From "Lighthorse" Harry Cooper To Kirk Triplett, From Los Angeles Country Club To Riviera.
December 13, 2000
Dec. 13, 2000
LOS ANGELES -- The memories are unforgettable: Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus among many who are part of Nissan Open's storied history
From "Lighthorse" Harry Cooper's victory at Los Angeles Country Club in 1926 to Kirk Triplett's improbable triumph at Riviera Country Club in 2000, some of the most unforgettable golf memories in Los Angeles have been provided by the greatest players in the history of the game on 11 of the finest courses in southern California.
When the 75th Nissan Open is played at Riviera Country Club, Feb. 19-25, 2001, more history and memories will be created and stored to become part of the lore of the oldest civic-sponsored event on the PGA TOUR.
The event was born in 1926 when the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce (LAJCC) wanted to take advantage of a golf tournament to promote the Los Angeles area throughout America. It got what it wanted, and more.
The following, in chronological order, are some of the greatest and most memorable events of the tournament.
1926-"Lighthorse" Harry Cooper had to eagle the final hole to clinch a victory over amateur George Von Elm in the inaugural Los Angeles Open. Cooper took home a whopping $3,500 from a purse of $10,000. There was so much interest in the event, Damon Runyon was sent from New York to cover it.
1928-MacDonald Smith won the first of his four LA Open titles at Wilshire Country Club. All of his victories came on different courses. His other victories were at Riviera in 1929, at Hillcrest Country Club in 1932 and at Los Angeles CC in 1934.
1929-Riviera was used for the first time and so many golfers wanted to play, it was necessary to have a 36-hole tournament just to qualify.
1932-The purse was cut to $7,500 because of the depression. MacDonald Smith earned $2,000 for his third victory.
1935-The first playoff created the first controversy at Los Angeles CC when Vic Ghezzi and Johnny Revolta, relative unknowns at the time, agreed to split the prize money regardless of the outcome.
1938-The legendary Babe Didrickson became the first woman ever to play in a professional men's golf tournament. She shot rounds of 84 and 81 and failed to make the cut at Griffith Park. That was also the year Jimmy Thompson won the tournament using a second-hand putter he had purchased for $1 in a Pasadena pro shop three weeks earlier.
1941-In one of the biggest upsets in golf, Johnny Bulla, a young drugstore employee from Chicago, used Walgreens bargain-counter golf balls to defeat a field that included Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson at Riviera.
1942-Vardon Trophy winner Ben Hogan's first Los Angeles Open victory came at Hillcrest Country Club in a playoff over Jimmy Thompson. Somebody missed a chance to dub the course Hogan's Hill.
1945-Slammin' Sammy Snead hit a shot that would have even impressed Sergio Garcia. After hooking his tee shot into the base of a tree on the seventh hole at Riviera, he had no clear shot to the green. Using a five-iron, Snead smashed the ball into the tree, bending his club in the process, and banked the shot onto the green where it stopped, 25 feet from the hole. He went on to win it by one stroke.
1946-The great Byron Nelson, coming off a year in which he won 19 tournaments, finally won an LA Open on his 12th attempt.
1947-Ben Hogan started his remarkable run at Riviera history with a course record score of 280. The following year he shattered the course record again with a nine-under-par 275, then later the same year, won the U.S. Open at Riviera with a score of 276. There was no doubt about it. Riviera was truly Hogan's Alley.
1950-Sam Snead birdied the final three holes to force a playoff with Ben Hogan, but because of heavy rain, the playoff was held a week later, after the players returned from the Crosby at Pebble Beach. Snead won the playoff by four strokes, but in reality, the real loser was diminutive Jerry Barber, who saw his 10-stroke lead in the third round erased by rain when play was stopped and scores reverted to the second round.
1952-More controversy. The Los Angeles Open defied the PGA's ban on black players by having former heavyweight champion Joe Louis in the tournament.
1953-Television gets into the act for the first time. The last two days were carried by ABC over KECA.
1959-Ken Venturi shot one of the greatest rounds in LA Open history at Rancho Park as he rallied from an eight-stroke deficit with a 63 to defeat Art Wall by two strokes. Venturi made consecutive eagles and shot a 30 on the front side.
1961-Arnold Palmer's obsession with trying to reach Rancho Park's par-five ninth hole in two turned into a disaster when he hit four balls out of bounds-two into the driving range and two into the street-and wound up with a 12.
1962-Jack Nicklaus earns his first check as a pro at Rancho Park. He makes the cut, but finishes last and takes home $33.33.
1974-Dave Stockton hit "the greatest shot I ever hit," on the final hole at Riviera. Tied for the lead, Stockton, from 247 yards, hit a three-wood out of the rough from a downhill lie to within 12 feet of the pin. He made the birdie putt for the victory.
1981-Johnny Miller shot rounds of 68, 69, 67 and 68 in setting a Riviera and LA Open record with a 14-under-par 270.
1992-A 16-year-old amateur is given a sponsor's exemption to play in the Nissan Open. The amateur shoots rounds of 72 and 75 and misses the cut, but promises he will be back. His name is Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.
1998-Billy Mayfair sank and eight-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Tiger Woods at Valencia Country Club, which was the host course because Riviera was going to be the site of the U.S. SENIOR OPEN later that summer. It was Mayfair's first victory in three years.
2000-Kirk Triplett, a 10-year veteran, made a clutch four-foot par putt on the final hole to edge colorful Swede Jesper Parnevik and win his first PGA TOUR event over an elite field that included Tiger Woods, David Duval, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
2001-The purse has been increased to $3.4 million and the winner will collect $612,000. To put that in
perspective, as recently as 1987, the entire purse for the Nissan Open was $600,000.
Tournament week for the 75th Nissan Open gets underway with practice rounds on Monday, Feb. 19, and Tuesday, Feb. 20, followed by the Nissan Pro-Am on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The 72-hole event starts Thursday, Feb. 22 and continues through Sunday, Feb. 25.
The 2001 tournament marks the 39th time the event has been held at Riviera Country Club, which will celebrate its 75th year as a golf club. It was first held at Riviera in 1929.
Since its first involvement with professional golf, Nissan has expanded its sports marketing role with other programs, which have included sponsorship of the 1996 Olympic Games, the PGA Championship, the Tradition (SENIOR PGA TOUR), the Presidents Cup and the Diners Club Matches, as well as Warren Miller's ski films.
In North America, Nissan's operations include automotive styling, engineering, consumer and corporate financing, sales and marketing, distribution and manufacturing. More information on Nissan in North America and the complete line of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles can be found on the internet at www.nissandriven.com or contact the corporate media line at 310-771-5631.
The Nissan Open benefits a variety of local organizations and helps enrich the quality of life for many individuals. Proceeds benefit the LAJCC's community service projects throughout Los Angeles County.