This week on the PGA Tour we have the newly named Genesis Open, which most folks either call the Los Angeles Open, L.A. Open, or simply “Riv.” I prefer the latter, as the venue, The Riviera Country Club, is arguably the best course on the regular PGA Tour schedule. It’s an absolute gem, a George C. Thomas masterpiece tucked a few blocks off Sunset Boulevard. Andy over at The Fried Egg put together a comprehensive overview of Riviera complete with some stunning photos from Jon Cavalier.
Before we get into the history, let’s go on a quick Tiger tangent. First because this is his hometown event but he hasn’t played it since 2006, and much was made of his WD from both the event and the press conference this week. And second, because I’ve been made aware of some strong Big Cat takes/rumors surrounding Riviera and this event that need to be aired out.
First, the takes.
Golf Club Atlas is a wonderful resource for golf fans in many ways. It gives detailed overviews of nearly every significant golf course in the world, complete with photography and genuinely insightful architecture commentary. It also offers a discussion group that seems ripped straight from the early days of the internet, colored emoticon faces and all. For the most part, this forum is populated by levelheaded golf fans discussing their favorite template designs, Raynor tracks, or 19th holes (I’m assuming. I don’t dive in there too much).
But the inimitable Tron Carter tipped me off to one particular thread, which provides some scorching hot takes on why Tiger hasn’t played very well at Riviera (in nine pro starts his best finish is 2nd).
I would honestly recommend just clicking that link and reading the entire 35-post thread; it’s a remarkable cross-section of golf fan intelligence/obsession.
For those not inclined to click links, here’s the spark that started the fire.
Somewhat reasonable, right? Well, things get out of hand pretty quickly.
This is as close as you’ll get to one of those trollish “First” comments that you see on YouTube comments. Also, using the word “poaey” (a reference to the grass type responsible for Chambers Bay’s “cauliflower” issue) is a stunning display of golf nerd-dom.
The thread devolves from there. Here are some of the fieriest keyboard salvos, broken down by category.
“Where’s Your Degree in Agronomy From?”
In which internet commenters discuss how a different type of grass has stymied one of the best golfers of all time.
So I’m fairly certain this is the actual Tom Doak mixing it up in a grass discussion on the internet. He gets the benefit of the doubt in this argument. Stars, they’re just like us!
Tiger would have won if it wasn’t for that meddling kikuyu!
Yeah, because Bubba Watson doesn’t miss fairways.
And finally, the ultimate golf grass nerd post.
Alex Miller just went subatomic here. I’m thinking he and Bryson would have a lot to chat about. That is about as deep as you can go into grass without digging up dead bodies.
Johnny K is a man after PFTCommenter’s heart. That second post is something special.
This is the original guy who brought up the question. He clearly has an inordinate amount of time on his hands. My only guess is he’s in one of those minimum security prisons where they give you limited internet access.
Second, the rumor(s).
Tiger Woods grew up in southern Los Angeles, so this event is his hometown tournament. His first appearance on the PGA Tour came here as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992 (25 years ago!). He played as an am the following year, and then played in ’97, ’98, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’06. He withdrew after the 2nd round in 2006, citing the flu.
After a run of consistent participation, why did Tiger suddenly cut ties with the Los Angeles Open after 2006? While some may blame poor finishes at the event or even the course itself, there are two alternate theories floating around.
THEORY 1: CONSPIRACY ALERT!
Tiger Woods was banned from The Riviera Country Club.
I love sports conspiracy theories. Whether it’s the Frozen Envelope or Jordan’s mid-career “retirement,” discussion about what happens in the shadowy margins of professional sports is always fascinating to me.
And this one is particularly juicy.
According to a source, Tiger had some choice words to say about SOMETHING at Riviera, and the club’s owner did not take kindly to that.
The owner of Riviera is Noboru Watanabe, a Japanese businessman whose blog (all four posts of it) is nearly Seinfeldian in its self-promotion. If George Costanza had to create his own blog, this would be it.
And interestingly enough, in the “Black Swan” episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, the gang butts heads with just such a golf course owner–a blustering, bombastic Mr. Takahashi, whose character is supposedly heavily influenced by Watanabe. Larry David is a member of Riviera.
So when Tiger mentioned WHATEVER HE DID, rumor has it that Watanabe blacklisted the Cat from setting foot on Riviera’s property.
For those less inclined to don the tinfoil hat, the story may just be that Woods and Watanabe got into some sort of spat, and Tiger decided that the L.A. Open needed him more than he needed the Open.
THEORY 2: DISCRIMINATION
This theory isn’t nearly as fun to talk about, because it centers on an issue that is basically the opposite of the word “fun.” There are rumors that Tiger has boycotted Riv for the past decade due to racially insensitive remarks made about him.
It’s no secret that Tiger Woods’s golf game isn’t the only thing that turned him into the worldwide superstar that he is today. His ethnic background (what he calls “Cablinasian”) is a melange of different races, and his skin tone is one not commonly seen at the top levels of the pro game.
