That much Hoch could accept, but some weeks he was the story and still didn't get his due, and he couldn't fathom why the media cited the Times Herald poll year after year, as if it were an item on a criminal rap sheet. He wondered, too, why columnists who translated his St. Andrews comments into a distaste for overseas travel hadn't bothered to check his itinerary. (Hoch has won twice in South Korea, three times in Japan and once on the European tour.) He has gotten so frustrated at times that he has stopped talking to the media altogether. "Scott doesn't like guys who kiss other people's fannies to get ahead," his dad says. "Those kinds of guys are pitiful. They run out of friends after a while."
Actually, the perceptions of Hoch have long been better than he believed they were. Writers and players alike were impressed when he bounced back from his Masters heartache to win the Las Vegas Invitational three weeks later, beating Wrenn in a playoff. They were even more impressed when he donated $100,000 of his winnings to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando. Did he continue to say things that made scribes cackle over their laptops? Sure, but Hoch set a standard for class at the 1990 Monte Carlo Open, returning half of his appearance fee when he missed the cut. "I thought I owed the organizers that," he says. "For me to play that badly was embarrassing."
Hoch's reputation continued to improve, but he didn't know how much until the winter of 1997, when Washington Post writer Len Shapiro approached him at the Los Angeles Open with a bit of unexpected news: American golf writers had chosen Hoch to receive their Charles Bartlett Award for "unselfish contributions to the betterment of society." Remembering the encounter, Shapiro laughs and says, "He didn't stop walking. He blew me off."
Hoch looks flustered when asked about the award, which he accepted that spring at the annual golf writers' dinner in Augusta. "I was totally surprised," he says. "I mean, I wasn't even talking to them at the time."
These days it's not hard to imagine someone starting a Hoch fan club. "I'd love to be Scott's partner anywhere, anytime," says nine-year Tour pro Len Mattiace, who met Hoch in the early 1990s at a Wake Forest alumni pro-am. "He's a straight shooter, and he's very, very kind." Hoch's breezy manner, which annoyed some players when he was young and cocky, is now viewed as harmlessly sardonic. At the 2000 Match Play Championship, for example, Hoch learned that his next opponent would be the sartorially eccentric Jesper Parnevik. "Hey, Jesper," Hoch shouted across the locker room, "what are you going to wear tomorrow?"
"That'll have to be a surprise," Parnevik said with a smile.
Hoch said, "I wanted to make sure we didn't wear the same thing."
Not to be overlooked amid this bonhomie are Hoch's accomplishments as a player. Since joining the Tour in 1980, he has finished among the top 40 on the money list every year except '92, when shoulder surgery limited him to 16 tournaments. Last year, at an age when even the best pros feel lucky simply to have a Tour card, Hoch won in Greensboro and Chicago, ranked seventh on the money list and guaranteed himself a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. "He's paced himself well," says David Leadbetter, Hoch's coach since the early '90s. "He's a guy who's never gotten burned out."
Last week Leadbetter followed Hoch for five holes of a practice round at Bay Hill and then suggested...very little. "Scott's not a technical player, so we try to keep it simple," Leadbetter said. "When he has the feel, he simply likes to go with it." Hoch practices minimally and rarely plays when he's in Orlando, but last week he knocked off the winter rust and felt his way around the Bay Hill course well enough to tie for ninth, seven strokes behind Woods. "A mechanical player like Nick Faldo can get in a groove and reach great heights," Hoch says, "but when he loses it, he's really lost. When you're a feel player like I am, you're not so grooved and you probably won't reach the highs, but you won't hit the lows either."
The real lows of Tour life have little to do with swing mechanics. Hoch is painfully aware that his son, Cameron, 17, will head off to college (hopefully, Florida Slate) next fall, while daughter Katie, 15, has only two years left at Dr. Phillips High. "You look back at all the stuff you've missed with your family, all the sacrifices they've made for you, and you wonder," he says. "I could retire and not miss golf that much." He quickly adds, "I won't retire. I still have the need to prove myself."