"Best hole in the world"

The Cumulative ShotLink Scatter Chart For No. 10 (click to enlarge)
I made a point to spend as much time as possible watching Northern Trust Open play on Riviera's 10th, and while I'm sure most of you have moved on to the match play, I thought I'd share a few observations from the week while I'm away this weekend and posting infrequently. Here goes...

Why Not Lay Up? That's the question I kept asking all week as guys fumbled their way to pars, bogies and the occasional double, even though laying up left will rarely result in worse than par.  Check out the ShotLink scatter chart (above) for the week and the clusters speak for themselves. A new high of 72% went for the green, up 10% from last year and up about 40% from three years ago. Yes, that's fun to watch but it does mean some risk/reward temptation has been eliminated by the lack of distance regulation by the governing bodies. And yet...

The green continues to baffle.  In 2007, just 62% of the plays here resulted in a green hit in regulation, about 20% lower than on most PGA Tour par-4s of comparable distance. The number was 60% in 2008 and the scoring average has remained steady at about 3.8 and change. 

It's the grooves. Even with the green firm and fast, I saw way too many guys lay up down the right and hold the front portion of the green with ease, Jeff Quinney's amazing second shot Saturday being the most prominent example. But I believe the grooves have a greater impact by compelling guys to drive the green (or past it), knowing they can mop up with a flop wedge shot. 230136-1357882-thumbnail.jpg
Many players opt to lay up where Steve Flesch did even though it's a harrowing shot...change those grooves! (click to enlarge)

72%. Is it a bad thing that more guys than ever go for No. 10 without contemplating a lay up? Yes and no. I would love to see more guys face an internal debate over the lay-up option instead of the decision being between 3-wood and driver. The hole was drivable in Bobby Jones's day (pre-kikuyu), so it's an important part of the design. Either way, it's such a joy watching the world's best get into so much trouble driving it all over the place and doing absolutely mindless things!

Addicting. Mid-morning Friday I was heading back to the press room when I stopped in to watch a group come through. It turned into five groups and a chance to watch the action with the AP's Doug Ferguson. He made the interesting point that other than 12 at Augusta and maybe 16 at TPC Sawgrass, Riviera's 10th is the only hole where players all seem to watch what the group behind them is doing as they walk off the 11th tee. And as a spectator, it's astonishing what you see with each group. They really need a grandstand here and round-the-clock video coverage on PGATour.com. It's that interesting.

Rise to prominence. Ferguson asked me while we were standing there why the 10th had risen to prominence in the last few years. Obviously I would have referred him to my recent Golf World article if we had web access on the spot, but more than that I pointed out that it wasn't very driveable until recent years, except by the bombers. I would also say that the final piece to the puzzle in No. 10's resurrection has been the removal of the coral tree grove that surrounded the green until the late 90s. They have left the green more exposed, only adding to the drama and fear factor.

When I was standing with Ferguson, the pairing that included Joe Ogilvie and Davis Love came through. Ogilvie drove it in the front left bunker, hit it into the back bunker and made par en route to a missed cut. As he was walking off the green, within earshot of us, Ogilvie shook his head and muttered, "best hole in the world."

"The crowd isn't the problem. It's the media that tries to get out on the golf course"

0218golfcov-autosized258.jpgAn unbylined Tucson Citizen story reports that Tiger Woods played a practice round Monday and noted this about his security.

According to one of those assigned to keep the peace during the tournament this week, Tiger has extra security.

"Some you can see, some you can't," said escort Russ Perlich.

Tournament organizers assigned extra escorts, too, but the crowds usually maintain their distance, Perlich said.

"The crowd isn't the problem. It's the media that tries to get out on the golf course," he said.
Since when has there ever been a problem with too much media on a golf course? Particularly one that no one likes to walk, much less visit.

Greetings From Los Angeles, Mop-Up Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegI'm still working on that 10th hole analysis (I know, you can't wait) but in the meantime, there were a few fun items worth noting about Sunday's Northern Trust Open.

Chris Lewis puts Phil Mickelson's win in perspective and also wonders about the hand placement during Amy's.philandamy_2.jpg

Bob Smiley recounts the hilarious exchange between Jim Nantz and Northern Trust CEO Rick Waddell.

