Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and 13 Others Who Learned to Love Riviera CC

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2013

Fred Couples 32 years after his first Northern Trust Open.
Fred Couples 32 years after his first Northern Trust Open.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There are horses for courses.  And there’s also something about liking a course better after you win.  For a handful of PGA Tour players over the last 90 or so years, Riviera Country Club—host of this week’s Northern Trust Open—has become a favorite track even if it is an acquired taste. Those who have won are often winners of majors or other significant tournaments.  Yet there are one or two golfers who have never been able to master the combination of the cool winds through the canyon, the snarly grass and the small greens.

Fred Couples, playing this week at age 53, won the tournament twice.  He first played the tournament in 1982 and shot three rounds of 71, and then finished up with a trademark low-round of 64.  He didn’t always enter the tournament early in his career, but starting in 1986, he never missed it unless injured.  Couples’ low career round came there, a 62 on the way to victory in 1990.  Two years later, his victory signaled an impressive run that eventually earned him to the No. 1 spot in the rankings for three and a half months.

Phil Mickelson is a recent convert to Riviera CC, and with two victories in the last five years, it’s now a regular on his calendar. Earlier in his career it was mostly a week for missed cuts.  Like a golfer who puts his putter in the closet until it behaves, Mickelson skipped the event for a few years.  Then in 2007, he added it back and lost in a playoff to Charles Howell III.  Now he just can’t miss it.

Many winners in Los Angeles went on to win majors or had already won them. The exceptions are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods; neither of whom have a victory there.   

Both Nicklaus and Woods finished second, Nicklaus to Gil Morgan.  Woods lost in a playoff to Billy Mayfair in 1998 when the tournament was played at Valencia CC,  because Riviera’s greens were being redone that year.     

However, many notables and headliners have had success. Ben Hogan won three times at Riviera before and after World War II, and he won the 1948 US Open, which was held there. In 1950, nearly 18 months after his collision with a bus, he finished second to Sam Snead in L.A.  For that reason, the course is one of two that are called Hogan’s Alley.  (The other is Colonial CC in Fort Worth, TX, which Hogan won five times)

Arnold Palmer is a three time champ in L.A. What else can you say.  It’s Palmer.

Snead is another two time winner of the tournament scoring victories in 1945 and then beating Hogan in 1950.  Snead has the all time PGA Tour victory mark.

Tom Watson won twice, including beating Johnny Miller in 1982 in a playoff.  

Lanny Wadkins didn’t just win it twice.  He blew away scoring totals in the process as he was fond of doing in his prime.  Wadkins' low-score for the tournament was 264.   The closest to that were 266 shot by Couples, 267 by Chip Beck and 268 shot by Corey Pavin, Steve Stricker and Charles Howell III.  

Others who have won twice include Morgan (the second time beating Wadkins), Pavin (who beat Couples in 1991) and Mike Weir (who handled Charles Howell III one of his seconds before Howell finally won the tournament).

Paul Harney won the tournament back to back in 1964 and 1965 joining Weir and Hogan as the three back-to-back champions.  

Billy Casper defeated Palmer and Hale Irwin to take the trophy twice in 1968 and 1970.  

Harry Cooper won the first time the tournament was played in 1926 and then again 11 year later.

However, the winningest players at what is now the Northern Trust Open were MacDonald Smith and Lloyd Mangrum, both of whom have four victories around the famed track.  Smith beat Harry Cooper and the original Tommy Armour in the 1920's, and Leo Diegel, Olin Dutra, Joe Kirkwood Sr. and then Willie Hunter and “ Wild” Bill Melhorn the 1930's.  Mangrum defeated Henry Ransom, Jack Burke Jr., Jerry Barber and Dutch Harrison.