By Dave Shedloski
It’s difficult for the true golf aficionado to not get a bit hyped about this week’s PGA TOUR stop, the long-running Los Angeles Open, otherwise known today as the Northern Trust Open, held at Riviera Country Club.
Opened in 1927, Riviera remains one of the purest shot-making tests on the PGA TOUR. At 7,322 yards, par 71, it’s not overly long, but with its many doglegs and tilted greens, it requires more imagination and precision than most other layouts.
Ben Hogan won the 1948 U.S. Open and two L.A. Opens in a span of 18 months, thus it is called “Hogan’s Alley.” Talk about the ultimate shot maker.
But, of course, the layout, although a star in its own right, has to share the spotlight with a wonderful field that includes No. 1 Jordan Spieth, who won an NCAA title with Texas at Riviera in 2012, No. 2 Rory McIlroy, making his debut at Riviera and three other top-10 players.
Dottie Pepper, in her first year as a CBS on-course reporter, couldn’t hold back her excitement in talking about the last tournament on the west coast swing.
“It’s going to be a fantastic week, just based on the early groupings. Holy smokes,” Pepper exclaimed. “On Thursday, you’ve got Bubba Watson, James Hahn, the defender, and Justin Rose. And they’re followed by Rory McIlory, Hideki Matsuyama and Matt Kuchar. Friday, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson. Then Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Fred Couples.”
“This is a golf tournament I would go pay to watch if I weren’t already going to be there. Then you have a classic golf course. And the weather forecast looks good. What more could you want?”
Indeed. Pepper then continued as we, um, peppered her with a few questions.
Your assessment of Riviera. What do you think of when you think of Riviera Country Club?
It’s Hogan’s Alley. That’s the first thing. And then the fact that it’s a major venue, even though many people first associate it with the L.A. Open. The history of the place really stands out more than anything else. That and just the toughness of the golf course.
Ted Tryba, with a 61 in 1999, holds the course record, and Lanny Wadkins set the tournament record of 264 in 1985. In this era of power golf and with all the modern equipment at a player’s disposal, how have those records held up?
You have to look at the pitch of the greens and green speeds and the risk-reward to many of the golf holes, especially the short par-4 10th, and also the turf. I don’t care anything about modern equipment, if you miss the fairways, that kikuyu grass is not going to let you out.
This will be Rory McIlroy’s first appearance at Riviera CC. How do you think he’ll fare?
He’s pretty darn creative. I think he and Bubba and Sergio, too. And you can throw Jordan in there… they know how to hit shots. They aren’t cookie-cutter golfers. I think Riviera sets up well for him, especially if he drives it well.
Can you give us your favorites and dark horses?
I think Jordan has a little momentum going in from his last round at Pebble Beach, where he seemed to have nothing going and played great. The way Bubba shapes the golf ball, I don’t think you can count him out on a golf course like this. I have a feeling we, and I don’t know why, but I think we’re going to see Lucas Glover do something, if not this week then somewhere soon. So he’s a dark-horse kind of guy. And you kind of wait for Harris English to live up to his ridiculous talent. And if Spencer Levin puts four good rounds together, he could definitely be holding a trophy.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.