It’s a statistical curiosity: California has hosted more U.S. Opens than any state except New York and Pennsylvania, yet this will be only the second time the championship has ever come to the state’s largest city.
Thirteen of the 14 previous California-based Opens were held at either Pebble Beach (6), Olympic (5), or Torrey Pines (2).
To find the only exception, you have to dial back three-quarters of a century in Open history to the post-war 1940s. It’s so far back in the game’s annals that Ben Hogan was only a two-time Major champion.
In June of 1948, when the game’s best teed it up for the national championship at Riviera just outside Los Angeles, the USGA was – to be honest – taking a big chance holding the event in such a remote location.
Prior to 1948, the exigencies of travel basically boiled down to driving or hopping a train. That restricted the choice of Open sites so much that only four U.S. Opens had been played west of the Mississippi – and two of those were by a matter of a few feet. Bobby Jones won at Interlachen in Minneapolis in 1930, Ralph Guldahl at Cherry Hills outside Denver in 1938, Craig Wood at Colonial in 1941, and Lew Worsham at St. Louis in 1947.
So going all the way out to the California coast was a big logistical deal.
It was so unusual a deal that the PGA went to the unusual step of slow-walking the players out there. The tournaments held during the two weeks immediately prior to the Open were in Fort Worth (the Colonial) and Albuquerque, N.M. the hope being that players would find the commute less onerous that way.
Interestingly, the man who designed Riviera – a botanist and part-time architect named George Thomas – is the same fellow who designed Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, where this year’s Open will be played. Thomas was a member at LACC.
At the time, Riviera was well known among Tour pros as the frequent site of the Los Angeles Open. When play began, the Tour’s best asserted themselves. Hogan, who had won the PGA a month earlier and who always praised the course as among his favorites, shot 67. That tied defending champion Worsham for the lead with Sam Snead two behind. Entering Saturday’s 36-hole finale, Snead (138) led Hogan and Bobby Locke by one stroke.
But Hogan took command with a morning 68 while Snead and Locke both required 73 strokes. By Saturday afternoon only Jimmy Demaret loomed as a serious threat, and Hogan matched Demaret’s closing 69 with one of his own for a tournament record 276.
That record would stand until 1967.
The problem was attendance, which was sparse compared with previous Opens. Although nobody ever said so for the record, it’s believed that poor attendance was the main reason why the Open didn’t return to California for nearly a decade, until landing at Olympic in 1956.