FARGO — For his third U.S. Open, Tom Hoge is doing something different. He’s going about his golf business this week the same as any other tournament.
In other words, he’s not trying to overthink it or do too much. He doesn’t want to make it more than it is — a golf tournament — even though it is the professional championship of the United States.
“I think I have a little better plan this week,” the Fargo South graduate said. “I don’t want to get caught up in the atmosphere and excitement of it all.”
In his first two U.S. Opens, Hoge said, he did too much early in the week. He spent more time on the driving range and played more holes and by the time he got to his tee time on Thursday, he was worn out.
“I’m going to pace myself and take it like a normal week,” Hoge said.
Hoge has an early Thursday tee time at Pebble Beach, teeing off from the 10th tee at 7:07 a.m. (PST).
Hoge last made the U.S. Open in 2016 at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, but struggled with a pair of 78s and missed the cut. He shot a 73 and 74 in 2015 at Chambers Bay outside of Seattle and also missed the cut.
This week, he did more of a traditional practice routine of playing 18 holes on Tuesday and nine early Wednesday afternoon. Unlike Oakmont and Chambers Bay, he has a much better feel for Pebble Beach since he’s played it many times.
The PGA Tour makes a regular stop at Pebble in February with the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“We come here in February every year and it’s usually cold and wet and pretty soft,” Hoge said. “It’s just incredible how much better condition the course is.
Hoge, in his fifth full year on the PGA Tour after playing collegiately at Texas Christian University, is coming off a career season where he earned almost $1.4 million and got full status for this year. His game hasn’t been as consistent as 2018, at one point missing six of seven cuts.
The problem, he said, was with his irons. The usual fresh set at the beginning of the year wasn’t doing the job.
“I felt like I was playing well, I just wasn’t scoring,” Hoge said. “Looking back, a lot of shots that normally I would hit to five feet were coming up 15 to 20 feet short. For whatever reason, the distance was shorter and it took me too long to figure it out.”
Since making the irons switch, he’s made four of the last five cuts and missed making the final two days last weekend at the RBC Canadian Open by one shot. The improvement was immediately noticeable finishing in a tie for 34th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April.
After the U.S. Open, he plans on playing a full schedule to try and ascend the FedEx Cup standings. He’s currently ranked 170th with the top 125 players getting their tour cards for next year. Hoge finished 92nd last year.
“I’m kind of behind the 8-ball in the FedEx race,” Hoge said. “I have to play almost every week to move up. But all it takes is a good week or two to jump a lot of guys fast.”
The plan to have a good week this week is all about keeping it in the fairway. Hoge calls the Pebble Beach rough this week “brutal.” The USGA in the past has been criticized for making U.S. Open conditions too hard.
“With some of the mishaps in past years, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s almost too soft and they overdo it to keep players happy this year,” Hoge said. “Pebble is normally not a long course. You hit a lot of hybrids off of tees but the greens are tiny and what if they firm up? You know what you have to do. It’s not like somebody is going to shoot a 63 and away they go. Just play solid and more than anything you have to just stick with it, not get frustrated over the course of 72 holes and you’ll be OK.”