Scott Hoch is a graceful fellow who favors patterned polo shirts and pleated slacks. He smiles a lot. His face is vaguely Roman, lifted from the bust of some forgotten Caesar, and his curly brown hair has thinned, leaving a bald spot. He's on the Christmas-card list of chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons but fit enough, at 46, to play with anybody on the PGA Tour. He has a son and a daughter in high school, a, big house on a lake in Orlando and a garage full of golf clubs. Check out the framed photograph in the foyer—that's Hoch at a pro-am with Bob Hope and former presidents Ford, Bush and Clinton.
There's more to Hoch, of course, than first impressions can convey. "You need to see this man on the dance floor," says Sally, his wife of 21 years. "Then you'd see why I fell in love with him." He gets equally high marks from his father, Art, a retired physical-education instructor and minor league baseball manager. "Scott never missed a day of school until 10th grade," Art said last week at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando. "He never smoked, he never drank, he had a paper route. He stayed at Wake Forest and got his degree. How many do that?"
Hoch's pro-am partners find he's a lot more fun than they'd expected. "He's an absolute gentleman," says Baltimore sports attorney Lonnie Ritzer, who played with Hoch on March 12 at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. "He doesn't stay in his own little world. He reads your putts, he roots for the team, he makes it fun for you." Hoch's business associates, on the other hand, say he is a lot more serious than they'd expected. "Scott does everything in a professional manner," says Tour vice president Sid Wilson, "and no one is more generous to charities and to good causes."
Back at the Hoch house, where three generations of the family hover around the food preparation island in a kitchen redolent of garlic bread and lasagna, a golden retriever named Maggie nuzzles Scott's thigh, and a pair of Yorkshire terriers named Cody and Snoop scamper around his ankles. Houseguest and Tour veteran Kenny Perry says, "Scott's an amazing guy. He's so sharp, and he has such a good heart."
It's a wonderful life, all right. Throw in the implausible fact that Hoch began the year in fifth place on the Tour's career money list—behind Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and David Duval—and there's the full picture: family bliss, lifetime achievement and financial security.
Well, not quite the full picture. Ask the man himself if there's anything he hasn't achieved in golf, and he answers in a heartbeat, "Yeah. Respect."
It's a jarring answer but not a surprising one. For more than a decade Hoch has been reading that he is a loose-lipped boor and an Ugly American because he often skips the British Open to play Tour events in places like Milwaukee and the Quad Cities. He has also had to endure 13 years of Hoch as in Choke, the tag hung on him when he missed a 30-inch putt that would have won the 1989 Masters. Take those two burdens and multiply them by all the lesser slights that Hoch perceives—including his failure to be picked by three Ryder Cup captains when he was on the bubble—and you understand why his sly grin sometimes gives way to an expression of pain and bewilderment.
"I wouldn't be so concerned about what other people think of me if it weren't for my family," Hoch says. "They can't understand why I'm never on TV unless I'm winning the tournament. They don't get it when the companies I endorse don't use me in their ads."
Or maybe they do get it. Maybe Hoch's family understands that advertisers are leery of a guy who doesn't stick to the script, who says whatever comes to mind. Maybe they understand that TV can't sell beer by showing a decent, generous man who has won 10 Tour events in 23 years yet hits his drives 35 yards shorter than Woods's. "My game, even when it's good, is boring," Hoch concedes. "What guy who's short to average off the tee and hasn't won a major has gotten a lot of recognition?"
In the next breath Hoch makes a U-turn and starts a rant about the Ryder Cup, calling it "the most overrated tiling I know of. I played with Lee Janzen when I made the team in 1997, and after eight holes I thought, 'Is this all it is?' I'd heard stories that players couldn't breathe because of the pressure, but I didn't feel it."