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Reward for Hoch Is Teeing Off With All the Presidents' Men : Golf: Defending champion joins Clinton, Ford, Bush and Hope as the feature fivesome in Hope's tournament.

February 15, 1995|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERMUDA DUNES — Playing golf in a group with the President, two former Presidents and one of the most popular entertainers of all time, surrounded by media inside the ropes and Secret Service agents in enough golf carts to fill a used car lot, Scott Hoch is confused.

Lost in there with President Clinton, former Presidents Ford and Bush and comedian Bob Hope, Hoch doesn't know whether to tell a joke, declare his candidacy or try to drive the green.

"I can't be upset," said Hoch, the defending champion of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic that begins today. "It's a special day. I'll just roll with the punches."

That is probably a wise way to go for the 38-year-old Florida-based North Carolinian, who has had a pretty fair career following such advice.

After 15 years, $4.7 million in prize money, five tournament victories and one very large defeat, Hoch has made a very nice living from tee to green.

And this year, well, he has a great chance to play better.

It's still early, but he isn't off to a great start. In three events, his finishes are 11, 76, 32, which sounds more like a combination to a lock.

Maybe he can get it together like he did last year, when he won the Hope by three shots with a 90-hole score of 334. It was Hoch's first victory since his landmark year of 1989.

That's when Hoch made $670,680, won at Las Vegas and could have won the Masters.

But Hoch missed a two-foot putt in a playoff with Nick Faldo and lost.

As far as defining moments go, it wasn't the greatest. The criticism that followed bothered Hoch.

"Sometimes it hurts what people say, but you deal with it and move on," he said.

Hoch was voted least-popular tour player by his fellow pros in a poll published in a newspaper.

But as the Presidential trio playing with Hoch can tell you, polls are sometimes misleading.

Hoch gave $100,000 of his $250,000 purse to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando after winning the tournament in Las Vegas.

While he's honored to be playing in such a fivesome, he points out that it is going to be a distraction and will cost him anywhere from two to four shots.

"It's something I wouldn't trade with anybody, but I know it's not going to help my game a whole lot," he said."

The Hope's 90-hole tournament format is so popular, there are only two on the PGA Tour schedule.

The published pairings look like a telephone book. The Hope is a celebrity tournament, and that inflates the field to 552 golfers, 553 if you count Bob Hope.

There are 128 pros and 384 amateurs, 385 if you count Bob Hope, playing until Saturday, which usually leads to play so slow you can see the rough grow.

Four courses are used. Bermuda Dunes Country Club, the host course, has been part of the Hope scene since the tournament began as the Palm Springs Golf Classic in 1960 and Palmer won.

Bermuda Dunes has six lakes, but it trails newcomer Indian Ridge Country Club in the water category. The Palmer-designed course has pools, waterfalls or lakes on 11 holes.

La Quinta Country Club is noted as the place former President Dwight Eisenhower used to play a lot.

Indian Wells Country Club, wrapped around the San Jacinto mountains, is famous because Desi Arnaz was one of the original financial backers. It's also the place where Fred and Ethel Mertz could break par.

Hoch mourned the loss of the PGA West Palmer Course from the rotation, mainly because he shot 62 there last year.

"That's where I feel I won the tournament," he said.

He's going to have to find another place if there's going to be a repeat. It won't be easy. Johnny Miller is the only back-to-back winner in 35 years.

Hoch is accustomed to doing it the hard way.

He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in 1992, three years after his episode at the Masters, didn't play for three months and went five years between victories until last year's Hope.

The $804,559 Hoch banked last year was the most he has won on the tour since he turned pro in 1979. From where he stands on the tee, he can see the green clearly.

The best still may be to come.

"I would like to think so," he said. "I hope I have more opportunities to win. And I sure hope for some more opportunities in majors."

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