The First Los Angeles Open (Genesis Invitational)
The Los Angeles Open — now known as the Genesis Invitational — was first played January 7 – 10, 1926 at the Los Angeles Country Club. (For what it’s worth, the LA Country Club is scheduled to host the 2023 US Open.)
The event was sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles as part of a promotional “golf week.” The idea, however, apparently came from sports columnist D. Scott Chisholm. Chisholm wrote in the LA Evening Express in July 1925:
A golf week for Los Angeles in the very dead of the winter season. Can you imagine what that would mean in the way of priceless publicity for Los Angeles? Doesn’t that golf week sound pretty good to you?
Not withstanding the fact that it was the writer who first suggested “golf week,” we are of the opinion that it is a darned fine suggestion and ought to be absolutely considered.
How would we celebrate golf week, you might ask. We could run off a 36-hole stroke event for men with handicaps of 12 and less on the Monday and Tuesday on a course other than the one on which the big open would be played. In fact, to spread the honors around, a different course for each round might eb selected, but they should be close together and not too far away from the scene of the big open. That would prove a crackerjack opening for a golf week and net considerable entry money for the [professional] pot.”D. Scott Chisholm, LA Evening Express 27 July 1925
Ultimately, more than 200 golfers signed up to play the tournament, which had a purse of $10,000. Simultaneous tournaments for amateur golfers were held at Brentwood Country Club and El Caballero Country Club.
By way of comparison, the Long Beach Open purse was $2,500. The huge (for the time) purse surely had much to do with the attraction of the event.
In fact, so many entered that the South Course at the Los Angeles Country Club was also employed for the first two rounds.
That last minute change caused a ruckus among the pros who had been practicing exclusively on the North Course. The pros actually put up a petition in protest. (LA Evening Express, Jan. 5, 1926)
It was to no avail. The committee stood firm.
D. Scott Chisholm noted “I believe the tournament committee is doing the very best it knows how. There seems no other logical way out of it, and in view of the fact that not more than a dozen of the local pros have played the south course in two or more years, it seems to me that it’s as fair for one as the other.
Favored for the Open were “mashie wielders from east of the Mississippi,” based on their performances at the early January Long Beach Open. These included Bill Melhorn, MacDonald Smith and Al Espinosa.
Harry Cooper of Texas and renowned trick shot artist Joe Kirkwood led after the first two rounds, with a total of 138. Tied for third at 143 were Al Espinosa, Willie Hunter, Bobby Cruickshank, Al Watrous and Chick Frazer.
Lurking just behind was celebrated amateur George Von Elm of Utah. Von Elm would win the US Amateur in 1926.
Cooper is also an interesting story. His father was a golf pro who had apprenticed to Old Tom Morris. His mother also was a golf pro. The Cooper family had moved to Texas when Harry was young so his father could take a job as a Dallas club professional.
Heading into the final round, Kirkwood had the lead at 211, with Cooper and Von Elm one stroke behind.
On the first hole of the final round, Cooper and Von Elm both were in for a bird and the game was on. Cooper picked up another bird on the second and barely missed one on the fourth to get a par. Von Elm, meanwhile struggled and got down in six on the par three second.
In the space of four holes, Cooper had gained three on Kirkwood and four on Von Elm.
Then Von Elm went on a five-hole birdie streak, finishing the front nine in three under par.
Meanwhile Cooper had struggled a bit. Von Elm and Cooper both ended with 33s at the turn.
On the tenth, Von Elm’s tee shot found a trap and a long putt for par lipped out. Cooper was down in four.
Both birdied eleven.
On thirteen, Cooper drove out of bounds and ended with a six. Von Elm also found trouble and took a six.
Cooper and Von Elm both parred the par 3 fourteenth.
Then Cooper went on a tear, parring the fifteenth, with a birdie on sixteen and and eagle three on the eighteenth. Von Elm dropped a shot on fifteen, then dropped another on sixteen with a three putt on the par five.
Bobby Cruikshank, a pre-tournament favorite, also was in the mix until the 17th, where he carded a six.
Von Elm also had a shot at an eagle on the eighteenth. His second was over the green, and the pitch back apparently barely missed.
The complete text of an article from the 1926 Los Angeles Times follows. The writing is absolutely florid, with no apparent recognition of the perils of a run-on sentence.
Harry Cooper Wins Open Tourney
Texas Pro Wins Huge Prize With 279 Card
Dallas Player Sinks 25 Foot Putt on 18th green to Triumph;
Von Elm Is Runner Up
Los Angeles, January 11, 1926
By Bill Wise
A par 4 on the fifteenth, a birdie 4 on the sixteenth – an eagle 3 on the eighteenth, for a 67, a 72-hole aggregate of 279 and Harry Cooper, Texas Flash had defeated George Von Elm, the greatest amateur in the West, by three strokes for the first annual Los Angeles open title – a certified check for $3500 – and more golfing glory than even the fast-stepping youth stopped to consider after playing his final shot on the north course of the Los Angeles club yesterday.
