Depending on which side of the Atlantic you are, ‘Hogan’s Alley’ means different things. In Britain it is the narrow landing area in the fairway of the 6th hole at Carnoustie in Scotland which Ben Hogan found in every round on his way to winning his one and only Open Championship, on his one and only appearance, in 1953. In America it refers to the Riviera Golf Club in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, where the Northern Trust Open concluded yesterday.
Hogan won the Los Angeles Open at Riviera in 1947 and 1948. (Those were the days when the name of a tournament would tell you where it was being held!) He won the US Open – the first of his four such titles in six years, the second of the nine major championships he would win – over the same layout in 1948. He had good reason to be fond of the place. But it may be that the most famous memory of Hogan at Riviera was of a tournament he lost.
In January 1950, Hogan entered the Los Angeles Open again. So what? So the extraordinary thing was that the previous February he had sustained appalling injuries in a car crash in his native Texas. The initial prognosis was that he would never play competitive golf again. Merely walking would be tough enough. Indeed, when one of his legs developed a blood clot, it seemed he might not survive the surgery.
However, by early 1950, he was ready to go, if not totally sure of the fact. Hogan, then 37, had been insufficiently confident of what he was preparing to do that he only announced he was going to play in LA three days before the tournament started. But not only did he manage to endure the gruelling effort involved, when he finished the tournament he looked to be the likely winner. Ultimately, it came down to Sam Snead, his great contemporary rival, who needed to make a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to catch Hogan. Neither of them were particularly good on the greens but Snead rolled this one in to force the playoff, which bad weather caused to be delayed for a week. Snead prevailed in the 18-hole shoot-out. (Yes, 18 holes: they don’t make them like that anymore.) By the June, Hogan had claimed his second US Open.
The prospect of a comparative big-time playoff at this year’s tournament rather disappeared when the world No. 1, Jordan Spieth, missed the cut. But the final-round leaderboard still displayed three of the world’s best eight players in the top-five: Bubba Watson (ranked 6th) led by a shot from Dustin Johnson (8) and by two from Rory McIlroy (3). The latter looked likely to shake things up in big way on Sunday when he opened up with an eagle three. He later finished with a birdie three. Sadly, in between it was pretty much dross. A multitude of bogeys added up to 75 and a tie for 20th.
Essentially the tournament came down to three people: Watson, Adam Scott – both past Masters champions – and Jason Kokrak, a comparative American journeyman pro. (Johnson finished fourth.) Scott started off even better than McIlroy, not only eagling the first hole but making birdies at the 3rd and 4th. But he slowed down, too, and Kokrak was in pole position when he led by two shots with four holes to play. Then a bogey for him at 15, followed by Watson birdies at 16 and 17, meant Bubba repeated his Riviera success of 2014, despite Scott chipping in for a birdie at the 18th.
It was also in 2014 that Watson went on to win the Masters for a second time. As McIlroy contemplates winning it for the first, he’ll want to forget about this particular weekend. But that was so last Sunday. Next Sunday, ‘Tinsel Town’ will do what it’s most famous for – stage the Oscars.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen