He was trying so hard he was not doing anyone any good. He began 1989 hungry for a victory and bothered by a thumb injury. He came in 39th at the Nestle Invitational in March and missed the cut the following week at The Players Championship.
He became so disgusted and frustrated that he stopped playing for the two weeks before the Masters, just to have time to think. One thing he decided was that he wasn't having any fun. His caddie on the Tour, Rick Cesario, had already given him some unsolicited advice. "Every day you come off the course tied up in knots," said Cesario. "You're going to play this game for a living for what, the next 25 years? Is every day going to be like that?"
Maybe Cesario was right. The poll had taken something out of Hoch too. Was he having any fun? Was he any fun? He left his clubs alone for 10 straight days, arrived at the Masters on Tuesday, a day later than usual, and set out to have a few laughs. "I loosened up," says Hoch. "I was completely at ease the whole week. I was so relaxed, it was eerie."
He had cruised through 72� holes—"He played a level of golf I'd never seen from him," says Sally—and now needed to navigate 2� more feet of No. 10, the first playoff hole, to beat Britain's Nick Faldo. For some reason, though, Hoch conducted a mental filibuster over the putt. He paced and repaced it for almost two minutes. "I wasn't nervous," he says. "I just remembered I hadn't taken my time with the PGA putt [in '87], and I wanted to this time."
It was a downhill putt on a wet green. He had run his first putt, a 30-footer, by the hole. Now Hoch thought he should aim for the inside left of the cup and let the ball break sweetly, gently into the hole. Then again, maybe he should hit the putt firmly and straight. He stepped up to it. He stepped away from it. "I wasn't sure in my mind what I was going to do," he says. "That's the worst thing you can do—step up to a golf shot without a clear idea in your head."
Firm and straight, or easy and left edge? Had he forgotten that sound Scottish advice: There's nay bony in a three-foot putt. Putt it straight.
He stepped up to the putt again and struck it firmly—at the left edge. The ball went scurrying five hideous feet beyond the hole. The crowd made an embarrassed, painful groan, as if it had just seen a great actor forget his lines in the crucial scene of a play.
As Hoch threw his putter 15 feet into the air, one could feel history fitting him for a black coat. A 2�-foot putt to win and he gagged. Nobody at Augusta figured he would win now, and indeed, after Hoch made the five-footer—a putt he has virtually no memory of—Faldo poured in a 25-foot monster on the next hole for the victory. "Well," said Hoch at the press conference, grinning a most unconvincing grin, "I'm glad I don't carry a gun with me." Nobody seemed worried, not with his aim.
So Hoch packed himself, Sally, Cameron, daughter Katie and the treasonous putter into their Plymouth Voyager and drove to the next stop on the Disappointment Trail—Hilton Head. Along the way, the magnitude of his defeat sank into his brain and settled in his heart. "I feel like I've let you down," he told Sally as they drove. "I feel like I've let you down and my parents, your parents and our friends." More than that, he had let down the hospital.
"I couldn't sleep for two nights," says Hoch. "My dad couldn't sleep. Chip [Beck] couldn't sleep either. I guess when your friend has just blown the thing that you yourself have always dreamed of winning, it's a little hard to take."