John Strege's Golf World game story is also posted already.

And finally, Peter Yoon in the LA Times and Larry Dorman in the New York Times profile Phyllis Wade, who worked her 60th straight Los Angeles Open and who I've gotten to know thanks to her diligent work copying and clipping every article written about the event. Every year I get a nice envelope full of all the clippings.

17volunteer.1.190.jpgMy favorite moment of the week came Sunday morning when a Golf Channel pre-game show ran a feature on Phyllis. The press room got quiet and 30 or so people were glued, and when the feature ended a huge ovation broke out.

Greetings From Los Angeles, Final Thoughts Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegWhile the 2008 edition couldn't top last year's classic in the thrills department, Riviera was the winner again thanks in part to wild weather, the best course conditioning I've ever seen (credit goes to Matt Morton and his hard-working crew), along with a stellar field that struggled despite decent scoring conditions over the weekend. If nothing else, the week proved Geoff Ogilvy's insistence that no rough and firm greens can give the best a great test.230136-1350787-thumbnail.jpg
Stuart Appleby approaches No. 1 Sunday (click to enlarge)

Larry Dorman in his New York Times game story saw the 10th hole as a key turning point, and while Jeff Quinney was pleased with his par salvage there, it really was a deflating way to start the back nine. When I get a chance to catch my breath I'll post some fun stuff on the 10th hole, including the ShotLink data. 

Doug Ferguson focuses on Mickelson's odd transformation at Riviera, where he went from not really liking the place to embracing it's subtleties with help from Amy Alcott.230136-1350751-thumbnail.jpg
Mickelson approaches the 3rd (click to enlarge)

You can check out Mickelson's post round exchange with the scribblers here where he talks about Amy as well as an interesting equipment adjustment that he credited.

Phil was not checking where he stood on the FedEx Cup points list (Click to enlarge)
The predicted leaderboard issues thankfully never materialized since it was a two-man show, but the PGA Tour has a serious problem on their hands with the new board content (visually they are fantastic and a huge improvement).

Every time I tried to get scores today, I was met with a litany of ads, thank you's and worst of all, Fed Ex Cup points. If you want to do that stuff early in the week, fine, but not during the final round.

No. 16 Sunday (click to enlarge)
Finally, I've decided that the best job in golf belongs to the dude who runs around the course carrying David Feherty's monitor. While Peter Kostis goes with the strap on, Feherty is accompanied by the lucky soul who gets to hear an endless stream of one-liners and sarcastic jabs at the telecast. I would repeat the parts I overheard, but why endanger that lucky soul's chances of hearing Feherty unplugged? 230136-1350780-thumbnail.jpg
Sunday's final round hole location on No. 10 (click to enlarge)



Late/Early At Riviera

With the cut made Saturday morning, Peter Yoon of the LA Times was finally able to compute the scoring average differences between late/early and early/late players and came up with this killer stat that sums up just how brutal the conditions were...for some.

Players who had tee times on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon enjoyed less windy conditions both days and it showed in the statistics.

Those players averaged 71.28 on Thursday morning and 70.68 on Friday afternoon. The other half of the field averaged 73.51 on Thursday afternoon and 73.78 on Friday morning -- a total difference of 5.33 strokes.

"The wind was gusting and swirling enough that you were really out there guessing as much as you were feeling like you were making good decisions on club choices," said D.J. Trahan, who played the more difficult times the first two days and then shot a third-round 66, the best round Saturday.

Greetings From Los Angeles: All Change Is Not Progress Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegThe golf was fairly lackluster today thanks in part to another shift in the weather that brought heavy air. Combine that with some tough hole locations and a surprising forward tee location on 14 which made the boys think, and that probably contributed to the lack of low scoring. I've had a preview of Sunday's setup and it should let someone go low and maybe catch up, but right now it looks like a two man race between Phil Mickelson and Jeff Quinney.

