He's awake while his family sleeps. Midnight comes and goes. One
a.m. turns into 3 a.m. The black-and-white movies, the
SportsCenter highlights, the news updates, they all blur in
Scott Hoch's mind after a while. There are three televisions in
his office at home, in Orlando, and he watches them all at the
same time. This happens often. Sometimes, in the night's
smallest hours, the ghosts come out. An ill son in 1986. Can't
somebody figure out what's wrong with him? A stickup in a hotel
room at the Tucson Open in 1982. Just don't shoot my wife! A
missed 30-incher at Augusta, the putt that cost him the Masters
in 1989. What I would give to have that one again!
He's 41 and has been playing the Tour for 18 years, and only a
few people know him, appreciate what he has been through,
understand what he wants. His wife, Sally. (She was tied up in
the holdup but unharmed.) His parents and brother. Katie, the
Hochs' 11-year-old daughter. Cameron, their 13-year-old son, now
fully recovered from a rare bone infection. They know the Scott
Hoch you don't. They know that he's loyal, dedicated and honest,
that he's kind to dogs and old people, generous to his church
and his alma mater and to local hospitals. (After winning the
1989 Las Vegas Invitational, Hoch gave $100,000 to the Arnold
Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando and is giving
$1 million more.) They see the glee he derives from riding a Jet
Ski. To make his living, he must leave his sanctuary in Orlando,
board the private jet he owns and confront a hostile world. Hoch
departs from home carrying clubs and a briefcase, his face
covered by an armored mask.
Next week, at the Ryder Cup at Valderrama, Hoch's interior life
will be on display as never before. Hoch will be the oldest
Ryder Cup rookie ever, competing in the most widely watched golf
event in the world. He goes in unawed. "Corey Pavin says, 'The
Ryder Cup is like nothing you've ever felt before. You're so
nervous, you can't even breathe, you can't eat,'" Hoch says. "I
can't imagine anything like that. We'll see."
If the U.S. team has a secret weapon, it is Hoch. The man is
afraid of nothing. He does not get nervous. In battle he is
happy. He could come back from Valderrama an American hero and
bury some ghosts along the way. He could return home appreciated
in the game for the first time in his life, for he's very
possibly the most underrated player in golf today, taking that
mantle from Wayne Levi.
Because his competitiveness is so transparent, because there is
no filter between his brain and his mouth, he has never had
bunches of friends on the Tour. "Scott can make a compliment
sound like an insult like no one else," says Lee Janzen, a
friend and neighbor of Hoch's. "I was in the locker room on
Saturday at the '96 U.S. Open, having sculled a bunker shot to
finish on Friday with a triple, and was still feeling pretty hot
about it. Scott came over, pulled the sand wedge out of my bag
and said, 'You're usually a lot better with this club.' I knew
he meant it as a compliment, that I'm a good bunker player, but
it wasn't the most comforting thing he could have said."
Hoch is "bitter" about his standing in the game--that's his
word--but he doesn't see anything changing, not with the public,
not with his fellow Tour players. "It's too late," he says. It's
possible, of course, that he's wrong.
On the last day of last month, in Milwaukee, Hoch demonstrated
why he might be the most dangerous Ryder Cup player on either
team. On the final hole of the Greater Milwaukee Open at Brown
Deer Park Golf Course, Hoch, in the third-to-last group, stood
over a 60-foot chip for eagle. He was a shot off the lead.
Nobody talks about Hoch's chipping. He drives the ball
competently: not long, but reasonably straight. His putting is
ordinary. His iron play is superb. His finesse game--his wedge
play, his chipping--is outstanding. He chipped with an
eight-iron on the final green in Milwaukee, and as his ball
approached the hole, Hoch's arms shot straight up like a
referee's when signaling a touchdown, except that in football
they wait for the ball to reach the end zone before making the
The ordinary Tour player does not put his arms up in that
situation, not before the ball has gone down. That would be
tempting fate. If the ball stays out, then you're stuck with
your arms in the air looking like an arrogant fool. "If it
doesn't drop, so what? I put my hands down," says Hoch. He
doesn't worry about the game's tradition of restraint or
tempting the golfing gods or any of that ethereal stuff that,
for many, is at the core of the sport. His caddie, Greg Rita,
says Hoch doesn't have any golfing idiosyncrasies, which is in
itself pretty weird. Hoch's ball did a little disappearing act
on 18, with everybody watching. Draino. Eagle. One-shot lead.
