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Hoch a Throwback to the Button-Down Pro

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Scott Hoch was bubbling. Yes, bubbling. This is the way wife Sally says we should see him at home, instead of the perceptions we get when we let our eyes and ears do the logistics. That would be from an assortment of press clippings he has accumulated during his 20 years as a pro. Scott Hoch may seem like an ogre, act at times like an ogre, but Sally says he really isn't an ogre around her and their two children, 17-year-old Cameron and 15-year-old Katie.
 
A personal aside here: Hoch is the only player to invite me to a social gathering in 20 years of covering golf. That may be because of Sally. But it says a lot about the Hochs - that they don't socialize with the stars alone when it comes to making out the Christmas party invitations. I have known several golfers more intimately than him, have worked with a few more closely, but he alone has gone out of his way to make out the invitation list with my name on it.
 
Hoch won at Greensboro last week. On Tuesday he had made the papers with an observation about the length of the rough, down three inches from what it normally is. 'Hoch's whining again,' became the headlines. He always makes the headlines, you see. Partly, it must be admitted, because he's made another rash-but-honest statement about this or that.
 
'I'm not real easy to know,' Hoch said. 'I'm not an open book by any means.'
 
So much of his professional life has been headline stuff. It doesn't have to be the things he says. The things he does tend to be larger than life. He missed a 30-inch putt in overtime at the 1989 Masters when a bullseye would have won it for him. Nick Faldo wriggled off the hook and won on the very next hole.
 
A year later, Hoch had forgotten it. 'Sometimes, something like this makes you a better person in the long run,' he said, sighing at the thought of it.
 
'I say, 'Look, golf is not everything in life.' Sure, it was a big tournament, and it might have set me up for life. But then again, it might have made me complacent. I've just got to feel that it happened, in the long run, for the good.
 
'I've got to feel that it must have been in my best interest that it didn't happen.'
 
The mind strains to figure what 'the best interest' could be, but at any rate, it helped him through an extremely rough moment. Three weeks later, he won Las Vegas. And in a development that stunned just about every one, he gave $100,000 of his winner's check to the Arnold Palmer children's hospital in Orlando for the work the staff did a couple of year's earlier while treating then 2 ?-year-old Cameron for a bone infection. You just never can tell.
 
The Hochs were close friends with, of all people, the late Payne Stewart and his wife Tracey. Payne, a free spirit who socially was the exact opposite of Hoch, took the loss to Faldo in the Masters very hard. Forever etched in the memory is Stewart screaming at a television set in the Augusta lockerroom, 'Come on Hawtch! Come on Hawtch!' 'Hawtch' was the bastardization of Hoch, something peculiarly Payne-like.
 
It was the Hochs who persuaded the Stewarts to make their home in Orlando. And it was Stewart that denied Hoch a chance for at least a couple more victories. Hoch was tied for the lead in 1983 entering the final round at Disney and wound up losing by three to Stewart. And who could forget that disastrous final day in Houston in 1995 when Hoch led by seven with seven holes remaining - and lost to Stewart in a playoff.
 
His lack of appreciation has gone transcontinental - he called St. Andrews a 'piece of mess' and refused to play in the British Open in the mid-1990s. Even Sally was taken aback by that one - 'He shouldn't have said it,' she said. 'He's off-the-cuff.' But say it Hoch did, explaining later that the cold weather is not to his liking and the course is played opposite the way early golfers intended. Never mind that Lee Westwood said much the same thing a few years later.
 
Hoch can be extremely likeable, but he can be perplexing when quotes appear with his name attached. He speaks his piece, but then often when the article appears, he disavows saying it. Writers give him plenty of cause for headache, especially the Brit tabloids who take a scrap of truth and twist it into a bible of untruths. But he himself can at times be baffling.
 
The majority of those incidents, though, occurred 10 or 15 years earlier. Time heals wounds and it heals personalities. Scott Hoch is not who he was 10 years ago when he was 35. His give-and-take with the media at the Greensboro victory was punctuated with laughter. The rough, he kidded after it was over, was perfect. It was an advantage, actually, having rough that was shorter.
 
'I consider myself a pretty good iron player out of the rough, as long as it is not too thick - even out of the rough this week,' said Hoch.
 
'Obviously I was barking a little bit earlier, but you know, good play can overcome a lot of things.'
 
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Scott Hoch comments on his GGCC win