There are myriad stories of discrimination in Tiger’s rise through the amateur ranks. Most of them don’t involve outright racism, but are summed up nicely by this passage from Steve Helling’s book Tiger: The Real Story:
Tiger had never been barred from playing at clubs; in the 1980s and 1990s, people were too savvy to participate in such blatant racism. Instead, there was a general feeling of unwelcome that followed Tiger when he hit the links; he was an oddity, and not one that was necessarily appreciated or embraced. People would stare at Tiger in the clubhouse, not even trying to hide their gawking. It was as if they were silently wondering, “What is this kid doing here?”
Helling also quotes Tom Cunneff, a features writer for People magazine, after Cunneff interviewed a 16-year-old adolescent Cat:
Prejudice definitely rubbed him the wrong way…It was the one thing he was passionate about…I could detect his anger about it.
Kyle Porter put together a brief history of a few high-profile racist incidents that Tiger’s endured over the years. But for every headline-grabbing event, there are probably a handful of unreported comments and throwaway lines that make their way to Tiger, a player who is clearly deeply conscious of the way other people view him.
If someone at Riv angered Tiger in this way, I can definitely see him cutting ties with the tournament for a long while.
Still with us? God bless you. Here’s some basic history of the LA Open for those needing to cleanse their mind and soul after braving the Tiger take boiler room/rumor mill.
The Los Angeles Open was first played 91 years ago at Los Angeles Country Club, a relatively new track at the time which bore the design imprints of not one, not two, not three… OK actually, three top-notch architects: Thomas, William P. Bell, and Herbert Fowler. The tournament bounced around the greater Los Angeles area for a while, alighting briefly at such privileged enclaves as Wilshire and Hillcrest, before finally settling at Riviera for good in 1973.
Fun fact: Babe Didrikson Zaharias (possibly the most multitalented athlete of the 20th century) became the first female to play on the PGA Tour when she qualified for the 1938 LA Open. No sponsor’s exemptions for the Babe. She played the event again in 1945, becoming the first and only female to make a 36-hole cut on the PGA Tour.
Also, a quick note. I refuse to stylize the Tour’s name the way that the powers that be insist on stylizing it. Any sane internet user would read the phrase “PGA TOUR” as a shout, and frankly, I won’t stand for it. This is golf. There are rules. And etiquette.
For a course where Tiger’s never triumphed, the winner’s list is still an absolute murderer’s row. Riviera is called “Hogan’s Alley” for a reason, as The Hawk won three L.A. Opens and a U.S. Open here in the 1940s. Among the extensive list of L.A. Open winners who only need one name: Demaret, Snead, Nelson, Mangrum (4 wins!), Palmer (3), Casper (2), Wadkins (2), Watson (2), Miller, Couples (2), Pavin (2), Faldo, Els, and Mickelson (2).
James Hahn got his first Tour win in a dramatic playoff over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey. He birdied the tricky 10th before canning a huge 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th to knock off DJ. Brendan Porath had an awesome recap of the final round at SB Nation, which also included a few words on Sergio’s very predictable collapse (up one with two to play, goes bogey-bogey to miss the playoff), and the outrageous nugget that none other than Retief Goosen held the lead after each of the first three rounds.
John Merrick won in a playoff over Charlie Beljan. I know nothing about either of these guys except that Beljan’s name reminds me of this commercial targeting folks with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (for whom Methotrexate did not work well).
Also, according to one NLU founder, John Merrick “is the Osama bin Laden of #LPCP.”
Phil finished 2-1-1 in these three L.A. Opens, beating Steve Stricker by a stroke in 2009. Stricker got his revenge a year later when he took down the title by 2 strokes over Luke Donald.
Mike Weir went back to back. Wonder what he’s up to now?
Pretty much the whole ‘90s
With the exception of ‘91, every L.A. Open in the 1990s was, at least on the surface, incredible. Huge names on the leaderboard, a few tight finishes with a couple playoffs thrown in, and no discernible player style bias. You’ve got deadly accurate singles hitters (Pavin, Kite) to free-swinging bombers (Couples, Calcavecchia) to surefire Hall of Famers (Faldo, Els). What a time to be a golf fan.
Lanny Wadkins got out his scuba gear and took Riviera mega deep in Bowling for Soup’s favorite year, setting the tournament record at 264 (-20) with a 7-shot victory over Hal Sutton.
Tom Watson won his second L.A. Open in three years in a playoff over Johnny Miller, who was gunning for back to back titles.
Charlie Sifford won the second of his two PGA Tour titles at the 1969 L.A. Open. Today, the tournament honors Sifford’s memory through the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption, which allows one entrant into the L.A. Open who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
Odds and ends
It’s a little dated, but this article from The Hollywood Reporter (featuring the iconic foursome from Curb) still gives a good overview of LA’s top seven country clubs–who plays where, what the dues are, and the general vibe of each club. Also, because it’s Hollywood, there’s a lot of talk about Jewish members and where they were/weren’t/are/aren’t welcome.
Quick look at the scenarios by which Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama could ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week. If Hideki gets there, he will be the first Japanese player to be ranked # 1 in the world.
Skratch unearthed some footage of Tiger from the 1992 L.A. Open. That hat is world-class.