The Riviera’s Dangerous and Deceptive 10th Hole

By Annie Krall
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES — Next to the infamous 10th hole tee box of the Riviera Country Club during the Genesis Invitational stands a man who is no stranger to the spot. Dana Crocker has been a marshal on this exact hole for the past eight years and has seen so much transpire on its rolling greenery he might as well be its defacto grandfather. While it may be beautiful with rose bushes and a 70-degree sun overhead making the air feel crisp and full of possibility, it is also a place of potential danger.

Crocker has seen four spectators get hit on this hole in his time as a marshal. He said the most recent bloody incident was actually captured on his smartphone. It inspired a short trip down memory lane as the first round of the 2020 tournament passed by over his left shoulder.

Tour veteran Dustin Johnson learned about the dark side of this tricky par-4 during the Genesis Invitational two years ago. Johnson’s somber tale at the 10th hole inspires respect and the need to reflect on this notorious hole’s past.

Crocker saw it all in 2018.

“The guys can drive the green which makes it exciting for the fans,” Crocker said. “Then to watch them go down there and their skill around the green [on the 10th] is phenomenal.”

The landing area to the left of the green is where spectators usually get hit. No one has ever been fatally injured but Crocker revealed that “when you’re marshaling down there you have to tell people ‘Hey pay attention because balls will fly through here.’”

Two years ago, a spectator standing in the landing area on the left-hand side of the 315-yard hole heard a dramatic “Fore!” then soon found out why. The unassuming fan was struck in the head by Johnson’s massive drive. With blood dripping from his hairline down to his sunglasses, it was a sight suited more for a hockey rink than a golf course.

However, that’s not the end of the story.

Crocker was mere feet away when Johnson took a pen, signed a new glove and walked over to the man he had decked with his drive. Like real gentlemen after a fight, the two shook hands and Crocker captured the whole thing on tape. A medical team did come to his aid and the man was eventually alright.

Two years after hitting the spectator, Johnson told Medill Reports “we try not to hit people, but it happens. So, you try and be as nice as you can to them.”

This hole isn’t dangerous just for spectators.

Players were challenged by the deceptively short par-4 during the first day of the 2020 tournament. Only 35 of the 120 competitors were able to snag a birdie on the 10th hole. For comparison, the second hole, the number one handicap hole, held the talented field to just 20 birdies.

Sean Yu, the Genesis Collegiate Showcase winner from San Jose State, bombs driver on the 10th hole to the left landing area where two years ago Dustin Johnson struck a spectator with his tee shot. Yu didn’t cause any injuries beyond himself with a third-to-last finish in the first round. (Annie Krall/MEDILL)

What makes the hole difficult is the temptation.

It’s the forbidden fruit hanging in the wind that is ripe for the taking if they can just send their ball soaring onto the narrow green. The average driving distance for pros has been going up for years. It was 295 yards in 2018, according to the PGA. A hole that played 302-yards for the first day of the 2020 tournament is well within most competitors’ reach.

The 10th hole waits for the next group of competitors to try their luck on its 315 yards of deceptive beauty. (Annie Krall/MEDILL)

Yet, standing on the tee box each player seems to wipe out a different smorgasbord selection for their tee shot. Irons, drivers and fairway woods each make an appearance with every new player on the tee box. That is because laying up in front of the 10th hole’s collection of left, right and back bunkers is perhaps safer than trying to hit the very narrow horizontal green.

In the game of golf, just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

Johnson revealed it is the wind that dictates what club he hits off the tee.

“But I’m always trying to hit it just left of the green there,” Johnson said. “Depending on where the pin is, you know, and whether you want to hit it just past or leave it just short left. But short left is always good to every pin.”

Matthew Wolff (left) and Rory Sabbatini (center) internally debate which club to pull out of their bag on the tenth tee Thursday. (Annie Krall/MEDILL)

“These guys all love it now because they’re using all these new clubs to get to the green,” said Gordie Johnson, the 10th hole captain who has volunteered as a marshal and a hole captain at this confounding hole for the past 28 years. He has been at this exact hole longer than Tiger Woods, who first played at the Riviera in 1996 at just 16 years old and said he has seen the hole played every way imaginable.

Gordie Johnson, the 10th hole captain, (left) and Dana Crocker, a 10th hole marshal, (right) are all smiles for another year of fun and fanfare at the first round of the 2020 Genesis Invitational. (Annie Krall/MEDILL)

Gordie had the pleasure of getting Tiger’s autograph a few years ago. Yet, he has taken a hit on the front lines of the 10th hole thanks to a different golf legend, Arnold Palmer. Fifteen years ago while volunteering, Palmer decided to use Gordie’s left thigh as accidental target practice.

“I had a bruise for three weeks,” Gordie joked.

Gordie finally gets his Tiger Woods Wheaties Box and Nike hat signed after waiting 15 years for the meeting. (Dana Crocker/Genesis Invitational)

The two men belong to the same club, Almansor Court, in Alhambra, CA and have learned how to poke fun at one another over the years. Crocker cracked a smile when saying that “the cereal is still good” even after a decade of Gordie’s waiting for his Tiger Wheaties Box to be signed.

Alhambra is about an hour and a half west of Riviera Country Club. Their location makes them a key player in the tournament’s volunteering operation. Each of the 18 holes is marshalled by one individual organization. Gordie said “the club has had hole 10 for the past 47 years.” So it seems the men of Almansor Court aren’t going away any time soon.

Gordie Johnson and Crocker are testaments to how much history is baked into the deep bunkers of the 10th hole — living, breathing textbooks of golf’s past. But as the future comes with new technological advances which make balls go farther and faster, one thing that will never change are the stories.

Jack Nicklaus, who has won the most majors (18) in PGA history, said it is “one of the best 10th holes in major championship golf.”

Crocker couldn’t help but agree. “It’s one of the best holes in golf.”

Photo at top: The spectator struck by Dustin Johnson’s drive on the 10th hole in 2018 lays conscious but injured in the landing area surrounded by fellow fans. Johnson gives him a glove and a respectful handshake. (Dana Crocker/Genesis Invitational)