Steve Stricker and Riviera, fitting to a tee
Steve Stricker gave us more great golf and more humble pie Sunday, when he won the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.
We all saw that, enjoyed it, and appreciated a middle-age man reacquiring his athletic prime on the big stage. We got four days of a sports event where maximum effort was put forth, often in trying conditions, and perspective was retained throughout.
When it was over, Stricker, 42, tried to avoid crying and failed. Then he hugged the TV guy interviewing him just off the 18th green.
He had just become the No. 1 active player in the world, trailing missing-in-action Tiger Woods and supplanting Phil Mickelson at No. 2. They would hand him a check for $1,152,000.
And, in all likelihood, he would have been a lot more comfortable back home in Madison, Wis., sitting in a duck blind or on a deer stand with his hunting buddies.
But there was more going on here this week than just a nice guy winning a golf tournament at a legendary course in a big city.
Stricker’s performance was so warm and fuzzy -- no clubs broken over knees, no cursed words mouthed and caught on camera -- that it was greatly valuable to officials at Riviera Country Club. To them, this was both a golf tournament and a dress rehearsal.
In short, Riviera wants another U.S. Open.
The last U.S. Open at Riviera was 1948, when the place became Hogan’s Alley when Ben won. That’s also the only U.S. Open at Riviera and one of two ever in Southern California, the other the famous Tiger-limps-to-victory at Torrey Pines in 2008.
There have been 110 years of U.S. Open golf and two stops in Southern California. Doesn’t seem all that greedy to ask for a third now, does it?
The United States Golf Assn. has its docket set for the next seven years, including this June’s tournament at Pebble Beach. It will be the fifth U.S. Open there and there have been four others at San Francisco’s Olympic Club and a fifth set for there in 2012. That’s all for the Golden State. Perhaps the USGA thinks we still get around in covered wagons.
The lineup for years ahead has 2011 at Congressional in Bethesda, Md.; Olympic in 2012; Merion in Ardmore, Pa., in 2013; Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina in 2014; Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash., in 2015; and Oakmont in Pennsylvania in 2016. Soon, the USGA is expected to announce the 2017 site, rumored to be in the Midwest.
But 2018 is open, the USGA will pick that next year, and Riviera is going for it.
This week’s Northern Trust, with the course shrugging off more than three inches of rain and the final day played under bright skies and won by golf’s poster boy for hard work, comebacks and general decency, was the perfect slide-show presentation.
There were USGA officials at the site, more watching on TV. The message was clear. This is what we can do, what it can look like, feel like, be like at Riviera.
The newer, younger membership is on board at Riviera.
“I haven’t had one come on in the last six years,” says managing corporate officer Michael Yamaki, “who isn’t willing to support a U.S. Open effort here.”
He meant with wallets as well as words.
Northern Trust, after a stutter-start last year with frowned-upon fancy parties in the middle of corporate bailout money time, has added credibility and class to the event, to which it is committed through 2012. So has its choice of Lakers legend Jerry West as the tournament’s executive director.
The USGA has long seen Los Angeles as too laid-back. It likes smaller markets with hungrier fans who will buy all the tickets three years ahead of time. L.A. doesn’t work like that, but a sellout three days before the first round is still a sellout. The U.S. Open is a big deal, and L.A. turns out for big deals, even if the surf is up.
The USGA has long told Riviera that there isn’t enough space around the course to handle such a big event. Then it chose to go back to Merion in 2013, where there is the same or less.
The USGA, correctly so, is looking for class, dignity and a tough competitive track for its banner event. Stricker and Riviera gave them a sample this week.