I was present for Quinney's ace, which was a bit of a surprise for everyone. After he hit the shot he didn't seem too aware that it might trickle down to the hole. Because the cup was cut on the front right, the large gallery could not see it trickling down until the last moment.  230136-1348252-thumbnail.jpg
Quinney collects his ace (click to enlarge)

No. 18 Saturday minus the traditional manned leaderboard (click to enlarge)
Should someone go low Sunday, it will be interesting to see if the leaders actually know it. While Northern Trust has done a nice job injecting some class and much needed spending into the event, there has been one poorly planned change involving leaderboards. The longtime manual board that has been a fixture at the 18th green (as well as another between the 8th and 15th holes) has been scrapped in favor of a seating area for Riviera owner Noboru Watanabe. That seating area has gone unused so far this week, but either way there is still room for a manual scoreboard.

This board was vital for a few reasons. One, it gave leaders coming to 18 an idea where they stood. It also let the fans who traditionally gather there a way to track and react to what the leaders are doing.

Sure, there's one of the new electronic boards on 18, but while they look superb, the content is horrendous. The main leaders scoring list is rarely up long enough before player bios and group information appear. I really don't need to know that Robert Allenby enjoys fishing in his spare time.  230136-1348260-thumbnail.jpg
Not so vital information on the new scoreboards (click to enlarge)

Less visible but equally as bad was the removal of Bob Lowe's classic hand-drawn scoreboard in the press room, replaced by a new, hard to read and less informative plastic board.

Scribblers Miss The Old Hand Drawn Scoreboard (click to enlarge)
The guess among the scribblers is that these changes were influenced by the PGA Tour's Championship Management division, which has a well known disdain for the old style manual scoring systems (and for all we know, renting some of this stuff to the Northern Trust Open folks).

And finally, for obsessive compulsive types, Tom Pernice's driving range divots from the week... 


"What's happened, Doug, is the golf ball is going farther."

I thought this was a good question from Doug Ferguson after Saturday's third round at Riviera, but because Phil Mickelson was anxious to get on Mickelson Airship 1, he poo-pooed the question a bit.

Still, at least he says it's the ball...

Q. Curious on 10, if conditions notwithstanding, it seems like 3-wood is the choice for most of the power hitters. When did that become the case? Has it ever been driver, and have you noticed over the years driver no longer being a choice?

PHIL MICKELSON: What's happened, Doug, is the golf ball is going farther. So when we used to hit drivers, we now are hitting 3-woods. (Laughter).


"They've changed it a little bit, but they haven't ruined it"

John Strege points out Scott Verplank's disappointment with some of the changes at Riviera, which this year included bizarre add-ons to the 11th and 17th that were not carried out very gracefully. It's not a good sign when PGA Tour pros can tell... 

"They've changed it a little bit, but they haven't ruined it," said Scott Verplank who, heading into the final round, stands tied for fourth in the Northern Trust Open, six shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.

"They haven't ruined it" smacks of damning it with faint praise. Several greens have been expanded by architect Tom Fazio and his design associate Tom Marzolf, though not necessarily as a counter to their tending to shrink over time. They've been expanded in places where there has never been green before, contrary to architect George Thomas' original design.

"I haven't been all that impressed with some of the changes," Verplank said, "but the golf course is so great. As long as you don't do anything too major, it's a brilliant place. They changed some of the greens a little bit, and it seemed to be a little bit out of character with Riviera, but it's still great. Every great golf course goes through stages of changing it and tinkering with it and all that. It would be pretty hard to mess this one up too much."

It should be noted the Tour is not using the new wing locations on the 17th and only used the front spots on No. 11 (I'm sparing your photos...it's more of the same incongruous stuff as they've done in the past). 

Greetings From Los Angeles, Vol. 3, 2008 Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegI didn't see any of the first round telecast from Riviera so I'm not sure if they were able to convey just how strong the gusts were. It was a cruel fate for the afternoon times who drew swirling, cold Santa Ana wind gusts (with more apparently forecast for the morning play). There is no way to describe how good Geoff Ogilvy's late 69, Dustin Johnson's 3-under through 15 total and in progress rounds by Kevin Sutherland and Chez Reavie were considering the extreme conditions.230136-1344456-thumbnail.jpg
Geoff Ogilvy plays into No. 7 (click to enlarge)

I tagged along for 11 holes of Ogilvy's round and his game appeared quite sharp. More alarming was the play230136-1344451-thumbnail.jpg
Mike Weir and caddy (click to enlarge)
of partner Mike Weir, a two-time winner at Riviera who I've watched many times over the years. However, I had not actually followed him recently and while I love the look of his Stack and Tilt swing, everything that happens right up to pulling the trigger is painful to watch. His caddy is constantly asking marshal's to move and his Monty-like ability to hear all sounds leads to constant restarting of his pre-shot routine. Weir won't even pull his driver on obvious driver holes until his caddy rests the bag down next to the teeing position.

