Riviera Wants A Lakers Courtside-Seat-Style Ryder Cup

While the U.S. Amateur proved a good fit for Riviera given the weather and sensational match play setup by the USGA's Ben Kimball, it was not a big draw in LA. The miniscule crowds, even more miniscule member support and commitment to the possible 2028 Olympic golf all but rules out any return to the major championship world. The U.S. Open is also slated to return to Los Angeles in 2023 at The Los Angeles Country Club.

Apparently in the mind of the club's "corporate officer" Michael Yamaki, the amateur has positioned Riviera for the first ever boutique Ryder Cup. His reasoning? Folks in LA overpay for Laker courtside seats and gasoline at San Vicente and Allenford, so they'll do the same at Riviera for a massive-scale golf event like the Ryder Cup, PGA or U.S. Open

From John Strege's Golf World item:

“I’m still talking with the PGA of America. At some point they professed they’d like to see a Ryder Cup on the West Coast. I think we could do that event. I’d still like the PGA Tour [to consider] a Presidents Cup here.”

And this pearl...

“Its [the USGA] perception of us here in Southern California is that we’re just in our hot tubs or surfing,” Yamaki said. “They don’t think that we will support sports in the same way as the East Coast.”

Given the piles of tickets from the U.S. Amateur, I'm guessing the USGA's mind hasn't been changed.

When Does A Masterful Short Par-4 Become A Silly One?

I always have thought the short par-4 10th's character was so strong that it could survive the Fazio-inspired over-meddling that has quietly taken so much of the nuance out of Riviera in recent years.

Northern Trust Open round one ShotLink "scatter chart" (Click to enlarge)But in recent years the effort to make the famed hole more difficult, combined with dry weather and the outstanding maintenance work by Matt Morton's team, the 10th spilled over the edge this year.

The 311-yard hole averaged 4.201 during round one play of the Northern Trust Open. For a hole of that length to average so much over par in perfect weather? Red flag.

A damp, cloudy morning followed by very little afternoon breeze should have let some of the world's best score. But too often good shots or almost great shots were excessively penalized by the combination of factors both manufactured and accidental. With a drought and ideal turf-growing weather coming into Northern Trust Open week, the course has never looked better and the greens very firm for February. That's a testament to the shrewd practices. However, this little bit of added firmness when combined with the lowering of evolved bunker edges and the practice of rolling the surrounds has tipped the scales. The 10th hole's risk-reward dynamic has shifted to mostly risk and little reward for taking chances. On a strategy-driven hole that is the centerpiece of the tournament, this has not been a positive evolution.

Bubba Watson talked about the shifting dynamics of the 10th following his round.

Q.  Talk about your strategy on 10, seems like it's playing one of the hardest holes out here.
    BUBBA WATSON:  Yeah, the green, the nicest way to say it, it's very difficult.  The green is very difficult, and I don't know how to play it.
    So today, we hit 4‑wood, and I just tried to hit it over that bunker towards those trees so I could have an uphill chip to the hole.  Somehow made the putt today but I was just trying to play to the center of the green, get par and get out of there.
    As we can see, throughout the years, that hole is very, very difficult and par is a great score there.

    Q.  How long have you played here, ballpark?
    BUBBA WATSON:  That's a great question.  I've never missed, I don't think.

    Q.  Have you noticed that green getting ‑‑
    BUBBA WATSON:  Nine years.

    Q.  Have you noticed it getting a little more severe, edges and firmness, things like that?
    BUBBA WATSON:  It seems that way, but that's ‑‑

    Q.  Everyone's got to play it ‑‑
    BUBBA WATSON:  I'm not saying that.  No, no, it looks that way to me but I mean, it might just be because I'm so scared to death of the hole.  It just looks worse and worse ‑‑ as I get older, it looks worse.  It's very difficult.
    We've heard rumours that because of all the bunker shots, the sand makes it build up, but who knows.  Yeah, definitely, it's a very difficult hole.

    Q.  Do you look forward to playing it?

    Q.  Can you think of another hole on TOUR that you least look forward to playing?
    BUBBA WATSON:  A bunch of them but that's the worst for sure.

    Q.  In a good kind of way?
    BUBBA WATSON:  No, I don't think it's a good kind of way.  It's just I'm scared to death of that hole.  We thought about laying up today but then I was like, well, that 80‑yard wedge shot is going to be just as tough as somehow getting lucky off the tee.  And today I got lucky off the tee where all I had to do was go over the tree straight up the green.

Geoff Ogilvy was more diplomatic, but did acknowledge that the vibe has changed in his years playing the hole.

Q.  Talk about the 10th.  Is it getting a little edgy with the shaved areas?
    GEOFF OGILVY:  It's a lot tougher than it used to be.  It's hard to criticize such a good hole.  It's a lot harder than it used to be, especially when the pins are at the back like today.  I don't think you can go to the middle section of the green anymore because there's a lot of pitch on the green and how fast it is.  It's one of the top four or five holes we play all year on Tour.  It's a joy to play even when you're putting a five on the card.

