Historic Riviera lives up to the hype

By Jason SobelFebruary 19, 2015, 12:53 am

LOS ANGELES – Because of journalistic curiosity and an affinity for storytelling and a devotion to serving the reader and a yearning to hear the inside scoop and a desire to wrap my brain around these unique surroundings – because of all of these things – I bellied up to the bar in the Riviera clubhouse Wednesday afternoon.

Hey, sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get a story.

This is my 12th year on the golf beat, but my first time covering the Northern Trust Open and, more importantly, my first time at The Riv, which means I’m crossing a big one off the bucket list.

Don’t get me wrong: I already know plenty about the place. I know it’s remained a venerable old track first designed by George C. Thomas Jr. in 1926. I know it’s called Hogan’s Alley in honor of Ben Hogan’s adoration for the course, having won here four times, including the 1948 U.S. Open. I know it’s held three major championships, the most recent being the 1995 PGA Championship won by Steve Elkington.

Basically, I know everything that anyone could learn simply by clicking on the club’s Wikipedia page and spending two minutes skimming through the details.

Which is exactly my point. Now that I’m here – and I mean finally here, after battling rush hour traffic on the 405 – I wanted to know the ins and outs of the place. What makes it tick. The best tales of years gone by. How much the club means to both the membership and those employed here.

Northern Trust Open: Articles, videos and photos

So I huffed and puffed my way up the towering incline from the course to the clubhouse, caught my breath and sat down at the bar – because, after all, where better to hear details and other tales, no matter how exaggerated, then at the bar?

And I was told that ... it’s closed on Wednesday of tournament week.

Or in local terms, the wait for a drink is longer than getting home on the 405.

Instead, I walked through the clubhouse, which also serves as part-museum. You can’t turn a corner in the mammoth old building without running into some sort of memorabilia, from Hogan artifacts to those celebrating Fred Couples, who’s making his 33rd career start here this week.

The addition of those remembrances to the walls are some of the very few alterations around here.

“It’s pretty much the same as it was in 1926 when it was established,” one longtime employee told me on the condition of anonymity. “You come in behind the walls and it’s one of the few places that hasn’t changed very much.”

There’s a Dean Martin Room upstairs in the clubhouse, directly overlooking Martin’s old parking spot. He was a popular member here – and not just for his affable demeanor. As the story goes, Martin would often need to leave for a show directly after losing a match to fellow members. So he’d leave a blank check with the locker room attendant and once his final losses were tallied, one of the members would fill it in.

Today’s players still love this place, though less for the historical quality of the club’s inside and more for its immaculateness on the outside.

Prior to his pro-am round on Wednesday, Graham DeLaet took to Twitter and listed his five favorite non-major courses on the PGA Tour. Riviera topped the list.

“It’s just pure golf,” he explained later. “You can’t fake it around here. There’s history here. It’s just mint. There’s nothing tricked up about it.”

Those are the types of buzzwords which will swirl around here throughout the week. In fact, as long as you’re not at the clubhouse bar on Wednesday of tournament week, there could be a pretty nifty drinking game constructed during the course of play, every time one of these phrases is uttered:

“It’s a classic golf course ...”

“... everything you’d ever want ...”

“... they just leave it the way it is ...”

“... old style ...”

“... old school ...”

“... it’s right there in front of you.”

This isn’t a commentary on the upcoming coverage for the week. It’s just what everyone says, year after year.

“It’s one of my favorites,” Luke Donald explained. “It’s a classic golf course.” (Drink.) “I wish every week was a little bit like this – sunshine, great design, small greens, firm. It just has everything.”

“They don't tweak it,” said Bubba Watson. “They just leave it the way it is.” (Chug.) “They leave it here, and they let the grass and the winds and the humps and bumps of the greens define their golf course instead of trying to make it extra long.”

“It doesn't change much over the years,” Bill Haas added. “It's right there in front of you.” (Guzzle.) “The par 3s are difficult. I think you've got to get those, No. 4, if you can play those well; the par 5s, obviously everybody takes advantage of those.”

After walking the course myself for the first time Wednesday, I can confirm all of the exaltation about the course is true – and then some.

That’s right – sometimes the hyperbole isn’t hyperbole at all. Sometimes it’s worth the hype.

And for those still concerned that this place might not be all it’s cracked up to be, don’t worry: The clubhouse bar is open the rest of the week.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry