The first major of the year is upon us! Every year the Riviera stop (whatever the nom du jour) is undoubtedly the anchor of the West Coast Swing and of the first two months of the golf schedule at large. The course is so damn good with (at least) six holes that are among the best on the entire tour, Pacific Palisades looks sublime on tv as those elsewhere soldier through the doldrums of winter, and the weekend leaderboard is usually a cornucopia of flavor. In the interest of efficiency (and let’s be honest: whenever you have a chance to link to the big homie over at SBNation, Brendan Porath, you take it) here is a great primer on why the 2018 iteration of the Genesis Open might be the best yet.
Big Randy: There are specific results which stand out in my memory (Mickelson’s two wins, Haas in the playoff, the John Merrick sleeper cell incident, etc.) but it always comes back to the course for me. Only Augusta is more inherently interesting year-in and year-out. Love this week. Can’t wait to strap in and be a fan this weekend. Riv is my happy place.
Soly: Can’t decide if the actual moment is my favorite Riv memory or if I just love the ensuing GIF that much: Keegan makes a 40-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Haas. Mickelson then makes a huge putt of his own to get into the playoff and chases it into the cup. Then this dude just rolls down the hill behind the green in celebration. Incredible. Haas ended up winning the playoff on the 10th hole (complete with one of the least emphatic celebrations of all time), but that GIF will live on forever.
DJ: The 10th hole is obviously all-world and offers options galore. Of course, one of those options is to dump it in the back bunker and then card a triple-Saddam en route to a double bogey six, as Scott Piercy did in 2015.
Neil aka Lil Merchie: My earliest real memory of Riv goes hand in hand with the creation of NLU. As a casual golf fan 2014 was the first time I stopped to figure out where Riv was actually located and listen to Randy and Tron wax poetic about the course. Simultaneously, the 2014 Riviera preview was when I realized NLU was offering value because I learned a lot about the tournament, it’s history, and the course from reading that write-up. The key attributes highlighted in that piece (view off #1 tee and the risk/reward of #10) stick with me four years later… Another lasting memory is the ’17 event, when I kept asking myself who/what the hell the title sponsor was. Genesis is proof that sponsoring a classy golf tournament can create some significant #BrandAwareness.
I write this while catching up on Vanderpump Rules (guilty pleasure), nursing a bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Blanc (not-so-guilty pleasure, shoutout to the GOAT Jim Clendenen) and ruminating on Riviera’s geographic location between the jazz and jive of LA and even-tempered points west-northwest along the California Coast. Los Angeles is the only place I’ve been in the United States that truly feels like going to a foreign country. Other than golf, Top Chef, and stuff on PBS I don’t watch a whole lot of tv, but I relish the mindless hour I spend watching Vanderpump Rules every week. VPR transports me to the incongruity of LA and the people who end up there seemingly by destiny.
Unfortunately I’ve never had the occasion to play golf during my trips to LA. For four days each February I sit here reveling in the tv coverage of Riviera and the accompanying convocation of flavor. This tournament is golf’s answer to Vanderpump Rules: it transports me to LA like nothing else can. As Porath mentioned in his column, golf doesn’t stop often enough in these parts. We’re left with fleeting glimpses of LA Country Club (last year’s Walker Cup), Sherwood (Big Cat’s Hero World Challenge decamped to the Bahamas in recent years), and stalwarts like Lakeside, Wilshire and Bel-Air are left to the imagination. Much like San Francisco, the trees are cool, the weather always looks refreshing compared to wherever you are, and the top shelf private golf is massively underrepresented on the national scene. Digging deeper under that glossy veneer there isn’t much else there – the public golf scene is reportedly nonexistent due to soaring real estate costs, water scarcity and traffic. That sounds a lot like the stars of our show…
Since my VPR take probably won’t resonate with most of you, I reached out to a few people with deep LA golf ties to expound upon the scene:
Kevin Jackson (NLU contributor; Member, Georgetown Hoyas Golf Team): I rolled into SoCal in my freshman year of high school, fresh off 14 years in the suburbs of Atlanta. Nothing says “welcome to LA” like the two hour drive from LAX to…anywhere. My angsty teenage self immediately resolved to 1) cut my hair once a year (some regrettable school photographs were taken) and 2) play as much golf as possible in the blissful Mediterranean climate. I met people who genuinely have not heard of rain gear. Also met people who didn’t know that Atlanta was in Georgia, but that might be a different issue. While my lack of pop in these tender years would have given ZJ a run for his money, I enjoyed LA’s status as a sanctuary of excellent golf. LACC, Bel-Air, Lakeside and of course, Riv, which is the perfect example of a course with 18 truly exceptional holes. No weak spots. Best of luck to the players this week as they try to brave the 70 degree weather and cool evening breezes.
Geoff Shackelford (esteemed golf author; CEO/COO/CCO of the aptly named GeoffShackelford.com): My take on LA golf is very dark so I probably would not be good on this. I live here for the weather, culture, food and way of life. It’s an awful golf town on all levels other than the passionate public players who are treated like crap by course operators! A real bummer especially given a great history but how like our country, a few places for the super rich and the rest terribly run down and uninspired places that would inspire few to play. Only sustaining factors for golf here are the sheer numbers of people and our weather.
Bo DeHuff (Senior Manager, Tournament Business Affairs – PGA Tour; Former Captain – USC Trojans Golf Team): Here is the best part about playing for SC, and all things LA. I remember one day we played Bel-Air in the morning on a random weekday morning. Lovemark and I only had one class that afternoon and so we were like, “Let’s go play Riv this afternoon, why not?” So we skipped class and had a day. 36 holes at two of the best courses in the world in sublime weather (most of the time when we’d play Riv it would be dark thirty off 10 tee and the course plays so hard with that dense morning air and breeze into the face on 18). Even in LA there are not many people who are members at both those courses, but we got to beat the system…Another time at Riv we were teeing off on 1 and Larry David rolls out of the pro shop face masked in SPF 200. We proceeded to have the most awkward conversation that felt straight out of Curb:
Bo: “Hey, how are you?”
LD: “How are you?”
Bo: “I’m great!”
LD: “Really, is it possible to be that great?”
Bo: “I guess?!”
LD: (shrugs and saunters off toward the parking lot)
Odds and Ends
– Huge fan of the college showcase component of the event. Also a huge fan of this year’s champion on that front – Smokin’ Scottie Scheffler. More tournaments should adopt something similar.
– Sponsor Exemptions: I promise I’m working on a season-long master document tracking exemptions on the PGA Tour and which tourneys use these most effectively. Deep in the #process.
– Our man Job Fickett is back for the third installment of his Eurozone column and gets steep on this week’s Greg Norman designed host venue in Oman.
– We’ve got stats from the last two years of weekend Genesis coverage in our arsenal – shots shown, total commercial time, etc. This weekend is a great opportunity for CBS to showcase genuine improvement in the product. If they fail, then we stand ready to pounce with #data.
– Aside from the stout American contingent headlined by a large feline, the field also boasts, Pieters, Li, Pacemaker, Future World Number 1 Tommy Fleetwood, Grace, Kaymer, Rafa and Noren. The field list is silly. I think Hossler is still vibing, Big Leish is searching a bit, Howell III loves this place, man I could go on for days. I want to pick 25 guys and that’s not even the big names. My dude Every should be rounding into form this week or next.
– The only glaring omission in the field is “Uncle Joost” Luiten, esp with Uncle Juice’s former Brentwood Estate just a couple blocks away from the front drive.
– Just gonna leave these rankings here. Discuss among yourselves.
– Couple of golden Randy takes from this week that he didn’t share with the general populace:
• “Ted Potter Jr. looks like if Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law were a person.”
• “Johnny Weir could be the best analyst in all of sport. No lie. Dude is composed AF, always short and to the point, and straight-up mugs the camera.
– I didn’t wake up on Monday morning intent on destroying Lee McCoy’s Twitter account. Here’s the thread if you missed it.
McCoy posted something I felt was needlessly tone-deaf, I made light of it and provided some context, and then scrolled through about ten more of his tweets from the week which showed a similar pattern, and then he continued to dig himself a hole until he apologized and then deleted his Twitter account. I’m originally from Atlanta and started to hear stories trickling out of UGA about four years ago about McCoy – some good, some not so good – and took them with a grain of salt. Those stories have only intensified since then.
Over the past two days a variety of people have reached out to affirm the decision to make light of his comments in Colombia. These people range from players throughout the professional ranks ranging from the Mackenzie Tour to the PGA Tour, caddies, fans who followed him last year in Canada, college teammates, childhood acquaintances, club pros at courses he’s frequented, equipment reps, agents, media, and tour officials. Many of those who reached out are people I trust implicitly. A trend of treating people poorly emerged. It speaks volumes when fellow players go out of their way on social media to air a guy out.
I have no intention to be the PC Police (far from it!). I mess up all the time, as most of us do. I’m not going to torch a guy for one mistake. If a guy is willing to consistently throw inflammatory shit out on social media then it’s fair game.
McCoy’s talent is immense and his confidence/arrogance is likely a big reason why he’s experienced success, ascended to the Web Tour, and likely onward to the PGA Tour next year. Heck, often success rubs people the wrong way, especially if a guy does it a little bit differently. But the reaction of his peers showed that McCoy’s reputation was probably well-earned. However, Lee is just 24 years old and possesses the capacity to learn from this. I sincerely look forward to seeing if/how he evolves, summons some grace and turns this into a redemptive story. Lord knows we need more guys with personality and flash out there on the big tour.
– Neil is flying down from NYC for the weekend. We’ll be playing some golf and posting up in the Killhouse. Enjoy the Big Cat!