Jim Furyk Plays Into No. 1 (click to enlarge)
And they wonder why it was well over 5 hours in the afternoon for the field to finish. Well, most of the field.

As usual the tenth hole proved to be a joy. Playing downwind most of the day 3-wood was often the option for many players. A quick look at ShotLink showed that laying up was a mistake today thanks in part to the green firmness.230136-1344459-thumbnail.jpg
Shane Bertsch approaches No. 10 from a poor angle (click to enlarge)

Though I'm still kicking myself for missing Tom Pernice's hole out for double bogey. Shucks! Apparently he went back and forth between No. 10's greenside bunkers, which was easy to do today with the back left hole location and firm, fast greens.


Greetings From Los Angeles, Vol. 2, 2008 Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegLet's get the important gossip out of the way first: Phil is an iphone man. I'm sorry to all you Motorola and Nokia hopefuls, but I just report what I see.

A twenty degree temperature drop did not improve my odds of getting decent answers out of the PGA Tour's finest. I was working the range and putting green in search of interesting quotes for a story I'm working on and mostly heard the same stuff I've heard for the last few weeks. Perhaps everyone was just too overwhelmed to speak after seeing Vijay's new swing, which looks a lot worse in person. 

Stack and Tilt man Andy Plummer was on the side tee and I spent an enjoyable few minutes hearing about his background and teaching philosophy. It's incredible how many players appear to be adopting S&T. 

The best rumor of the day comes from a player who says that Paul Azinger is so worked up over drug testing that he is attempting to organize a player revolt starting July 1st when the tests begin. I think I'm understanding why we did not have a media room sit down with Azinger and the PGA of America's Julius Mason, a Ryder Cup year tradition in L.A.

And finally, my favorite images of the day, starting with an underwear-challenged volunteer followed by an unidentified player who practiced his putting one-handed for a solid 15 minutes. Granted, it was a belly putter but still, could it be the next big thing?




Greetings From Los Angeles, Vol. 1, 2008 Edition

greetingsfromLA.jpegGreetings from the  Los Angeles Open  Glen Campell Los Angeles Open  Los Angeles Open Presented by Nissan  Nissan Los Angeles Open  Nissan Open Northern Trust Open. The new sponsors clearly have money to burn along with the PGA Tour's best championship management folks whispering in their ears. The signage and presentation has been classed up (except for one tacky decision you can see in the photo below). More importantly, the media center upgraded significantly (I know that's just the news you were waiting to hear).

I toured the back nine today with John Mutch of the PGA Tour field staff and watched him prepare his plans for hole locations and tee placement. The excellent greens seem soft to the foot but balls are taking a nice first bounce before checking, so it should be a lot like last year's excellent event where you'll see plenty of good rounds rewarding accurate play and yet a nice dispersion of scores. The way it should be.  

Who it favors? I have no idea. Go with Daniel Wexler's preview and his listing of the betting odds for a better idea.  

Sadly, the pre-tournament talk is not about green firmness but instead, about rough, which is very benign. Just once it would be refreshing to read a pre-tournament article about how they are hoping to firm things up, not about rough heights and density. With today's grooves, it really is pointless to worry about rough when it's firmness that tests the players.

As always, the highlight included watching guys play No. 10. Steve Marino missed a hole in one by two inches, but even more fun was talking to Zach Johnson about his strategy depending on the hole location. Laying up all four days is not in the cards.

Tiger's absense certainly can be felt in the size of the crowd, which was tiny. However, I haven't yet to hear anyone say they really miss him. Which is good since I don't think he'll be back anytime soon. Still, with 17 of the top 20 in the world on a great layout with a solid weather forecast, the "Northern Trust" is doing just fine.