Fifteen minutes later David Sutherland, in the final twosome,
studied a 50-foot eagle putt on the final hole. He needed to
make it to tie Hoch for the lead. The putt shared a line with
Hoch's chip and seemed to be rolling in a rut left behind by his
ball. Sutherland's putt eventually lipped out, but while it was
still bound for the hole, Hoch was ... smiling. He was grinning.
He was loving it. You put your ordinary Tour player in Hoch's
place, he either does a stoic act, for the cameras, or he shakes
his head in disbelief. Hoch was in the thick of match play, and
he was having the time of his life. "He's making a great putt,"
Hoch says. "All you can do is smile. Worse thing that happens,
sudden death. I like my chances in match play."
This is a boast rooted in fact. In the summer prior to his
graduation from Wake Forest, in 1979, Hoch won six matches
before losing in the final of the British Amateur to Jay Sigel.
At the Walker Cup that year, at Muirfield, Hoch didn't lose a
match. In the two Presidents Cups, Hoch has a combined record of
5-2-1. He won matches against Tom Lehman, Mark McCumber, Janzen
and Sam Torrance to reach the final of last year's Andersen
Consulting world championship. In the final, against Greg
Norman, Hoch trailed by five holes at one point, rallied and was
able to extend the match to the 36th green before losing.
It's true that Hoch has only entered the British Open twice--he
defends his right to pick his spots with inane comments about
the Open and its courses, such as when he called St. Andrews
"the biggest piece of mess I've ever seen." Nevertheless, he
plays well overseas. He has won five times in Asia and once in
Europe. His game thrives in dry, warm weather and on short,
tight courses. He makes many birdies. There is every reason to
think that Valderrama and Hoch and the Ryder Cup will be an
exceedingly good fit. For a while there were players and
commentators and fans posing a derisive question: Who can you
pair with a prickly person like Hoch? Davis Love III and Tiger
Woods had told Tom Kite, the U.S. captain, that they would have
no problem partnering Hoch, but in recent days, since the win at
Milwaukee, the question has changed to, Who gets to play with
He'll be an ideal partner because his competitiveness is
extreme. It's no secret that Hoch can be annoying and
ungracious, that he was a charm-school dropout. Nothing about
the way he plays or where he plays his best or what he says
tells you that he loves golf. Maybe that's why writers and TV
commentators and large numbers of fans have been slow to embrace
him. His rank on the alltime U.S. money list, 10th, no doubt
impresses mortgage officers, but not his Ryder Cup teammates.
Woods and Love and Kite see something else in him: fire. So do
"Scott's very confident right now, he's playing the best golf of
his life, he gets a lot out of his game, and he loves to go
head-to-head," says Curtis Strange, who played with Hoch for two
years at Wake Forest. "You saw that in Milwaukee. He likes to be
in that position. Alternate shot in the Ryder Cup, the way he
hits his mid-irons and short irons, he's going to be very
effective. He's one of the better players on the American team."
But praise doesn't inspire Hoch. Slights do. "Brad Faxon doesn't
think I belong on the team," Hoch says sarcastically. This
happens not to be the case. The truth is that Faxon, now on his
second Ryder Cup team, thinks Hoch is an excellent addition to
the squad. "His win at Milwaukee, that lifts the whole team,"
Faxon says. "He has an unbelievably great mind. Nothing bothers
Hoch seems unwilling to forget something Faxon said last year,
when Faxon suggested that exempt players who don't play in the
British Open, such as Hoch, be eliminated from consideration for
the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup teams. Love said
essentially the same thing. Faxon intended to be critical of
Hoch's choice of tournaments, not of Hoch, and has tried to
explain that to Hoch, apparently without success. Faxon said he
planned to have another conversation with Hoch before the start
of the Ryder Cup, to clear the air. A second talk is likely to
change nothing. For Hoch, Faxon is a motivator. Meanwhile, the
two men are teammates.
If you want to find out what being on the Ryder Cup team means
to Hoch, you have to ask his wife. "Scott's been close so many
times. This is something we've both wanted for so long," Sally
Hoch says. "Being on the team proves to other people you've
arrived at a certain level. It's a payoff. People look at you
differently, like, 'Hey, you're a pretty good player after all.'"
Tom Watson has known that for a long time. Two years ago he
urged Lanny Wadkins to consider Hoch as a captain's pick for the
1995 team. "He has been unfairly characterized by the press,"
Watson says. "He's very underrated. He has great skill, and he's
a hell of a competitor. He has never been a great putter. If he
goes over there and wins every match he's in, he'll change the
way he's perceived. I'm rooting for the whole American team.
I'll be particularly pleased to see Scott play well."
Scott Hoch is off to Spain and his first Ryder Cup at the age of
41. Just maybe, he's on the cusp of a new beginning.