Remembering the record-setting playoff at rainy Riviera
By Ben Everill, Sean Martin and Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
It remains the largest playoff to end a 72-hole PGA TOUR event, another bit of history created at the iconic Riviera Country Club.
There also was a six-man playoff at the 1994 Byron Nelson but that tournament was just two rounds because of persistent rain. Seven years later, six men braved the elements to decide a champion at Riviera in the tournament now known as the Genesis Invitational.
It rained so hard that a delay never seemed far away. The 18th hole, reachable with short-irons earlier in the week, now required players to use fairway woods for their approach shots. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this unique finish, PGATOUR.COM caught up with some of the participants to hear their recollections.
On the broadcast, Jim Nantz tried to draw a connection to CBS’ Sunday night movie, The Mask of Zorro, by declaring “it would take a little swash-buckling birdie here to win this tournament.” Riviera’s finishing hole had allowed just one all day but then Robert Allenby delivered a shot that one competitor called “the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.”
Allenby choked down on a 3-wood and hit it to 5 feet to walk away with the title. It was his third TOUR win – all of them came in playoffs – and moved him to 7-0 in playoffs worldwide. Brandel Chamblee, Dennis Paulson, Jeff Sluman, Bob Tway and Toshi Izawa were the other participants.
The playoff was brief, but the unique ending and miserable conditions were fodder for some entertaining stories. PGATOUR.COM caught up with some of the participants, and recently-retired rules official Mark Russell, to hear their recollections. Read below about the ball hit into a hot dog stand, Chamblee’s wardrobe malfunction (and how he forgot one of the playoff’s participants when working for Golf Channel later that year) and the award that Tiger Woods robbed from Allenby later that year.
CHAMBLEE: “I had a deal with a clothing company where if I finished in the top three, I got a $75,000 bonus, something like that. I had their rain suit on as I played the first hole and I could hardly swing. I had it on as I was coming up the second hole and I said to my caddie, ‘Can you run up to the clubhouse and get my other rain suit. I can’t swing in this thing.’ So he ran up and got my other rain suit, which did not have the company’s logo on it. I was six back going into Sunday. I didn’t really think about it. I put the new rain suit on and I was warm and I played great. I shot 67, which was the (second-lowest) round of the day (behind Izawa’s 66). And I didn’t even think about the implications of not having the right rain suit on.
“Later on, as soon as I got in, there was kind of a nasty note from the company saying, ‘We’re not paying you the bonus because you didn’t have on our rain suit.’ That was the first note I saw. They were quite obviously upset. I called them and I said, ‘I totally get it. You did not get the advertisement you paid for. But if I had worn your rain suit, I wouldn’t have been in that playoff.’”
SLUMAN: “Somebody in the group ahead of me hit it in the hot dog stand and it took at least 10 minutes to get a ruling. It wasn’t the most opportune timing. [Laughs] There was a big slope to the right of the green, with a hot dog stand with nachos and all that stuff. It was Tiger’s group, I don’t know who it was who needed the ruling, but it was easy, with the ball being wet and everything, to hit one out there. It was like Animal House hitting the ball into the cafeteria; you wonder if someone got a hot dog with a golf ball on it. It was really a bad place to put a hot dog stand.”
ALLENBY: “I missed around a 10-footer for a par that would have won the tournament. My attitude in playoffs was always positive. I always treated it as a second chance and didn’t dwell on the negatives of the fact I hadn’t won in regulation.”
RUSSELL: “I’m thinking the whole time, these greens could go down any moment and we can’t finish. We kept playing. We’re trying to get done and it turns into a six-man playoff. Worst-case scenario! I’m amazed we got it in to tell you the truth. The next playoff hole was 10 and I’d already received the call that the 10th hole was unplayable.”
PAULSON: “It was so cold that I dressed to wear rain pants all day. I had a great pair of rain pants. They had pockets and everything else. They had belt loops. They were basically a pair of Gore-Tex pants. I knew it was going to be cold so I wore Long Johns under those pants. Whether it rained or not, I was going to wear those all day long.”
SLUMAN: “It was like the Sunday scramble at the club going back out there. Each player gets in a cart driven by someone; everybody got a cart, caddies on the back getting driven out, plus an official to pick straws or numbers, and you’re off and away.”
PAULSON: “When we got done, I had to go to the bathroom really bad because it had been raining all day. I told the guys, ‘I’ll get out there but I have to use the restroom.’ Instead of one minute, it took three because you have all your rain gear on. I get on a cart and arrive at the tee and they say, ‘Dennis, you’re hitting (fourth). Good luck.’ I wasn’t even part of the draw to determine what order we hit. No one shook my hand. It wasn’t unfriendly, but it was raining and everyone was huddled under their umbrellas.”
ALLENBY: “That shot was probably the greatest 3-wood I ever hit in my life. It is the greatest. And I still have the club. It's up in my house and I have the original grip on it and everything, it's such a little beauty.
“I remember Fred Couples and myself seemed to be the last two to have it in play before we finally gave it up. Every tournament we would go to we would both find each other on the range and check to see if the other still had it in play. Then finally one tournament he came along and he saw that I had switched it out and I was like, ‘Oh man it’s just too small, I just switched it out.’ Then he starts laughing and says, ‘I did the same thing.’ So we both hung on for ages but had to let it go. It was a dinosaur by then.”
PAULSON: “Robert’s is still the best shot I’ve seen in my life. It was just flush out of the middle of the club. It started three yards right of the hole and turned over three yards. It was a laser right at the flag. I remember that shot more than any shot I saw on the PGA TOUR, or hit. It was that special.”
RUSSELL: “We’re walking up to the green and I’m thinking, ‘I hope we can keep going.’ Then I see a ball about 4 feet from the hole and I’m thinking, ‘Damn, who hit that shot?’ I had been over in the left rough, helping Toshi with a drop. Thank goodness someone birdied it.”
CHAMBLEE: “I had never heard of or seen Toshi Izawa before (This was just Izawa's fourth TOUR start in the States). He hooked it up on the hill and with all the people and caddies and cameras I never really saw him again in the playoff. Later on that year, I was asked to come in and work for Golf Channel during the Masters. Tiger was going for his fourth major in a row and all that. Toshi was either leading or close to the lead after round one and I asked one of my coworkers who he was and they laughed and said, ‘Yeah right,’ and I said, ‘No really, who is it?’ They said, ‘You really don’t know?’ and I said, ‘No, I’ve never heard of him.’ ‘He was in the six-man playoff with you at Riviera,’ they said incredulously. And I said, ‘Well, it was so chaotic with six players, their caddies, TOUR officials, cameras and media and so many people running around, you could’ve been in that playoff with me and I might never of known it.’”
ALLENBY: “It's up there but here's what's funny: I hit that shot and then later in the year Tiger Woods had the ‘Better Than Most’ putt at TPC Sawgrass on the 17th green in the PLAYERS Championship and that ended up being voted the shot of the year. But I remember (former PGA TOUR Commissioner) Tim Finchem saying to me that he thought my shot in L.A. was the best shot of the year. He also remembered that at TPC that same year, he saw me make a putt from off the wood of the walkway on the 17th green that was about an hour ahead of Tiger and from farther away. But hey, Tiger Woods got all the accolades because at the end of the day, he's Tiger Woods.
“I came back (to Riviera) the next year as defending champion and my picture is on the wall behind the staff at registration with me holding the trophy. I walk in and sat down and the three ladies looked at me and asked, “OK, who are you?” I said, “I'm the guy behind you on the wall”. They all turned around and looked and were like, ‘Oh no. Sorry. I remember having a good giggle about that.”