"Gearing Up for Northern Trust"

Golf Channel is doing the ESPN thing by airing a show celebrating themselves and their construction of an on-site studio to host their various shows this week. However, they promise a segment on Riviera's history, which I talked to them about. Not sure if I'll make the final edit, but just in case there are small children watching, I thought you should be warned.

Air times are Wednesday, February 13th from 7:30 PM - 8:00 PM EST and 1:00-1:30 A.M EST.

The Power Of Short Grass

For my recent Golf World story on short par-4s, the PGA Tour's communications department provided me all sorts of fascinating stats and "scatter charts" produced from its ShotLink system. There were so many interesting little details that popped up, but one of my favorite was this clear demonstration of how a change at Riviera's 10th impacted play in 2007.Riviear10_2007.jpg

From about 1993 to 2006, a short grass chipping area had been cut on the front left of the green and was one of the reasons the hole vaulted to its place as the world's best short par-4. As I noted in the Golf World sidebar on No. 10, this was the work of Jim McPhilomy, Peter Oosterhuis and consulting architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.

In 2007, apparently having not gotten the memo that the 10th hole was cited as one of the best holes in the universe, architect Tom Marzolf jacked around with the bunkers, adding several tacky capes and bays while expanding the lay up aiming bunker. But worst of all, he eliminated the short grass area next to the green that had added so much intrigue (see above photo).

I believe it's one reason why there was a 20% increase in players driving the green in 2007. Having longer grass near the green meant balls would stay closer to the putting surface and provide a simpler recovery shot.

So check out the 2006 "scatter chart" with the short grass area (blue means pars made from that tee shot location, red means birdie, blue means par, black means bogey and yellow means eagle).






And now look at the 2007 chart, with the cluster of birdies congregating in the front left area that used to be tightly mown. A fine example how short grass makes a hole more difficult...in a good way:



Northern Trust Tweaks

I know most of you don't care, but since it's my hometown event I have to say this press release is actually quite exciting for those of us who have viewed the L.A. Open as a mini-major just lying in wait, hoping to be given the extra care it deserves to become one of the elite golf tournaments of the year.

It sure sounds like the PGA Tour is nudging them in the right direction. Even better, I hear the Junior Chamber of Commerce isn't pleased, which definitely means Northern Trust is asking them to step it up a notch.

Before you go commenting, I'm not referring to the new trophy by Tiffany or the Michael Douglas and Friends B-lister strokefest on February 10th. Nor am I saying they are reinventing the wheel here, but it's nice to see attempts to round out the package:

"In planning for this year's inaugural Northern Trust Open, we looked at how we could improve the experience for everyone involved, from the players and their families to tournament viewers worldwide," said Frederick H. Waddell, president and chief executive officer of Northern Trust Corporation.

This year's Northern Trust Open is projected to raise $2.5 million to support charities in Southern California, an increase of more than 30 percent from last year's event. To further align the event with the Los Angeles community, the tournament will include new celebrity and media components. The Michael Douglas and Friends Celebrity Golf outing will be held at Riviera Country Club on February 10, and GOLF CHANNEL will broadcast live the entire tournament week from a custom-built on-site studio.
Let's hope that's more successful than this disaster from last year.
Players will share a larger, $6.2 million purse and will enjoy smaller Pro-Am teams, and fans around the world will be able to use the new interactive Web site (http://www.northerntrustopen.com) to check the leaderboard and talk with others online about the tournament -- 24 hours a day.

"We look forward to working with the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce and the PGA TOUR to expand on what is already a world-class event," Waddell explains. "We are committed to improving the tournament each year, shining the spotlight on this historic event, establishing Southern California as the destination for the TOUR's global spectators and increasing the amount we give back to the community."

"We are very pleased about Northern Trust's plans to elevate the profile of this tournament, which has such a wonderful history on the PGA TOUR," said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. "Northern Trust understands the importance of a title sponsor becoming fully engaged with all aspects of the tournament in order to maximize the overall experience. We are very excited about the future of the Northern Trust Open."