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Published August 08 2010

Defending Pine to Palm champ Hoge feeling better than ever

Here’s a scary thought for all those competing in next week’s Pine to Palm golf tournament: Defending champion Tom Hoge says he’s playing better than ever.

“I’m really excited for this (school) year,” Hoge said of his upcoming senior season at Texas Christian University.

But first thing’s first.

Hoge enters the Pine-to-Palm on the heels of a handful of outstanding summer performances.

The 78th Pine to Palm is scheduled for Monday through next Sunday at Detroit Country Club near Detroit Lakes, Minn.

A former Fargo South standout, Hoge has reeled off three consecutive eye-opening tournaments after struggling throughout his junior season at TCU, and after losing the beginning of the summer to a bout with mononucleosis.

Hoge started his run late last month by becoming the first golfer since Dave Nordeen in 1985-86 to repeat as winner of the Minnesota state amateur.

He then qualified for the U.S. Amateur with rounds of 71 and 68 at Fargo Country Club, and rebounded from a poor start with rounds of 69 and 65 at the Porter Cup in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

This week Hoge advanced to the Sweet 16 of the prestigious Western Amateur in Illinois. He earned co-medalist honors at the tournament with a

6-under par 207 through 54 holes of stroke play.

“I’m playing really well,” said Hoge, a three-time North Dakota Class A all-state selection. “I’m hitting a lot of greens and making a few putts. It’s been easy.”

Hoge said he was sick with mono for much of May through July.

He said he didn’t even pick up a club during that time, and it took several weeks once he finally got out to the course to make his way back to top form.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I just wasn’t hitting the ball where I wanted to hit it.”

But those days appear to be long gone now.

And Hoge’s confidence is at an all-time high heading into the Pine to Palm.

Last year, Hoge earned co-medalist honors with the University of Wyoming’s Clinton Boutelle during stroke play. He defeated University of Minnesota golfer Thomas Campbell 3 and 1 to earn the title.

Hoge said winning the Pine-to-Palm fulfilled a longtime goal.

Now he’s looking to become the first to repeat as champion since Bill Israelson in 1976-77.

“It’s tough (to repeat) because in match play, anyone can win against anyone. There are so many good players. You just have to keep it in the fairway out there to give yourself a chance.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com