    Q.  Balls that go off the green ‑‑ you didn't hit a bad shot?
    GEOFF OGILVY:  I have to think when they try to get more out of a great hole, that's all they are really trying to do.  It's everyone's favorite hole, really and they are just trying to get more out of it.  It's pretty good.  The greens are a lot firmer than we are used to playing.  They were just a bit softer a few years ago.  Now it takes that big first bounce and goes in that bunker really easy.

    It's a really, really good hole and definitely getting harder.

There is still a real delight in watching some of the great shots played here and the dynamic recoveries. Even the players walking off the green will tell you this, or as level-headed types like Paul Casey did after he'd cooled off post round. Still 

But the 10th hole vibe is also changing to one where the spectacle is a tad unseemly, like pulling over to savor a car accident (see embed from round one below). And while that slightly sadistic aura popular with many golfers, the negativity takes some of the genius out of George Thomas's creation and is utterly unnecessary in testing the world's best.

Video: Part 2 Of Pebble vs. Riviera

Through 9-holes the match is all even after Pebble Beach's ocean stretch of holes 7-9 walzed over Riv's architecturally disrepaired stretch, setting up the toughest call of the day: Riviera's 10th vs Pebble's 10th. Both American classics...who will start the back off with a win?

UnShackeled part 2:

Video: (1) Pebble Beach Vs. (2) Riviera

The Brothers Morrissett introduced me to the joys of using match play to settle the most vital debate of all: "which course is better." By no means a perfect argument-settler, match playing holes somehow ends up working itself out over 18 holes.

In another installment of the UnShackeled series, I match up the two best designs on the PGA Tour and two of my favorite courses on the planet (even if both have seen betters days architecturally, something that factors into this match).

So here goes, the first nine of top seed Pebble Beach taking on Riviera. The back nine and match victor will be resolved tomorrow.

Living In Johnny's World Files: My Generation Was Better Vol. 399

I often agree with Johnny Miller when he talks about the number of all-time great players that Jack Nicklaus had to beat in his prime and I'm certainly no subscriber to the "fields are deeper than ever" mentality espoused quite regularly. (Put me down for "technology has made some really good golfers better than they are" league.)
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Proof Golf Gods Listen: Laying-Up Pays Off At Riviera's 10th!

There's a lot to love about John Merrick's Northern Trust Open win, mostly because the Long Beach-born and still-residing 30-year old is a former UCLA golfer and the closest thing to a native son to ever win the tournament (he passes Oxnard's Corey Pavin by 20 miles and is the first LA County born winner).

John Merrick birdies the par-4 10th in regulation play (click to enlarge)But also because after years of stinking up the 10th hole, Merrick figured out that laying up--a preferred approach to the hole of this website--actually works.

And after a birdie in regulation play and a winning-par on the second hole of this year's Northern Trust Open, Merrick's conservative approach paid off. So did his respect for the hole.

The Golf Gods do work in mysterious ways.

Check out Merrick's post round comments.

Q.  10?

JOHN MERRICK:  10, yeah, I just butchered that hole my rookie year, and a couple years after that, hitting driver and hitting 3‑wood in the traps and finally just laid up.  I actually hit 3‑wood yesterday to the front left flag and made par.  But yeah, I've just been laying up on that hole and I know with a wedge in your hand from the middle of the fairway, I think it's better than hitting wood off that tee, and it paid off.

So I hit 3‑iron and then I had 90 yards and just hit a full lob‑wedge.  I thought it was going to be a little bit closer and just kind of checked left.  I had a straight putt that I thought was going to break left but I kind of just laid it out to the right.

Yeah, and then Charlie hit driver, and it's a tough hole.  It's just from the tee box, you're sitting there and it looks like ‑‑ it looks so easy, looks like you are going to hit it up left of the green and chip on, but it's one of the great, short par 4s that we play on TOUR.

Q.  Charlie had pretty negative feelings about 10 being a playoff hole, just because of the way the hole plays, and I don't think he felt like it's a fairway ‑‑

JOHN MERRICK:  That's what he said?

Q.  He said they should put a windmill on it.

JOHN MERRICK:  (Laughs).

Q.  Thinking about 10, were you confident going into it?

John Merrick's textbook approach in regulation, via ShotLink (click to enlarge)JOHN MERRICK:  Yeah.

Q.  And was that because you had come to peace with what you wanted to do on that hole.


Q.  And did you think your shot had cleared the bunker off the club?

JOHN MERRICK:  Yeah, you know, maybe ‑‑ I think the way I played the 10th hole, maybe that's just a microcosm of how I approach this course and kind of my experience on the TOUR so far.