Al Espinosa of Chicago and Joe Kirkwood of New York finished with 285 to tie for third place, while Wee Willie Hunter of the Brentwood Club, who fought his way through four heart-breaking rounds, Macdonald Smith of New York, twice California open champion, Johnnie Golden, Patterson J.J. and Willie Creavy of Oklahoma City tied with 290 for fourth place in the great classic.
Little Vic D’Alberto, assistant professional at the Los Angeles club and Bobby Cruickshank, Scots veteran of Oklahoma City landed in the fifth-place bracket with 291, one stroke under John Black of Wichita, Kan.
Smiling Bill Melhorn of Chicago, through the medium of a whole flock of missed putts, Al Waltrous, the good-looking boy from Furnitureland – through playing from the rough repeatedly, Joe Lally, El Paso and Phil Taylor, Victoria, with more than the average number of tournament breaks were 294.
Fred Morrison, Ojai, Cal.; Joe Turnsesa, New York, and Jack Hart, Fresno, 295; Ernest Martin, Corona, Cal. and John Rogers, Pittsburg, 296; George Kerrrigan, Pasadena, Frank Walsh, Appleton, Wis. and Harold Sampson, Burlingame, 297, landed in the money.
Once Upon A Time
Leaving the first tee with his morning lead of five strokes evaporated in a cloud of golfing dust that resulted from a 74, two strokes over par for the first half of his final thirty-six-hole drive, the cockiest youth in the whole pounding State of Texas challenged the California State, southern, northern amateur and southern open title-holder to a course-burning eighteen hole duel that found a record gallery of more than 10,000 persons swarming in the wash of California’s greatest title tilt.
Von Elm, with a 67 for the morning round, had finished on even terms with one of the greatest exponents the ancient tee and greens pastime has ever known – Joe Kirkwood, trick shot wizard, had slid through to a slender leading margin of one stroke – Al Espinosa and Vic D’Alberto were one stroke behind – the great MacDonald Smith trailing by but three strokes and others were coming.
While sympathy for the flagging youth tempered the admiration for wonderful golf of California’s greatest, the erstwhile flagging youth, with the mythical bit between his teeth that seldom closed, clawed his way through thousands of encouraging fans to a beautiful birdie four on the first hole of the afternoon round. Von Elm’s birdie for a half on the hole was just as beautiful and the gallery sensed the golfing due that will live long in the memory of the surging, racing throng that fought for position.
The unconscious nerve – the excusable conceit and the snorting charge of the Texas Tornado dropped a twenty-foot putt for another birdie – a 2 this time – on one of the most dangerous holes of the Los Angeles north course.
The overwhelming surge and swirl of the Tornado, engulfed Von Elm – and the fair-haired Ranch club star played six shots before holing out on the same green – and the Texas flash had picked up three strokes on the threatening Kirkwood – four on Von Elm – and was again clawing his way through to another par 4 on the fourth – when his bold twenty-five-foot try for another birdie missed by inches.
Von Elm Sets Sail
George Von Elm, trailing by four strokes – still wondering about that heartbreaking 6 on the par 3 second – started a drive of his own that collected five consecutive birdies and despite the unswerving attack through as many miracle holes – California’s greatest amateur stepped up on the ninth tee with a par 3 for a 32 three strokes under par – and ten holes to go for the most representative miracle ever passed out in western golf circles.
Three puts on the ninth green – while thousands struggled to see Cooper “go for another birdie” and the Texas Tornado, missing the birdie – took a par 3 and the youthful champions were even at the turn – with 33s.
Three over on the second – another on the ninth – and the ever-increasing gallery cheered California’s own – and marveled at the local, State and possible national record of six birdies over nine holes offering one of the stiffest golf tests in the country.
Cooper Links Lothario
“Faint heart ne’er won fair lady,” and if “Lady Luck” “Dame Fortune” and all other mythical feminines had not capitulated to the stout heart that hammered and pounded in the pigeon-like breast of the Texas invader, the law of Cause and Effect was in order a sensational panning by at least 5,000 women and children – and many more boys ranging in age from 6 to 60 – and various other be-ribboned and be-badged individuals who fought to preserve some semblance of order in the greatest golf gallery the local sport has ever known.
After the fourth, when Von Elm started his birdie drive – Cooper popped one over for a five on the canyon hole, while the local ace was dropping a short putt for a great birdie three.
When the Texas Tornado walked up to his ball – he hit it and with a firmness that caused veterans of the game to shiver – and shudder – and the firmness that propelled his driver merged to a boldness with his putter that was positively uncanny.
Von Elm’s pitch left him an eight-foot putt for a birdie 3 on the sixth – Cooper putted twenty-five feet for the same score – mulled over a tricky six-foot return that dropped for a par 4 – just before George’s ball clicked into the cup for this third consecutive birdie.
