The World Series of Golf used to signal the end of the PGA Tour
season, and in some ways it still does. The World Series,
surfing in the wake of the PGA Championship, is the last time
many of the top players compete while their games are in peak
When the Greater Milwaukee Open, a sincere little event trolling
behind the World Series, finally rolls around, the big names are
long gone. Last week, for example, only five of the top 50
players in the world showed up at Brown Deer Park Golf
Course--not that anyone noticed. The tournament had all the
heroes it needed.
Let's start with Scott Hoch, who is bad news...for Europe. Yes,
the Ryder Cup is still three weeks away, and it's how you're
playing during those three heart-pounding days in Spain, not
now, that matters. But Hoch made an already formidable U.S. team
look even stronger when he dramatically chipped in for eagle on
the final hole, to win at Milwaukee for the second time in three
Three of the four players who won this year's majors--Tiger
Woods (Masters), Justin Leonard (British Open) and Davis Love
III (PGA)--are on the U.S. team, as are seven of the top 12
players in the World Ranking. Hoch, at 14, is not among that
group, but look at what he has done in match play. After winning
the U.S. portion of the Andersen Consulting World Championship
last year, he took Greg Norman to the 36th green before losing
the final. He has also played a key role on the two winning U.S.
Presidents Cup teams. If Hoch is playing close to his best later
this month at Valderrama, captain Tom Kite's only problem will
be finding four guys to sit out for the four-ball and foursomes
matches. "Scott is really an underrated player," says Loren
Roberts, a member of the '95 Ryder Cup team who, along with
David Sutherland, tied for second in Milwaukee, a stroke behind
Hoch. "He's scrappy and a good iron player. He never backs down.
Nobody seems to bother him."
Hoch, the only Ryder Cupper to play in Milwaukee, came to the
557-yard, par-5 finishing hole needing a birdie to tie Roberts.
After an A-plus drive Hoch hit a three-wood that carried into
the deep fringe behind the left side of the green, leaving him a
slick downhill-sidehill shot from 60 feet. "It was a shot in the
dark under those circumstances," said Hoch. As his eight-iron
chip rolled to within five feet of the cup, Hoch raised his arms
in anticipation. He knew the ball was going to go in. "Good
thing I didn't have a four-footer, it might have been a
different story," Hoch said, making a joking reference to his
well-known struggles with short putts. "This was just my range."
He finished 16 under par after opening with a 70 and then firing
Though he keeps the media at arm's length these days due to past
slights, both perceived and real, Hoch's honest opinions and
self-deprecating humor can be ingratiating. He was poking fun at
himself on Sunday when he said that something was missing from
this victory, the eighth of his 18-year career on Tour. "I
didn't screw up a few weeks earlier," he said. "That seems to be
my M.O. I usually give away something and then have to battle
back." In 1989 Hoch missed a short putt on the first playoff
hole and lost the Masters but came back three weeks later to win
in Las Vegas. In 1995 he coughed up a seven-stroke lead on the
final 13 holes of the Houston Open, then rebounded to win his
first Greater Milwaukee Open.
Hoch had never before held on to a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
At 41 he is the oldest rookie in the history of the event and
the senior man on the U.S. team. "I've been burned by not being
on the team once or twice," he says. "I've had the chance to
make the team on my own and didn't do it, but there have been
times when I thought I should've been picked."
Roberts and Sutherland nearly picked off Hoch on Sunday.
Roberts, the quiet defending champion, has struggled with his
game since overcoming back problems earlier in the year. On Aug.
26 he received a quick lesson from the Harvey Penick of
Wisconsin, Manuel de la Torre of Milwaukee Country Club, and
despite a bad cold, shot no worse than 69 on the 6,739-yard,
par-71 Brown Deer course. When Sutherland, who had opened a
three-shot lead going to the final nine, faltered on the way in,
Roberts took the lead with a tap-in birdie at the 371-yard,
par-4 16th. At the 18th, however, he hooked his three-wood
approach and after a free drop near the bleachers slipped his
sand wedge under his ball, leaving it short of the green.
Although he got up and down, the par on the easy birdie hole was
his undoing. "My destiny was in my own hands, and I didn't make
birdie at 18," Roberts said. "You don't think Scott is going to
chip in, but I knew my not making birdie left the door open."
Sutherland, 31, a native of Roseville, Calif., with a uniquely
s-l-o-w takeaway, nearly matched Hoch's theatrics. Sutherland
had chipped in for eagle at the 4th hole on Sunday to help build
his lead, but it was gone by the time he reached the 18th, and
he needed another eagle to force a playoff with Hoch. He hit a
three-wood to the back edge of the green in two, 50 feet away on
almost the same line as Hoch's chip. Sutherland's putt looked
good all the way but curled around the right side of the cup and
stayed out. Stunned, Sutherland fell to his hands and knees.
Hoch, watching from behind the green, also bent over in nervous
disbelief at how close Sutherland's ball had come to going in.
"I'd like to play the round over, but I wouldn't play the 18th
again," Sutherland said. "I hit as good a putt as I could've."
Sutherland has been playing well of late. Before Milwaukee, his
three previous finishes were a 23rd at the Sprint International,
a 15th at the Buick Open and a tie for sixth at the Greater
Vancouver Open. The $114,400 he earned for tying Roberts means
that he'll join his older brother, 33-year-old Kevin, as an
exempt player in 1998. "My goal was to win," David said. "I've
had a lot of seconds and thirds as a pro, but I've never won
anything important." A history buff who finds the Civil War
particularly interesting, Sutherland was asked which battle his
final round most resembled. "Probably Gettysburg," he said. "It
started off well, then went real bad at the end--for the
That sounds like Larry Nelson's week, too. Milwaukee was
Nelson's final Tour event before he turns 50 on Sept. 10 and
joins the Senior tour. His 69-69-68 start got him within range
of the leaders, but a closing 72 dropped him to 46th. His goal
was to make his last three cuts--as what, a junior?--and he did
it at the Buick Open, the PGA and the Milwaukee Open. He tied
for second at Doral this year, but four years of inattention to
his game in the early '90s showed. "I lost a lot because I was
doing other things and enjoying my sons," Nelson says. One of
his sons, 21-year-old Drew, is a mini-tour golfer while the
other, 18-year-old Josh, attends Auburn. "They were important to
me, and my golf game wasn't. I enjoyed every minute of watching
them grow up. Now I can focus on me for the first time in 15
Nelson will begin his Senior career next week at the Boone
Valley Classic outside St. Louis and possibly play five weeks in
a row in an attempt to earn his way into the Senior Tour
Championship in November. He has always been a driven competitor
and should do well on the Senior tour. "He's a lot like Gil
Morgan--real solid but not a great putter," says ESPN
commentator Andy North. "If he putts well, he could be Number 1
on the Senior money list. He has struggled at times. I've played
with him when he won with two putters in his bag. But I like his
chances as a Senior. If he needs to raise money, I'd be glad to
Nelson, who won a U.S. Open (1983) and two PGAs (1981 and '87),
wouldn't be starting his Senior career if he hadn't been passed
over for the Ryder Cup captaincy. When Lanny Wadkins was named
captain of the '95 team, Nelson was told by PGA of America
officials that he would get the job in '97. The next thing he
knew, Kite was selected. No explanation or apology was
forthcoming. "It's not important now," Nelson says. "A lot of
really good players never get the opportunity to be the Ryder
Cup captain. In years to come I just hope I'm considered one of
Like Hoch, Nelson preferred to look at his week in Milwaukee as
a beginning, not an end.