California dreaming: Schauffele and Morikawa seek Riviera glory

Past history at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles suggests two of the field's elite Californian players could have an edge

From 1926 until 1994, what we now know as the Genesis Invitational featured Los Angeles in the title.

There was no guessing where the PGA TOUR had pitched up. This was one of the glamour spots.

Originally the Los Angeles Open, it became the Glen Campbell-Los Angeles Open in 1971 before the famous country singer's name was dropped again in 1984. In 1987, there was a new moniker, the Los Angeles Open presented by Nissan. It was tweaked to the Nissan Los Angeles Open in 1989 before Los Angeles was removed for good in 1995.

But while Nissan, Northern Trust and Genesis have taken their turn as title sponsors since then, host course Riviera has remained pretty much a constant.

The famed par 71 has hosted every event since 1973 bar one-year stops at Rancho Park in 1983 and Valencia Country Club in 1998.

International players have had their share of wins, but one notable trend when looking down the list of winners is how many Californian players have hoisted the silverware.

Corey Pavin won it in successive years in 1994 and 1995 while Craig Stadler made it a hat-trick of wins for Cali golfers with victory in 1996.

It's no surprise that one of California's greatest ever players, Phil Mickelson, has his name on the trophy too. Lefty was the Riviera champion in both 2008 and 2009.

In the last decade, this event has had two shock names take the title: John Merrick in 2013 and James Hahn in 2015.

On first glance it seems hard to fathom how that duo - ranked 241st and 297th respectively at the time - could outplay the world's finest golfers.

The explanation comes when checking out their bios. Merrick and Hahn were both California residents.

Merrick, from nearby Long Beach, guessed he had played Riviera around 30 times previously.

After lifting the trophy, he recalled: "Growing up as a kid I went to a lot of these tournaments and, yeah, to get a win in my hometown, it's amazing. It is a dream come true. Gosh, I can't believeit, it has not sunk in yet for sure."

Hahn was just as disbelieving after holding off Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in a play-off to win two years later. "Speechless," he said later. "I grew up in northern California, and this is one of the biggest tournaments, as a kid, I would watch on TV. I would watch Tiger Woods, when he debuted as a pro. This is a tournament that I cherish the most."

So, can a bit of home advantage help produce another Californian winner this week?

Two of the Golden State's finest, World No.4 Xander Schauffele and PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, gave their views on the local angle in Tuesday's press conferences.

Here's what they revealed ahead of their bid to put another Californian name on the trophy.

Xander Schauffele

Schauffele has finshed 9th (2018), 15th (2019) and 23rd (2020) in his three appearances at Riviera. He comes into the event on the back of second places at both the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Why he likes this event and the appeal of Riviera

"It's on the West Coast, for one. It's just tough. I think if you could name a harder course without any water hazards for the most part, I'd wait and sit here. This course is, for the setup and just having no real OB or hazards kind of anywhere on the property, it plays really difficult, so I think all of us appreciate the challenge."

On strategy and the importance of mental strength at Riviera

"The course is so interesting. It's one of those places where the more you play it, the more comfortable you get. The conditions this year are unbelievable. It's going to be playing very different than the last couple years where it was kind of colder and sort of wet. Because there isn't a whole lot of trouble on the property in terms of like penalties, you sort of get a little impatient and get aggressive when you shouldn't and you kind of pick up a bogey or double bogey pretty quickly and it's probably the most frustrating way to do it. So I think patience is big out here. The greens are pure, you've just got to hit it in the right spots, leave yourself below the hole and that will give you the best chance to win."

On how he'll be tackling the 315-yard risk/reward 315-yard 10th hole

"Statistically, as my dad made aware to me today, I'm not very good from 50 to 125 yards. I would not be laying up on that hole. That would leave me about 50 to 125 yards in. So I will be going for it like I have every other year and kind of rely on getting up and down and a couple good bounces here and there. The 10th is a special hole here, it's a key hole for the tournament and it can kind of either make or break your week."

Collin Morikawa

Morikawa finished tied 26th on his Riviera debut last year. He's finished tied seventh in both his starts on the PGA Tour in 2021.

On feeling comfortable on the unique combination of grasses at Riviera

"I look forward to finally playing back here in L.A. and so far the course looks amazing, so it will be a good test for the week. Growing up out here on poa annua, growing up here on kikuyu grass, I'm comfortable with it. I'm not making adjustments, I know what it's going to be like putting on a Friday afternoon come 4:00, 5:00. So I'm comfortable out here with the way the course is set up. Looking at it so far the past couple days, it's firm. The rough's not necessarily up but the greens are getting bouncy, they're getting some roll out, so it will be a good test. You've got to make sure you hit your irons in the right spots and leave yourself in the right spots when you miss your shots."

Recalling that he never came to watch the tournament as a kid but has now fallen in love with Riviera

"No, never really had interest, I'll be honest. Like it was never my interest when I was a kid to go and watch golf. That was just never my thing. I went a couple times to Sherwood, but other than that I never came here. First time I played here was early in the summer when I knew the U.S. Am was going to be here. I knew a couple members, Cal guys, Cal donors, whatnot that were able to get me out here and play a couple rounds. I loved playing Riv in the U.S. Am, I liked it, but last year I actually fell in love and I know why J.J., my caddie, loves this golf course. I keep falling in love with it and it just makes it a little more special being in L.A."

On what made him fall in love with Riviera

"I think when I just think about the course. You know, you look at a great golf course and does it test every shot, does it test everything that you need? Absolutely, that's what Riviera does. You hit every shot out here, you hit draws, you hit fades, wedges, long irons, 3-woods, everything, and I think that's what makes a great golf course. You're hitting every shot, you're tested on those golf shots, so that's what makes it fun."

On his strategy for the 10th hole this week

"Most likely I'll be hitting driver every single day or whatever gets me to that front edge, kind of just rolls over. I keep looking at the wedge shot. I keep saying yes, we can hit a 70-yard wedge shot, we can hit a 100-yard wedge shot, but when you look at the green and how narrow and shallow it is, it just doesn't make sense in my head. Like especially how firm the greens are, that first bounce is going to bounce so far, so you're working with two yards, two, three yards. When you're on, you're going to hit that shot, but if you're off a little bit and there's wind or it's cold or whatever, that can cost you being in the short bunker, that can cost you being over. You hit driver, hit it down there, most likely you'll hopefully have a chip shot. If you don't have it at the pin, you'll have a chip shot at the middle of the green, two-putt, you know. If I'm even par, I'm not going to be sad, I'm not going to be happy, I'm going to be just okay with even par because I don't think I'm really losing any shots to the field if I'm even par through four rounds on that hole."

Hitting driver at the 10th - a popular strategy
Hitting driver at the 10th - a popular strategy

Xander Schauffele is 15/1 to win at Unibet

Collin Morikawa is 33/1 to win at William Hill