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.

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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.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.