You are Scott Hoch, as in choke, and here you are, back in the
Georgia pines, only 70 miles or so from the scene of the
defining moment of your 16-year career on the PGA Tour. It was
more than seven years ago that you missed that 30-inch putt on
the first playoff hole of the 1989 Masters. One lousy putt.
You've hit it over and over in your mind, and every time it goes
in dead center. But you missed the one that counted, blowing the
best chance you've had at winning a major championship, and the
newspaper vultures, the guys who couldn't make a tap-in if more
than $5 was at stake, start circling every time you get on a
leader board. Hoch, as in choke. Jeez, you're just sooooooo
tired of hearing it.
Now you're at a central Georgia resort known as Reynolds
Plantation, and it's 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, the end of a
long day of golf. You're holding an expensive crystal bowl that
you've just been handed for winning the U.S. region of the $3.65
million Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf--is that a
mouthful, or what?--and your sharp, hawklike face is twisted into
that crooked smile of yours while some guys in blazers and
neckties are calling you a "heckuva competitor" and sweet stuff
like that. Last year you blew a five-shot lead in the final
round at Houston, and, naturally, the vultures trotted out the
Masters thing all over again.
Well, you showed them all, didn't you? To hell with the $200,000
prize money and the chance to win another $800,000 in a Final
Four showdown against the winners of the Europe, Japan and
International regions early next year at the Grayhawk Golf Club
in Scottsdale, Ariz. The money is nice, sure, but the
satisfaction is the thing. You are the match play champion of
the U.S., and your adrenaline is still flowing, which is
slightly amazing considering what you've just survived.
Yesterday, in the first round, you eliminated Tom Lehman, one
up. Today you hit your first drive at 9:30 a.m. and then waited
to exhale through 10 hours and 40 holes.
First you put away Mark McCumber, who won the U.S. part of this
noble experiment last year, outlasting him in a 23-hole marathon
that completely screwed up ESPN's live coverage. Then you took
Lee Janzen, the 1993 U.S. Open winner, and just kept laying
eight-to-10-foot putts on him, some for birdies and others to
save par, until the 16th hole, when Janzen, down by only a hole,
finally came unglued. What finished him off was your second
shot, a semi-impossible seven-iron out of some trees and onto
the green 185 yards away. His concentration gone with the wind,
Janzen plunked his second shot into the water on the left. For
the first time in two days, three matches and 52 holes, you had
the luxury of a 2-up lead. Janzen also splashed his tee shot on
number 17, a nasty par-3. He hit from the drop area, hoping for
a miracle, but instead fed the fish again. You saw him throw up
his arms but were too far away to hear him cry, "That's it. I've
May 5, 1996
You're Scott Hoch, as in choke, and you like match play, even
wish there were more of it. But since the PGA Championship went
to medal in 1958, match play has been about as rare on any of
the world's five pro tours as a six-putt. So you were intrigued
in October 1994 when you heard that Tim Smith, who worked as
former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman's deputy, had persuaded
the major men's tours to sanction an international match play
tournament that would, Smith hoped, include the 32 players who
lead the Sony World Ranking.
Last year a lot of the top players took a wait-and-see attitude,
meaning that among other things, the first U.S. regional lacked
in marquee value. But when everyone saw McCumber pocket a cool
$350,000 for finishing third overall to England's Barry Lane, a
lot of players suddenly started checking their Sony numbers.
You didn't learn that you were officially in this year's field
until February, when Fred Couples decided to skip the trip to
Georgia to fulfill a long-standing commitment in Japan. At the
trophy presentation, you remember to smile and thank Couples.
Or, as you call him, "the one who really made all this
possible." Hey, that's a joke, as in Hoch.
Talking to the crowd, you get in a couple of shots as crisp as
anything you hit on the course. You mention the Ryder Cup.
During one five-week stretch last summer, you won three events
on one tour or another, including a victory in the Heineken
Dutch Open over a field that included all but two members of the
European Ryder Cup team. But did U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins name
you to his squad? Of course not. So you stand up there clutching
your crystal bowl, and this is what comes out of your mouth:
"Last year both Lee Janzen and I were considered for the Ryder
Cup. We didn't make it, and maybe a reason was they didn't know
how we could do in match play. I hope we've answered that. We
can play some match play."
Of all the holes you played at Reynolds Plantation, the one you
appreciate the most is the one that closed out the McCumber
match, the third go-round on the par-3 17th. You had a 21/2-foot
putt for birdie, but McCumber graciously conceded it to you
after he had missed his birdie attempt. The symbolic import was
heavy. Everybody in the gallery was whispering, "Isn't that
about the same length as...." Yeah, it was. But as you said at
the post-tournament press conference, "I just jarred those kind
of putts both days here. I've missed a 2 1/2-footer before, as
you guys probably remember. But this was a different putt under
When you strolled into that press session, only four of the
chairs were occupied by note-takers. This was to be expected,
considering the newness of the event and the way it was
shoehorned into the Tour schedule, but you couldn't resist.
"Where is everybody? They all leave? I guess they didn't get the
winner they wanted." There it was again. The bitterness or chip
on the shoulder.
When you talk about watching last year's Andersen Consulting
deal on TV, you suddenly remember how angry you were at CBS
during the final round of this year's Masters. "On Sunday at
Augusta, it was the Faldo-and-Norman show. They didn't show
anybody else." You tied for fifth this year, proof that you can
hold your own at the Masters, and you think it would have been
nice if the TV audience had seen that the '89 debacle didn't
So you're Scott Hoch, as in choke, and you're looking forward to
the Final Four in Arizona. Hisayuki Sasaki has won in Japan. You
expect somebody like Lane or Colin Montgomerie to win the
European region. And wouldn't it be something if Norman, whose
collapse on the final day of this year's Masters almost puts a
positive spin on your flop, won the International region? You
didn't see Norman's shocking meltdown because you were on the
course, playing some high-quality golf that CBS all but ignored.
But you regularly checked the scoreboards, and you got this
sinking feeling as Greg frittered away a stroke or so on every
hole. That night you and your wife, Sally, agreed that it would
be fitting to send Norman a note. You don't reveal the message,
except to say that "Been there, done that" is in it somewhere.
On the Monday after the Masters, you hear that Norman is getting
a ton of sympathetic faxes and notes and calls. One of them will
be yours, and it's heartfelt. "I felt terrible, awful, for him,"
you say. "Sally and I know how he felt."
But you also have a question. When you screwed up, why didn't
you get the same kind of sympathy? Why did you get contempt
instead of compassion? "They were pretty tough on me, but kind
of easy on him," you say. "He deserved the response he received.
But all I did was miss a 2 1/2-foot putt, while he had difficulty
all day. I'm just not sure I understand that."