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Basking in the Riviera’s Glow : Talent-Laden Field, Rich Purse Gratify L. A. Open Chairman

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<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Curtis Strange will be there. So will Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw and more than 100 of the finest golfers in the world. But the most important man at the Los Angeles Open this year will be John Paulson, a man whose idea of a good golf shot is one whereby he actually can make the ball leave the ground.

Paulson, of Northridge, is the chairman of the 1989 L. A. Open, which runs Feb. 2-5 at the famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

He was not handed the responsibility of organizing the tournament because of his skills on the golf course. His average score is roughly the same as the average July temperature in Phoenix.

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“I’m horrible,” Paulson said. “I’ve been shooting in the low 100s at Riviera. Watching someone like me play, you really appreciate how the pros play this game.”

Paulson, 30, was handed control of the L. A. Open because of his organizational talents and because of his 5-year devotion to the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the tournament each year.

His successes in the past 12 months have included obtaining commitments to play in the tournament from 9 of last year’s top 10 money-winners on the PGA Tour and helping to convince sponsors to boost the tournament purse to $1 million for the first time, an increase of $250,000 from last year’s purse.

“That is what I am proudest of,” Paulson said. “A million-dollar purse for the first time in the tournament’s history. That makes a new mark on the whole tournament.”

Paulson, the western area account manager for the Shaffstall Corp., a computer marketing firm in Los Angeles, began his association with the L. A. Junior Chamber of Commerce while on vacation in 1983. A friend worked for the organization and asked Paulson if he would like to help out during the L. A. Open.

“I volunteered and found myself on what they called the ‘Rat Patrol.’ We picked up the trash and garbage on the course that was left behind by the spectators,” Paulson said. “It was a fine vacation.”

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But Paulson, from Waukesha, Wis., moved to Los Angeles later that year and again volunteered to work for the Junior Chamber.

“In my greatest dream I couldn’t have imagined back then that I’d be chairman of the tournament so quickly,” he said. “But I was in the right place at the right time.”

One of the benefits of his position has been the chance to meet and play golf with the PGA stars.

“It’s still amazing to me that I can walk up to Fuzzy Zoeller and say hello and he knows who I am,” Paulson said. “For a lover of golf, that’s the greatest thrill in the world.”

And on Sunday, Feb. 5, Paulson will have another thrill. He will present the check to the tournament winner on the 18th green, along with his words of congratulations.

Not bad for a guy whose most common word on a golf course is “Fore!”

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