. From the look on his face, his temperature must have been 104 and his blood pressure 220/90. This hole can give you the flu. This hole can give you schizophrenia.

  No. 3 — Looks easy. So did Buster Douglas.

  No. 4 — Hogan said it was the toughest par three in America when the wind was blowing. The wind is always blowing. I asked Snead what he used here one Open. “I cut a little driver in there,” he said. “You either make two or five.”

  No. 5 — You’ll never believe it’s only 426 yards when you play it. You know how they name holes at the Masters the “Flowering Crabapple” or the “White Dogwood”? They should name this hole “Help!”

  No. 6 — It has a trap in the middle of the green. I love it! Greatest invention since the thumbscrew. I’d give a week’s pay to see Curtis Strange get in it.

  No. 7 — Hit it straight. Also, hit it left because everything slopes to the right. Don’t hit it too far left or you’ll have the ever-popular tree-root shot. Broken more clubs than Tommy Bolt.

  No. 8 — Looks boring. So did Lizzie Borden. Gary Player looked at it for the first time and said, “Where is the fairway?” There isn’t any, Gary. It’s all trees. Call this hole “Tarzan.”

  No. 9 — You can spray off the tee. If your second shot is short, kiss your act goodbye. Uphill all the way and no green to speak of.

  No. 10 — Looks like a long par three (306 yards). It’s evil. Try frontal assault and you can go back and forth across peninsula green till the sun sets. Lew Worsham did in the ’48 Open, and he was defending champion.

  No. 11 — At least it’s a par five. If you can drive the ball through a keyhole, you’re all right. Green is about the size of Rickey Henderson’s strike zone. And you know what that is.

  No. 12 — Bogart used to sit under the tree that guards the left side of this green with a thermos full of something nourishing. It’s like sitting next to a flooded-out railroad trestle and waiting for the trains to come. Ghoulish.

  No. 13 — Tom Watson hit two balls out of bounds here when he was leading one year. Call this hole “Jail.” Hit it in the trees on the left and you’ll need a court order to get out.

  No. 14 — A par three, it says here. Any more sand and you’d need a camel. Better make two here.

  No. 15 — This hole has the soul of a serial killer. It’s long (450 yards), doglegs right and has more cleavage in the green than Dolly Parton. It’s like putting in a bathtub where the hole is on the side.

  No. 16 — I once made a hole-in-one here. This hole should be ashamed of itself.

  No. 17 — Long, downwind, and you can play drivers off the fairway. But Fuzzy Zoeller once four-putted himself out of the tournament on this hole. You can be aggressive with this hole. You can kick a sleeping lion, too.

  No. 18 — Ah! The Enforcer! The keeper of the keys, defender of the faith. If Jack Nicklaus could have just parred this hole four days, he would have won two tournaments — including the PGA. It’s a fortress. The fairway sits above the tee 50 yards. If you need a three here to win, bring a rosary.

  Well, that’s Riviera as it looks from here. Shoot to kill. The old girl hates to be patronized.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116


What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

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