I think it's one of the great par 4s that we play, short par 4s.  Because when you look at it from the tee, it looks like the most benign hole.  You don't see all the slopes up on the left and everything.  It's so hard to hit a wood and be in great position there.  I mean, there's this little window like a little ten‑yard window where you have to put it to get up‑and‑down.  I think it's one of the great holes.

That 3‑iron I hit, it was kind of cooling off and it was kind of getting a little cold and it was 195 to clear the trap and I hit 3‑iron.  I knew I had plenty of club, but it was just a little further right than I wanted.  I wanted it further left to have a better angle.  I had a better angle in regulation.  But yeah, it just a 3‑iron and you've got a full lob‑wedge where you can take a full swing and put spin on the ball.

Yeah, I think that's the way to play that hole.

Q.  So total confidence on your part?

JOHN MERRICK:  Absolutely.  I knew for sure with that back right flag ‑‑ yeah, total confidence.  Why are you laughing, Doug?

I knew ‑‑ no, I wasn't going to hit wood.  I wanted a full wedge in my hand from the fairway.

How hard was that?

Apparently, too complicated for runner-up Charlie Beljan. I know it's hard to believe that someone so respectful of his President and who doesn't eat for 20 hours at a time during the most important competition of their life might not be the sharpest knife in the set, but if he wants to win at Riviera, Beljan might want to remember the old "attitude is a decision" mantra before he arrives at No. 10 next year.

Charlie Beljan (click to enlarge)Bobby Joe Grooves, the mic is yours...

CHARLIE BELJAN:  The 10th hole, it's been birdie or bogey all week for me.  I've laid up, I've made birdie; I've laid up, I've made bogey.  I've gone for it twice now and made two bogeys.  But the 10th hole, it's a tough golf hole.

I don't really have anything good to say about the 10th hole.  I think it's a funky golf hole.  Obviously that's what Riviera, they are kind of known for the 10th hole.  It is a great, short par 4.  The green just needs to be a little more receptive.  I'm glad that hole is not at TPC Scottsdale around the stadium where you see people making a big‑time fool of themselves.

Q.  Merrick puts himself in really good position off the tee on 10, and you took a while to think about it.  What were you thinking about and what happened on the swing itself?

CHARLIE BELJAN:  I wasn't that upset with the drive I hit.  I just knew I had to keep it left because he hit it right; I didn't think Merrick was in good position off the tee.  I don't think there is a good position on No. 10.  The only good position you're at is yesterday when I hit 2‑iron onto the front edge of the green and I got to 2‑putt for birdie.

Other than that, I don't think there is a good position on 10.  Anything could happen.  He hit a beautiful shot in there.  It carried the bunker by a foot and it barely stopped from going in the other bunker.

So that's how it goes.  My caddie and I was thinking about going for it, but to hit it in that little spot, there wasn't much chance.  I hit a tough chip out of there.  I hit a beautiful putt up there, and then I hit a good 4‑footer that when it left the face, I thought we were going to the next hole and it just broke more than I thought.

Q.  They talk about local knowledge being so key here.  Was there one shot or stroke in the playoff where you feel not having played here before made a difference?

CHARLIE BELJAN:  No, not at all.  I think you could play here 10,000 times and still not know how to play No. 10.

18 is a great golf hole.  You know, I just find it tough that we go to No. 10.  To play a playoff hole, I think it's a great hole, don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking it, but it's just a tough hole to have a playoff on.  We might as well go and put a windmill out there and hit some putts.

Shocking he lost the playoff, isn't it?

Nice work Golf Gods, nice work.

10th Hole Scatter Chart Autopsy, Northern Trust Second Round

What stands out as the 311-yard hole played to a 4.138 scoring average?

Probably how many more guys are trying the lay-up up compared to last year. And based on the scores, that's not helping them score any better. The 10th is currently the 8th toughest hole at Riviera for the 2013 Northern Trust Open.

Click on the image to enlarge:

Phil Mickelson's otherwise excellent 67 was marred by a double bogey on 10. He talked about it after the round:

Q.  Didn't see your second shot on 10.

PHIL MICKELSON:  I hit a drive way left and hit it in some of the trees there; I hit somebody; kind of fatted it into the chipping area.  And the chipping area is so tight, I couldn't get a wedge underneath it, bladed across the green in the bunker.  Hit a bunker shot to six feet and missed it.

Q.  You know you couldn't get a wedge underneath it?

PHIL MICKELSON:  It was a really precise shot.  I mean, as tight as these areas around the green that are shaved, it's tough to get a wedge underneath it, I really didn't have a chance.  I could have putted it 25 feet to the side.  Looking back, it would have saved me a shot but that's not really how I like to play.

