Choking on the Tour is considered something of a disease, and the general belief is that it's contagious. Hoch became to any gathering of Tour players what Charlton Heston was to the Red Sea. He would walk up, and they would part. "Some guys would see me and feel so bad they wouldn't know what to say," he says. "They'd sort of duck."
Hoch sought out Ed Sneed, who had needed but one par over the final three holes at the 1979 Masters to win and bogeyed them all. He lost the playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller and has won only one tournament since, back in 1982. "Just be patient with the media," Sneed told him. "They will never allow it to die."
Is this what Hoch had ahead of him? To be forever known as the man who was an arm's length from a green jacket and let it slip through his grasp? He remembers thinking, Am I ever going to win again?
Two and a half weeks later in Las Vegas, it dawned on Hoch that he had beaten everybody at Augusta except himself. Why did the Masters have to be a comment on the narrowness of his throat instead of the broadness of his talent? "When someone comes out of a hell like that," Cesario would say later, "he either comes out as dust or he comes out never letting anything affect him again. Scott came out like tempered carbon steel."
Going into the final round in Las Vegas, Hoch led by a stroke. That night, he recalls, he had "these incredible vibrations that I was going to play like gang-busters." The next day he birdied the 18th hole to force a playoff with his old Wake Forest teammate, Robert Wrenn. Whose heart could take this?
On the first playoff hole, Hoch missed the green and looked dead. But he chipped to within three feet of the hole and made the putt. He missed the next two greens too. "I kept saying to the man upstairs, 'You do want me to help these kids, don't you?' " says Hoch. Each time Hoch chipped up and made the putt for par to stay even with Wrenn.
He birdied the fourth hole, but so did Wrenn. If destiny was Hoch's, it sure was taking its sweet time coming. Finally, on the fifth hole, Hoch had an eight-foot birdie putt. He took only about 45 seconds to ponder it and then knocked it in for the win.
Four one-putt greens out of five. When ESPN put its mike in front of him, Hoch was ready with his long-deferred speech. "There's something I've been keeping from my wife for a long time," said Hoch. You don't think that would make a wife's ears itch? He then announced that he would donate $100,000—the difference between the prize money for first-place ($225,000) and second ($135,000), plus another $10,000—to the hospital.
It was hard to tell who was more thrilled, Scott or Sally. "I don't think I could have been any happier winning Augusta than I was at that moment," he says. "That was the ultimate gut-check for me. If I had lost there, it could've spelled the end for me."
Beck, too, was moved by Hoch's generosity. "I'd like to see all the people that have judged Scott stand up and give $100,000 to charity," he says. "I don't know if they could. I don't know if I could. He's a terrific man."