AP NEWS

A Two-foot Putt That Meant the World to Two Golfers

April 13, 2019

Thirty years ago, in the fading light of a murky spring evening in Georgia, two men’s lives were forever altered over the wayward track of a two-foot putt.

The putt in question was stabbed by 33-year-old journeyman pro Scott Hoch on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff for the 1989 Masters championship. The down-hiller was yanked and never even glanced at the cup on the way by. Hoch raised his head in anguish and flipped his putter into the air. And then, to his credit, he stood over his four-foot comeback putt and knocked it in for bogey.

Off to the side, already having made his bogey by canning a sidehill five-footer, stood a tall, dark-haired Englishman named Nick Faldo, already a major winner and the complete antithesis of the dour, sour, grinding Hoch.

Now, pro golfers always tell you they don’t wish for anything bad to happen to another player, but you can bet your last shilling that Faldo was harboring such thoughts before Hoch’s fateful hiccup.

Faldo looked even more shocked than Hoch, who had missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win it outright and a four-footer on 17 that would have given him the lead.

Hoch was a rather crotchety Southerner with a bit of a stutter in his speech and an aversion to public appearances. This situation wouldn’t help.

So off they went up the hill in back of the 10th green to the 11th tee for the second hole of the playoff, Faldo with much more pep in his step than poor Hoch, in his red Izod sweater, white visor and stunned expression.

As it turned out, Faldo knocked in a 25-foot birdie putt on 11 -- a hole he had bogeyed all four days of the tournament -- to win the first of his three green jackets. Sir Nick went on to total six major victories in a storied career.

“I’m glad I don’t carry a gun with me,” said Hoch at the end of the day.

What isn’t widely remembered is that perennial Masters bridesmaid Greg Norman, as well as Ben Crenshaw, both bogeyed the 72nd hole or they would have been in the playoff as well. Another stroke back was the great Seve Ballesteros, who was leading until he hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th into the pond.

Faldo himself had been five shots back after his bogey on 11 Sunday, but rallied to shoot 65.

So maybe Scott Hoch was letting his mind wander as he looked over the two-footer that would change his life. Maybe he was thinking about what he would serve at the following year’s Champions Dinner. Or maybe this is what he was thinking -- ‘What the heck am I doing here?’

Hoch won 11 times on the PGA Tour and three times on the Champions Tour. The gaffe at Augusta wasn’t his first in major competition. At the 1987 PGA Championship, Hoch three-putted the 18th hole on Sunday from 10 feet. A two-putt would have put him in a playoff with Larry Nelson (the winner) and Lanny Wadkins.

I was there on that April day 30 years ago, by the way, covering my first of five Masters for this newspaper.

I remember watching Hoch’s playoff putt and reaction from about halfway up the 10th fairway, but I headed back to the media room after that because it was raining and chilly and I couldn’t chance missing any press conferences. I figured if it didn’t end on 11 we would all have to come back the next morning anyway. I saw the winning putt on TV like everybody else.

My final Masters was Tiger’s first victory, in 1997, when he shot 40 on the front nine Thursday and then won by 12. The red sweater had new meaning.

Had Hoch made one of his putts on 17, 18 or 10 that Sunday his life would have been changed forever. He would be respected and saluted as a Masters champion and get to hobnob every year with Arnie, Jack, Tom, Seve and the rest of the Green Jacket Gang. He could write his own ticket.

Later that same year, “Hoch as in Choke” was named the Least Popular Golfer in a Dallas newspaper poll of Tour players, an unnecessary cheap shot. You can bet he was pretty popular in the Faldo household.