Above Riviera's 10th Before Greenside Bunkers Added

One of my favorite images of Riviera is below, cropped to focus on the 10th hole circa 1927 before George Thomas and Billy Bell added the greenside bunkers which took the short par-4 to another level. It's followed by a view today with all of the tournament hoopla, cart paths, fairway lines, rough, Eucalyptus and the hideously re-shaped fairway bunker paying homage to Desmond Muirhead's spiral and mermaid years.
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"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."

"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). 

No Longer Tempting, Still Interesting

First, let's get the Faldo-Nantz question out of the way. During Sunday's telecast, they apparently asked why architects can't build holes like the 10th at Riviera anymore.

I wish Jim had asked me earlier in the week. The answer is so simple!

Most of today's architects haven't got a clue what makes No. 10 work, which makes it kind of hard to design a hole like it. Sorry boys. Your ordinary short par-4 portfolios back me up on this one.

Okay, now that we settled that, let's consider about what happened this year.  

The tiny little green was firmer and faster than ever. A positive change was made by Tom Marzolf (to offset the really lousy ones) when the bunker face in the back left was lowered, bringing the green and fringe right up to the bunker, making the right side that much more daunting.

Yet, for the first time in the governing bodies-failing-the-game-on-distance era, nearly everyone in the field believes the only play is to drive the 10th. Even Jose Maria Olazabal was doing it.  

Mickelson approaches No. 10 in the 2007 Nissan Open playoff from an odd angle (click to enlarge)
I asked Phil Mickelson in his post-Sunday round session why he doesn't consider the lay-up optoin, which seemed to startle him based on the unusual pause before answering.

Q.    Can you talk about your playing strategy on 10 and why you don't lay up, what's your approach to that [hole]?

PHIL MICKELSON:  The only way to play that hole is to get past the hole. The real question why didn't I hit driver and get it for sure past the hole.  I thought with a little bit of help, 3 wood would be enough.  You can't hold that section of the green, short of the pin.  There is no way.  It's was too firm and it's angled six or seven degrees away from you, it's just not possible.

Final round ShotLink data for No. 10. Note how few layed up. (click to enlarge)
The concept of laying up left and having a wedge in? Not even in the cards anymore.

And that's not just for a long hitter like Mickelson.

Consider eventual winner Charles Howell's comments:

Q.    Charles, during the ride past on the playoff on the tenth hole, Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo were talking about world ten what's the history with that whole number?

CHARLES HOWELL III:  We've had a love/hate relationship, I think it's one of the greatest par4's that we play and it was different this year, and I think you saw more guys go at that green off the tee because the green was so hard.  In the years passed here, that green has been so soft with all of the rain you can lay the ball up to the left and hit a wedge in there and hold it.  I saw a lot of great wedge shots this week land on the green and end up in the bunker.  With the greens being as firm as it was, around the green, as to why we don't have more, I don't know.  Because that one there is every bit as nerve-racking and exciting as we need.

Q.    Where are you trying to play it on 10 when you are playing?

CHARLES HOWELL III:  Anything.  Anything at this front edge of the green or just left of it and pinhigh.  So the reason that hole is so good is that the golf ball is going so far now that a driver actually gets past that and you end up chipping back this way.   So Phil hit a 3wood, I hit 3wood, we've got to hit those 3woods pretty darn good to carry that last bunker to left.  So it's really hard to get that ball pinhigh left.  Like I said with that green firm, that front right bunker is no bargain. 

So I'm not sure if this is a statement about the (lack of) confidence Tour players have from 110-75 yards, or simply a statement about the sheer ignorance of the world's greats.

I'm still not convinced that driving the green is the percentage play, when, as Steve Elkington told a few of us earlier in the week: laying up all four days, he'll never take more than 16 for the week on No. 10, and he'll probably play it 2 under.

Either way, one thing became clear.

The tempting quality of the hole that Jim Murray so beautiful described years ago has become a casualty of unharnessed distance.

This does not make it a lesser hole, just a little less interesting and a whole lot different than just a few years ago. 

Calling In The Shinto Priest

redwood.jpgIllustration and insight from John Strege's Local Knowledge in the latest Golf World:

Those participating in this week's Nissan Open might notice that two stately redwood trees on the bank left of the 18th fairway at the Riviera CC are no longer there. They weren't removed without considerable consternation, either. In Japanese culture trees are thought to have souls, and to ensure the redwoods were dealt with properly, Riviera owner Noboru Watanabe summoned a Shinto priest to perform the ritual ceremony. A small temporary shrine was erected in front of the green. The ceremony included traditional chants on behalf of the souls embedded in the trees. The proceedings also reportedly included an O Harahi purification ceremony to cleanse the souls of those wielding the chainsaws that brought down the two trees, which were part of Riviera's landscape for about 50 years. The trees were removed in conjunction with the installation of a new irrigation system. The trees rarely came into play, and their removal is not thought to have altered the character of the course in any fashion.