Hoch joins elite group on PGA Tour with Greensboro win


GREENSBORO, North Carolina, Reuters

Scott Hoch became the fifth oldest winner on the U.S. PGA Tour in the past decade when he won the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic on Sunday. The 45-year-old Hoch joined an elite group of players who have won on the PGA Tour after turning 45.

The others to achieve the feat in the past 10 years – Raymond Floyd, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Johnny Miller – are all multiple major champions. Floyd won the 1992 Doral-Ryder Open at the age of 49. Watson (1998 Colonial) and Irwin (1994 Heritage Classic) won at 48, while Miller (1994 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) triumphed at 46. A quick glance at the records reveal that most top players secure their last PGA Tour victory in their early 40s, which makes Hoch’s victory all the more impressive. Hoch, who started the final round with a one-stroke lead at Forest Oaks, was aware that it might be his last realistic chance to win on tour. “You don’t know when it is going to be your last tournament you win,” he admitted after securing his ninth tour victory and his first since 1997.

“I haven’t exactly done a whole lot the last three years to get back in the winner’s circle. “I haven’t been in contention much, but I wanted to prove to myself, no matter what age I am, that I have got the game that can still win.” Hoch shot a final round 69 to finish 16-under 272, one stroke ahead of fellow Americans Scott Simpson and Brett Quigley.

He believes it is a combination of physical and psychological factors that make it so difficult to win after the early 40s. “This is my 22nd year (on tour),” Hoch said.

“All those three-footers, and everything else, it’s got to take its toll. I will tell you, the nerve endings are a little more sensitive than when I was 25. “Some of the guys that have done a lot (won a lot of tournaments), I think have lost interest. Many of them might not be as hungry.” Not surprisingly, Hoch felt extremely nervous during the final few holes: “The last four, five holes, I couldn’t even swallow,” he admitted.

“I don’t know when the last time is my mouth got that dry.” But if one thing calmed him down, it was the feeling of Payne Stewart’s presence via caddie Mike Hicks, who Hoch used this week. Hicks worked for Stewart at the time of the three-time major winner’s death 18 months ago. “I really felt he (Stewart) was out there today,” Hoch said. “I started thinking about it when I got a little down. I can’t say what it was, but something turned me around. All of a sudden, I just felt a calmness out there through the middle of my round.” Whether it was the presence of Stewart or not, Hoch finally won in the state where he was born, raised and educated.

The odds suggest it will be his last win. If it is, he will be able to look back and say he went home to do it.