It seemed a perfect time to talk about the controversy over a woman member at the storied course. Only Hoch wasn't biting.
'We're concerned with how we're going to play here,' he said.
Outside Augusta National, a vendor was hawking 'I support Hootie' buttons for $5. But the rain had closed the course, and everyone had gone home.
The few players who hung around the clubhouse chatted about the rain, the course and the war in Iraq. On the big screen in the grill room, CNN was showing images of the war.
'We're thinking and worrying about our people in Iraq,' Hoch said. 'This is minuscule compared to that. Even the golf tournament is minuscule compared to that.'
The sight of American troops under fire in Iraq, Hoch said, has cast a somber pall over the Masters.
'This is just a game,' he said. 'Over there, they're playing for their lives.'
RAINY DAY IN GEORGIA:
Players arrived at Augusta National on Monday morning watching the sky warily yet hoping to get in a practice round.
It didn't take long for those hopes to be dashed.
A thunderstorm dumped so much water on the course that players were left to hang around on the front porch or in the locker room waiting in vain for a chance to play.
Fans had it even worse. They had coveted tickets to the first practice round, but were never allowed in the gates. About midmorning, tournament officials formally closed the course for the day.
It was the first time in 20 years that the gates to the Masters had been closed because of weather.
'We are disappointed that our patrons could not enjoy today's practice round,' Augusta National Golf Club chairman Hootie Johnson said. 'However, our first concern must be safety.'
Masters officials said fans will be sent refunds in May for their unused tickets and given preference to buy practice tickets for next year.
BIG HITTER ADVANTAGE:
Last year, the locker room conversation was all about how Augusta National was lengthened and changed to protect it from big hitters.
This year, there's only one change - but it could make the fifth hole a real brute.
The par-4 hole was lengthened 20 yards to 455 yards, but the added length isn't what will make it so tough. The fairway and the fairway bunkers were shifted right, increasing the dogleg on the hole, and the fairway bunkers were extended some 80 yards closer to the green.
Players trying to hit it over the bunkers must now carry it 315 yards. If they play it down the fairway, they'll have a mid- to long-iron into a tricky green.
Monday's rain will also make the course even longer than its 7,290 yards, a big advantage to Tiger Woods and other big hitters.
'It's going to be a difficult week for anyone but a long hitter to win,' Scott Hoch said.
Rich Beem is a quick study when it comes to Masters tradition.
Even though he's a newcomer to Augusta National, he knows the club offers various pieces of crystal for special feats - a vase for the lowest score of the day, a large bowl for a hole-in-one or double eagle, and a pair of goblets for an eagle.
'I'm a golf geek at heart,' Beem said. 'I want to know all the tidbits.'
He also knows about the biggest prize of all - the green jacket - and knew what he'd do if he won it.
'I'll go to the beach in that thing,' he said. 'It might upset the club, but I would do everything in that jacket - and I do mean everything.'
TIGER VS. JACK: Gary Player doesn't think it's fair to draw comparisons between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods because they used different equipment and played on golf courses that were not set up the same.
Still, he thinks Nicklaus had tougher competition when he won 18 professional majors than Woods has faced while winning eight majors.
'If you look at the pictures in 1935, there were probably 35 players who could win,' Player said. 'In our time, there were 60, and now there are 100. But when Nicklaus played, there were far more great players, stars, capable of winning majors.'
Player cited a small number of golfers who are still competitive and have multiple majors on their resumes - Woods, Vijay Singh, Nick Price, Ernie Els.
'It was tougher for Nicklaus to win a major in his time,' he said.
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