It is on the seventh hole that will be longest in the memory of all who followed the knicker-clad slashes. Cooper hooked his tee shot into the barranca forty feet below the bottom of the fifth tee – more than seventy-five feet below the level of the trees that are on the rise to the left of the seventh green leaving a blind pitch shot that even Walter Hagen would tremble to play – for results.
Von Elm pulled his wood high up on the fifth tee. Cooper – with a miserable lie waiting just long enough to learn he could not sole his club in the hazard – accepting as accurate the line volunteered by a spectator pitched over the tree – fifteen feet short of the flag.
Von Elm, playing over some of the same trees – between much of the same shrubbery – holed his difficult approach for a birdie 2 – and it was minutes before the crowd would give Cooper his chance for a putt.
All of the experts — alleged and otherwise – had picked Cooper to win – if he didn’t crack under the strain. None of the aforementioned celebrities paused to comment upon the continual smile that even Von Elm’s miracle shots could not erase – and the cocky little Texan hustled his little ball over fifteen feet of deceptive green – for a par 3 and the gallery howled.
Von Elm’s second hooked to the left of the eighth green – Cooper was short. Von Elm’s pitch left him a twelve-foot putt – Cooper’s ball was just inside – and both were down for birdie fours.
Both reached the ninth green from the tee. Von Elm was short on his forty-foot approach. Cooper made another bold stab for a birdie 2 – was down in three and even with his amateur partner when Von Elm missed a four-foot putt for a halve.
News of the course-burning tour of the Texas Tornado and the Red Grange of California golf spread over the ample acres of the Beverly club – and the two youthful contestants all even at the turn, started for home – with a gallery that has been conservatively estimated at 10,000 persons.
George’s drive caught a trap to the right of the tenth fairway – Cooper laid a 250 yard screamer down the center of the course. Cooper essayed a thirty-foot putt for a birdie – missed and was down in 4 and one stroke under Von Elm when the local star’s long putt was a halve ringed the cup.
Two beautiful drives – as many perfect approaches, and cooper dropped a ten-foot putt for a birdie three, while Von Elm’s putt rolled six feet before finding the bottom of the cup on the eleventh for a halve.
Trouble broke going to the long thirteenth, when, after a 250-yard drive – Cooper sliced out of bounds. His third shot was just short of the green – and again the bold shot for a birdie – that would have been a hybrid eagle – missed by inches and it was two putts before he holed out for a six.
Von Elm, from a poor lie in the middle of the fairway, pulled his brassie into the trees to the left of the fairway – fully 150 yards from the green. His out trickled between the same trees – a beautiful try, but sixty yards short and after a pitch that left him a ten-foot putt for a five that rimmed the cup – George was down in six, one over, but still leading Cooper by the slender margin of one stroke.
Von Elm laid his approach dead for a par three on the fourteenth – Cooper barely missed a birdie two and was down in three.
The Texas Tornado swept 275 yards down the center of the fifteenth fairway, while Von Elm’s drive left him with a long difficult down-hill lie for a long iron home. George’s pitch was trapped over the green and Cooper dropped a beautiful mashie dead for a three-foot putt. Von Elm’s out was short, his fourth from the rush behind the green, hit the back of the cup and he was down in 5.
Cooper in Farce
Cooper, faced with one of the shortest putts of his cyclonic golfing round, missed his birdie but was down in 4 to catch Von Elm for the lead in the most thrilling classic the West will ever know.
Cooper barely missed the trap on the right of the long sixteenth, with his second, while Von Elm’s perfect iron rolled over to the far edge of the green. Cooper laid his seventy-five-foot approach dead and was down for a birdie 4. For the second time during the round that will occupy much space in local golf history, Von Elm three-putted and dropped another stroke with a par 5 – two strokes down and two holes to play.
Much has been said about the trick seventeenth hole, but the teeming corsage of the California amateur and the cocky assurance of the Texas professional thrilled thousands when two perfect shots reached the green and held.
The seventeenth ruined Bobby Cruickshank, with a 6 and the fast-stepping Texas Tornado, with the $10,000 Los Angeles Open title in his golf bag, caused the Goddess of Chance to hang her head in shame by putting twenty feet and missing a birdie two by inches. The seventeenth green slopes toward the green at an alarming degree and the slight parallel ledge leading to the flag is a very, very small protection to keep rolling balls from gathering speed and ending in the deep trap guarding the green.
Cooper, putting from the ledge, sent his ball in a semicircle and while even the uninitiated held their breath, the ball, after hitting the back of the cup, started for the barranca, when the Tee and Greens Angels that had carried Cooper through the most sensational golf competition of his career, intervened and the ball stopped rolling. Von Elm was down in three and Cooper dropped his difficult putt for a half.
Cooper reached the green with a perfect iron that traveled between surging rows of applauding thousands. Von Elm was over the pin with is second and barely missed an eagle three, when up stepped the knicker-clad Tornado from Texas, and as a fitting climax to the most meteoric 72 holes in local history, dropped his twenty-five-foot putt, uphill and everything, for an eagle tree, the most dramatic finale to what must always live as one great tournament.
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