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Tom Hoge didn’t have long to celebrate his first career PGA Tour win Sunday. He had moved on to Phoenix on Monday (The Associated Press/Tony Avelar).

 

 

 

By Jeff Wilson
Frogs Today senior writer

 

Just off the 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links stands a leaderboard big enough for even 91-year-old Clint Eastwood, the course’s chairman of the board, to read.

The board had informed 32-year-old Tom Hoge exactly where he stood Sunday on the 72nd hole of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

His name was at the top of the leaderboard, two strokes clear of clubhouse leader Jordan Spieth and two ahead of Beau Hossler, who was sitting pretty in the fairway of the famed par-5.

Hoge could see him, too, as he lined up a 4-foot par putt that, if true, would force Hossler to make eagle just to tie. If not, well, that’s why Hoge was feeling some butterflies.

“I felt great the whole day. No nervousness at all … until I ran that [birdie] putt by about four feet,” Hoge said. “It kind of hit me at that point that I don’t want to be the guy to lose a tournament on a three-putt like that.”

The putt went down and Hossler sprayed his second shot into a greenside bunker. Once Hossler’s blast raced past the hole, Hoge was finally a winner on the PGA Tour in his 204th attempt.

It’s not that Hoge, who played at TCU from 2007-11 and lives in Fort Worth, hasn’t had a nice career. He’s pocketed more than $10 million in career earnings.

But there might not be a more difficult sport to claim victory than on the PGA Tour, and Hoge’s win is a tribute to his perseverance and finally putting all the pieces together over four rounds.

“It’s just kind of sticking with it,” Hoge said Monday from the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “Golf is such a hard game. Between missing cuts and not winning, it’s such a hard game to just keep hanging in there.

“There’s so many down times in golf, and to finally have one break through and have it go my way and with the history of Pebble Beach and all the winners that have been out there and just what a iconic spot, I guess it was worth the wait to so it could be at a place like that.”

The win

Hoge rallied on the back nine to chase down Spieth with four birdies, including a tap-in for 3 at No. 16 and draining a 22-footer on the iconic par-3 17th. He opened the tournament with a 9-under 63, was tied for the lead entering the final round, and finished at 19-under 268.

He knew what he needed to do throughout the round, not just when he got to 18 and saw the leaderboard.

The difference Sunday as opposed to three weeks ago at the American Express, where he finished second by two strokes, and other tournaments in which he has been in contention was his ability to put aside the Sunday nerves.

“It’s never easy to win,” Hoge said. “There are so many great players that guys are always on, someone’s going to shoot a good score, and you can’t give away shots for sure.”

The last threat was Hossler.

“I hit a 3-wood trying to make an eagle and go into a playoff and hit it in the bunker where you have absolutely no chance,” he said. “The green is as firm as the cart path and it went to 40 feet.”

Then the craziness started — the TV interview, posing with the trophy, meeting Dirty Harry and getting to all the messages that had piled up on his cellphone. Many were from the Fort Worth and TCU athletics communities.

And just like that he was off to Arizona.

“Quite frankly, shoot, even winning, you make that last putt and everybody goes their separate directions and nobody really cares at the end of the day whether you win or lose,” Hoge said.. “You have no teammates, if that makes sense. So you’re kind of on your own.”

The PGA Tour doesn’t stop, unless a player misses a cut. Hoge missed the cut two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 27, hopped on a plane home, and he and wife Kelly watched the TCU men’s basketball team upset LSU on Jan. 28.

“We just love the tight community of TCU, some great personal relationships with everybody,” he said. “We enjoy being around campus, going to all the different games and supporting all the places that are there now. It’s fun.”

He bolted the Monterey Peninsula and was at the TPC of Scottsdale on Monday to get in some practice ahead of Thursday’s first round.

“It’s golf,” he said. “We’re starting over again this week, so I’ve got to get back and get ready to do it again.”

What a win means

While everyone might have gone their separate ways Sunday night, they knew Hoge had won and were happy to let him know it Monday.

“I went out to the golf course today, and the congratulations that you get from other players and caddies and your peers that respect what you’ve done, that’s the coolest part,” he said.

Spieth let the media know it Sunday.

“I think the general public doesn’t realize that he’s a guy when he’s in contention will be the guy that can close it out,” Spieth said. “Few and far between are the guys that are going to sit there and embrace it and play fearlessly. And he’s somebody that I knew when he was on the heels I needed to make birdies. He wasn’t going to falter.”

The win came with some perks for Hoge, namely that it qualified him for the the Masters in April. It will be his first career appearance in golf’s first major and most exclusive tournament, and his first time playing Augusta National.

Hoge also jumped to 39th in the world golf rankings, and he would play in the British Open if he were to remain in the top 50. The victory leaves him exempt on the PGA Tour through 2024.

Life has changed. He wants it to keep getting better on the course.

He doesn’t just want to play the Masters.

“I’d like to get in contention in some majors,” he said. “That would be the next step for me.”

Jeff Wilson, jeff@frogstoday.com