Masters Memories: Scott Hoch’s missed chance
” I just thought, Well, he’s opened the door for me. Then it felt like destiny. ” – Nick Faldo
Winning golf tournaments at the professional level is insanely difficult, and the difference between winning and losing in most cases is razor thin. For a lot of players, getting that win is a massive deal, which is exactly why you saw the kind of emotion that you did from Vaughn Taylor and his family a few weeks ago at Pebble Beach. This was a second chance at life on the PGA Tour for Taylor, and the impact of it all is even more true when we talk about major championships.
Mike Weir was an established winner on the PGA Tour when he won the Masters in a playoff against Len Mattiace in 2003, but Mattiace was a relative unknown who would have had his career made by putting on that green jacket. Since that loss thirteen years ago, Mattiace has four top-10 finishes worldwide with all of them coming on the Web.com Tour. Sergio Garcia, who has more talent than just about anyone the golf world has seen in the last thirty years, has won enough tournaments worldwide in his career to make almost everyone in the game jealous, but the major title has eluded him to date. Whether it’s fair or not (it’s not), that’s what most people will remember about him unless he nails one down.
The point is that the list of players who have missed opportunities at major championships is a long one, and it goes from people like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus all the way down to Jean van de Velde, but there’s an argument to be made that no one, even van de Velde, has suffered a more agonizing defeat at a major than Scott Hoch at the 1989 Masters.
The weather didn’t cooperate much for the tournament that year, forcing players to complete their third rounds on Sunday morning before starting their final eighteen holes. Ben Crenshaw held a four shot lead when play resumed on Sunday morning, but that lead was cut to one before the final round started, leading to a final day that would see six players have at least a share of the lead on the back nine. Nick Faldo overcame a third round 77, and an awful sweater, to post a final round 65 and the clubhouse lead at 5-under par thanks to a pair of improbable birdie putts on both 16 and 17. Mike Reid and Seve Ballesteros held the lead on the back at 6-under par, but both would find the water on 15 and 16 respectively to fall out of contention.
Australia’s Greg Norman, who had his own near miss in 1986 against Jack Nicklaus and was the victim of an unlikely chip in from Larry Mize in 1987, was lights out on the back nine looking to claim his first Masters. He would make birdies on 13, 15, 16 and 17 thanks to a hot putter and deadly iron game.
The run allowed Norman to be tied for the lead as he stepped onto the 18th tee. He found the fairway with his drive, but his approach was short, ending up front of the green, meaning that he needed to get up and down to tie Faldo at the top. By no means was it a guarantee, especially with Augusta’s greens, but for a player of Norman’s ability and current form, it seemed likely that he would have a shot at redemption after the previous years of heartbreak. The chip was nowhere near his best effort though.
Norman would finish one shot out of the playoff in a tournament that doesn’t even rank as one of his biggest Masters disappointments, and he never did end up getting to wear that green jacket.
Crenshaw was able to tie Faldo on the 17th with a long birdie putt, but both men were still behind Hoch, who was playing with Crenshaw in the final group. After his approach went over the 17th green, Hoch nearly chipped in to take a two-shot lead, but when it didn’t drop, Hoch was left with more than he wanted to have for par.
With that, Hoch and Crenshaw went up the 18th tied for the lead with Faldo in the clubhouse on the same number. Crenshaw pulled his approach into the bunker on the left side of the green and couldn’t get up and down to stay tied, but Hoch had a long birdie look to win his first major championship.
With the putt just burning the left edge, we had Hoch and Faldo going back to the 10th hole to start the playoff. Both players would end up in the fairway off the tee, but Faldo hit a poor approach into the greenside bunker, while Hoch hit a solid approach below the hole. Faldo would blast out of the bunker and two putt for his bogey, while Hoch sent his birdie putt two feet past the hole.
The greens at Augusta National are notoriously fast and can be very difficult to read, but from two feet away, surely the members at the club were prepping a green jacket in Hoch’s size, right? Well…
Hoch would end up making the putt on the way back, but the agony was apparent when watching his reaction to the missed putt prior to the made one. After the near hole out on 17 and the missed par putt, Hoch was given another chance from a short distance to become a major champion at 33 years old. Instead, the best chance he would likely ever have slipped by the hole. The air had been let out of the balloon and Hoch couldn’t believe it.
Faldo and Hoch made their way to the 11th for the second playoff hole, and after Hoch chipped on from just off the green, Faldo had a long birdie putt for the win and he made sure that there wasn’t a third playoff hole.
With that, Faldo had his first green jacket and second major victory after taking the 1987 Open Championship. Hoch would have thirteen other top-10’s in major championships in his career, but never did end up winning one and to this day is known for the short miss on the first playoff hole. The recap of the tournament in Sports Illustrated had this famous line from writer E.M. Swift:
” There was the 24-inch putt missed by Scott Hoch (rhymes with choke) on the first hole of sudden death, a near-gimme that would have won him the Masters. It was a lousy time for his first three-putt of the tournament. “
“Rhymes with choke” would follow Hoch for years after the tournament. Two years ago, Hoch talked with Alan Bastable from Golf.com about the missed putt. Hoch gave Bastable a series of bizarre answers about the whole thing, but the weirdest may have been when Bastable inquired about what Hoch thought the putt did to his legacy as a player:
” I don’t know—I try to justify it by thinking, “Hey, if I had won a major, I could have gotten in a plane crash trying to chase money somewhere.” Things could have happened to me that weren’t good. I just look at it as a chance missed. “
A chance missed, indeed.