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Action Replay: the day Hoch choked at Augusta

Our weekly retrospective takes a look back at Nick Faldo’s unlikely Masters victory in 1989.

Image: Bill Haber/AP/Press Association Images

THERE CAN BE few more frustrating feelings in sport than to stand on the brink of success, on a precipice with the warm glow of victory in your grasp, knowing that very few of the hundreds or thousands or millions of people watching understand the pressure which you have to contend with.

On 9 April 1989, Scott Hoch found out exactly what its like to succumb to that pressure. With his nerves jangling, his mind racing, his concentration shot, he somehow contrived to miss the two-foot putt which would have given him a famous victory at the most prestigious Major of them all – the US Masters.

By rights, it was a win which the 33-year-old from North Carolina had earned over the course of the 72 holes which preceded his career-defining miss. He had been solid throughout without ever being spectacular, posting three sub-par rounds while some of the world’s greats struggled to come to terms with Augusta National’s fabled undulations and testing pin positions.

Indeed it would never have even come to this, a two-man playoff with Briton Nick Faldo, had Hoch not bogeyed 17 and then fluffed his chance to pull the shot back with his birdie putt on the 18th green.

Faldo’s presence was the story of the final round in itself. Though he had proven his Major mettle with victory at Muirfield in 1987, Georgia had not been a happy hunting ground for him. A tie for fifteenth in 1984 was the best he had ever managed and, going in to the final day of play five strokes off the lead, it looked as though a respectable finish was the most likely outcome.

He shot seven-under.

Yet, after all the ups, downs and near misses, Hoch stood over a two-putt foot on the 10th green – the first playoff hole. A distance so small as to almost be negligible separating Hoch and history.

And then he did the one thing which a man in his situation should never do – he started to think about it. He thought about what would happen as soon as the ball completed two tiny revolutions and dropped into the patiently-waiting cup below.

Thought about what it would mean to have a first tour victory in over five years. Thought about the way in which he had hurried a clutch putt at the 1987 PGA Championship and frittered away his shot at glory.

Thought about the green jacket – the historic green jacket.

And amid all the different thoughts that were racing through Hoch’s brain at a mile a minute, he forgot to think about the putt. After two long minutes of thinking, of addressing the ball and stepping away again, he still had no idea where he wanted to place the ball.

“That’s the worst thing you can do—step up to a golf shot without a clear idea in your head,” Hoch later reflected. Easy to say in hindsight.

Eventually, he hit it, trickling it towards the left, watching aghast as the ball travelled further and further left rather than breaking back into the centre of the cup.

Faldo, emotionless, watched with his arms crossed from the sidelines, knowing that no professional – no human being – could keep their composure in the aftermath of such a miss.

Faced with a 25-footer on the following hole to make a little bit of history of his own, he made no such mistake.

This week in sport history

  • Leeds United beat Deportivo La Coruna 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final (4 April 2001)
  • Diego Maradona is suspended for 15 months after failing a drugs test (6 April 1989)
  • Hank Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record (8 April 1974)

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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