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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 07 2012

Near the pin: Hoge offers F-M's best chance at a PGA player

Fargo

One by one over the years, young promising golfers from the Fargo-Moorhead area have taken their game to higher levels.

Producing Division I golfers is not a rarity anymore. Seeing players move on to professional golf isn’t a shocker. One by one, they’ve tried it and in some cases are still giving it a go.

Andy Doeden. Brandon Askew. Kane Hanson. Dave Schultz. Josh Persons. Ben Freeman.

Perhaps the player with the best chance to make it the farthest is just starting his pro career. Tom Hoge is less than a year into it and already having success that makes you say this: he has a chance.

“I hope, but you just don’t know,” said Oxbow head professional John Dahl. “There are a lot of signs pointing that way, but you never know. Injuries could happen or things like that. He has the horse power and he’s not afraid to compete.”

The competition started in the first Nationwide Tour tournament of the year when Hoge finished sixth in the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship in Bogota, Columba. It earned him $19,245 and set him up for the rest of the season.

The Nationwide re-shuffles its automatic tournament entries every five events, so it appears Hoge is already guaranteed to play in a large chunk of events.

“I can relax and get in most events,” he said.

Doing well on the Nationwide will be even more important next year when the PGA does away with its Qualifying School. Starting in 2013, the top 75 players from the Nationwide will be paired with the PGA players who finished from 126-200 for a three-event tour for 50 PGA cards.

“The faster you get on the PGA Tour, the better off you’ll be,” Hoge said. “I got off to a good start but it will help if I can play a lot of good golf.”

Really good golf would get him in the top 25 Nationwide money leaders. That would earn Hoge an automatic ticket to the PGA Tour.

He already has one PGA tourney to his credit, qualifying for the RBC Canadian Open last summer by winning the Canadian Tour Players Cup in Winnipeg. Hoge didn’t make the cut.

“He comes right out, qualifies for the Canadian event and wins it,” Doeden said. “It takes very good talent, confidence and mindset to be able to do that. I don’t know what he does day to day but he obviously has the fundamentals to put it together each week.”

Two years earlier, Schultz played in the Byron Nelson Championship by virtue of a Monday qualifier. He also didn’t make the cut.

Like Schultz, Hoge is a Fargo South graduate who played at Texas Christian. Of all the area players who have gone on to professional golf, Hoge had the best college career, finishing third at the NCAA Championships as a sophomore.

“He has the best track record of everybody from college and on,” Doeden said, adding that Schultz was right up there as well. “I haven’t played with him a whole lot but when I have, he has the whole package.”

Hoge still makes Fort Worth, Texas, his home base, playing out of the Mira Vista Country Club. The plan is to stay connected with Dahl, his principal swing coach, through videos from his iPad, if needed.

In reality, this is his first full pro season. The month-long trip to South America that included tournaments in Chili and Panama was as real world as it gets.

He had to adapt to people not speaking English. He rode the bus.

“Those last few days, I was ready to get home and talk to a few friends,” he said. “I hadn’t talked to anybody on a cell phone. I got back, turned on the phone and had like 500 text messages from people in Fargo wishing me well. That’s the nice thing being from North Dakota; everybody pulls for you and wants you to do well.”

The stats in South America were promising. He had 46 birdies in 180 holes, which ranked him second of all the Nationwide players. He was first in par-breakers, which includes birdies and eagles. His scoring average was 70.4.

Dahl said Hoge has the confidence to make it at the PGA level. He hits it far enough off the tee. Those two factors have rarely wavered.

What has improved, however, is his wedge play – especially around the green.

“His short game has come around to the point where he doesn’t have many weaknesses” Dahl said.

Dahl asked Hoge over the winter what changed for the better. A different club – moving to a 58 degree loft – helped. His putting improved thanks to a switch to a belly putter.

“He never wanted to because he likes to do things pretty formal,” Dahl said. “But that gave him the ability to make a lot of putts, which has to happen at that level.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia