The Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen calmly enters the fray at the Northern Trust Open

2011 Open Champion — Louis Oosthuizen

Pacific Palisades, CA. – On a day when some in the field searched for an empty spot on the range, Brandt Snedeker an alternate for ailing Ernie Els strolled about Riviera CC with just his caddie, completing 18 holes in the afternoon quiet.  A couple of threesomes were having little money matches as they checked out the course that is in simply immaculate condition preparing for this week’s Northern Trust Open that gets underway Thursday. Local and national media were beginning to assemble as interviews were commencing. This week was quickly proving more worthy than any of the Tour stops so far. It had a different feeling on a Tuesday that this week is a little more special and there are reasons why.
As noon approached, a misty rain fell and more rain is forecast during the week and even some threatening weather at the weekend, a circumstance that has plagued this event in recent years, almost hauntingly. As I entered Riviera coming towards me in a cart was Executive Director for the Northern Trust Open, the legend Jerry West, dressed as smartly as ever. He smiled and waved and when I threw my hands in the air as he rode by, he simply said, “What’s new?” The Wednesday Pro-am could be hampered and possibly the first round, but the weekend is supposed to bright and sunny although cool. Then again, this is Los Angeles and L.A. is supposed to be cool. No one has done more to help promote sports in Los Angeles and in particular this quivering tournament in the last two years than “Mr. Clutch.” He has been front and center, speaking honestly and the noted changes are evident. Riviera CC even made over the front lawn with a new lighted fountain and stone walk way, nicely enhancing the clubhouse entrance. Even though Riviera CC is an exclusive private club, this weekend the public can walk along its fairways, watch their favorite golfers and are welcome at the Grove, a centerpiece between holes #3 & 9 where patrons can watch all the action on big screens, sit inside or out and chose from an array of eats and drinks. Golf tournaments need to do more to attract fans and all it takes is a visit to the Waste Management Phoenix Open to figure that out.
That said, this event is so strong in its history of storied champions and as a distinguished country club with champions like Sarazen, Hogan, Palmer, Snead, Sutton, Watson, Kite, Couples, Faldo, Els to name just a few. Other legends have tried to tame RIviera. You won’t find the names Nicklaus or Woods on the past champions list as neither has taken home any hardware from this stately old dame and it must prick at them a little, for to win here is a potent trophy. “If I could win anywhere in America besides Augusta it would be right here,” said last year’s runner up Luke Donald. Chuckie Three Sticks, Charles Howell III was walking to the range toting his own bag when I asked if he felt anything special about being at Riviera. “I love coming here. I look forward to it. I love this place. This is golf,” his grin getting wider by the second. The nation’s second largest city, the home of film and Hollywood, the Lakers and Dodgers, L.A. has long been a tradition as one of the most popular Tour stops for over 65 years. In the last 20 years as the Tour has gone through its changes of the guard, Riviera has stayed true, the event has wavered. This year will again test the marketing ability of reaching out to a town that has so much going on, has been without a professional football team for 15 years, who just hosted the upset-filled Grammy’s and plays host to the NBA All-Star game this weekend as well.
Besides the enhancements and more welcome changes for the people to enjoy this weekend, the golf should be superb as the field is strong with the likes Phil Mickelson, Donald, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. All of the 2011 winners are here, Jhonattan Vegas. Bubba Watson, Jonathan Byrd, last week’s winner D.A. Points and Mark Wilson who has notched two wins early this season and is enjoying the perks of those victories. “The neat part about it right now is with my position on the Money list it looks like it should get me – no matter what I do the rest of the year, should get me in the majors for 2012, as well,” said the four-time winner. “And the golf course is a great challenge. There is a lot of interesting golf holes. It’s a fun tournament in that you can shoot a couple under every day and make up ground on the field.” Perhaps the presence of Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open Champion signaled an even more convincing charge of the field’s strength. Louis is making his first appearance at Riviera, but more so he is embarking on his decision to become a full-time member of the U.S. PGA Tour after years on the European Tour. “I’ve always, as a little boy, wanted to play in America, wanted to at least give it a try,” said the affable South African. “ So, I just felt with the exemptions I have got right now, it’s a great time to do it.” Oosthuizen won earlier this year at the African Open and has overcome a hunting accident where he tore some ligaments in his ankle. Still he is such a mellow voice, a character of sorts, one that literally ran away from the field at St. Andrew’s where he is now a major winner, and here he is, his first time in Los Angeles and all he wants to see is the Hollywood sign. You know, I’ve never been here,” he said grinning. “I’m looking around for that Hollywood sign. Once I find that I will know I am in L.A.”
A strong field that includes past champion and one of the most popular players to play Riviera, Fred Couples will take on the challenge of the 2011 Northern Trust Open. That said, having the 2010 Open Champion in the field is quite complimentary. Oosthuizen flew in from the other side of the planet, South Africa, as did others like Ryo Ishikawa, another young star creating his own international buzz. It’s just a shame that the most prolific local player ever from Los Angeles can’t seem to find time to entertain even his own fans. For an event that is trying desperately to put the pizzazz back into one of the most prestigious professional golf tournaments alive, a visit by Tiger Woods would be nice and by all measure, welcome. It wasn’t like Jerry West didn’t try to lure the Cypress native. Obviously a trip to Dubai is more important. Well, at least this week, the Open Champion is here.
By: Wil Barnes

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