PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. (May 29, 2012) -- Hello, paradise. The high temperature Monday at Riviera Country Club, site of this week’s NCAA Championship, was 72 degrees. The sky looked like blue construction paper. A comfortable wind blew off the Pacific. Might as well take a photograph, add a postage stamp in the top-right corner and sign it, “Wish you were here!”
This year’s national championship has gone so Hollywood, with team vans driving down Sunset Boulevard and players staying at the glamorous Loews Hotel near Santa Monica and everybody seemingly watching the first-place Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.
Now, however, those uniquely L.A. experiences are rendered mere footnotes. For the next six days, Riviera takes center stage at college golf’s biggest event.
“Why are majors played on these kind of courses?” Illinois coach Mike Small asked Monday during a practice round. “It’s the magnetism. The excitement. The fans. The tradition. It’s the entire atmosphere that elevates the event. You can’t help but embrace it.”
Another idea worth embracing: the hometown teams, the SoCal kids, have a significant advantage at this year’s NCAA Championship. OK, so USC and UCLA play here. A lot. Since May 19, the final day of NCAA regionals, the Trojans have played eight times at Riviera. They know the grasses, the breaks, the angles. And they also know that doesn’t mean anything if they don’t play well the next three days.
The other 28 teams in the field were forced to get creative. Some teams on Sunday played Los Angeles Country Club’s North course. Others played Bel-Air. A few played Sherwood. To acquire a few nuggets of local knowledge, Small has placed a few calls to Steve Stricker, a winner here in 2010. North Florida coach Scott Schroeder has Jim Furyk’s yardage book and the past two years’ worth of pin sheets. Alabama coach Jay Seawell taped coverage of the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open in February.
Of course, those coaches learned more during a