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After long journey Tom Hoge claims victory at Pebble Beach

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PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 06: Tom Hoge of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 06, 2022 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 06: Tom Hoge of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 06, 2022 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR

    Tom Hoge pars the last to secure victory at AT&T Pebble Beach

    PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Traveled for generations, the journey is painfully familiar to countless golfers who boast an ability to hold an 8-iron into a blustery wind, hit a tight draw with the driver, master four wedges, and figure they can make a living at this game.

    RELATED: Final leaderboard | Winner's Bag: Tom Hoge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

    So, they stuff their clubs in the trunk, fire up the car engine, and begin the journey in various ports. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at something called the Dakota Dunes Open, for instance.

    That’s where Tom Hoge made his pro debut in July 2011 and if he was playing for not only himself, but for all his friends and family back in Fargo – and for all North Dakotans, in fact – the emotions flowed quickly. In his second tournament, The Players Cup in Winnipeg, Hoge shot 66-67-69-66 and won.

    It earned the 22-year-old Hoge a $32,000 check, PGA TOUR Canada status, and a spot into that year’s PGA TOUR RBC Canadian Open. What didn’t come with it, however, was any sense that he’d travel a long and bumpy road for about 10 and a half years before he would win again.

    The fact that it arrived at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, at arguably the United States' most cherished golf course on a blistering sunny day and by overtaking Jordan Spieth ... well, Hoge tried to put his arms around all of that.

    “I’ve waited 11 years for this,” he said. “Unbelievable.”

    If Hoge is still a kid from Fargo who once celebrated earning his first TOUR card via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals by talking passionately about people in the Dakotas, he clearly represents a large parade of players who grind away in the minor leagues just waiting for that chance on a big stage.

    In his previous 201 PGA TOUR tournaments since 2015, Hoge had shown glimpses of talent and thrust himself into contention a handful of times. “But I always felt I’ve been a little bit too far back going into Sunday,” he said.

    Sunday, he was tied for the lead, only to seemingly squander his chance to win with a double bogey at the par-3 fifth. With heralded names such as Spieth and Patrick Cantlay commanding the spotlight, Hoge did what players who’ve traveled that long and demanding road do – he just kept his head down.

    When finally he could pick up to look, his four birdies on the homeward nine for a 4-under 68 had pushed him to 19-under 268, two clear of Spieth, and not only was his wife, Kelly, choking back emotions, so, too, was his caddie of three-plus years.

    That’s because Henry Diana knows what it is to travel this road out of a passion for the game. Thing is, Diana has been chasing this first win for a long time, 23 years to be exact, and before you think it’s been a grind, let him tell you it hasn’t been at all.

    “It’s surreal,” said Diana, who has worked for Charles Howell III and Bill Haas among others. “I’ve had so many chances, so many good players, so many seconds, but I feel like I’ve won just by being able to be out here for that long. I love this game.”

    That Hoge could share the win with Diana seemed pretty special to him, especially after they had a golden opportunity at The American Express just two weeks ago. Hudson Swafford closed with 64, however, and that was that.

    For Hoge, it was just another step along the way, another learning experience. He’s 32 and he’s getting used to playing alongside the game’s best players. He had a chance last year at Pebble Beach, played in the last group with Spieth, in fact, but settled for 12th place.

    Back in that year when he won in Canada and got a chance to play in the RBC Canadian Open, Hoge was in shock.

    “That was a wake-up call real fast as far as how tough the golf courses are on the PGA TOUR and how good everybody is," said Hoge. "I missed the cut pretty badly that week.”

    But Diana has been an eyewitness to Hoge’s steady improvement since they got together nearly four years ago.

    “I felt like I needed a little more help and hired Henry,” said Hoge. “I really have a lot of respect for Henry; he’s helped me practice and manage my game really well and just helped me be more of a professional, I would say.”

    The road traveled by Hoge and Diana is well known by many in golf, for winning is hard and there are more players and caddies who haven’t won than have. Quietly, Hoge’s wife hugged Diana and whispered, “we’re proud of you,” and the caddied smiled.

    “He’s been playing so well,” said Diana. “He’s been getting close, and when you’re due, you’re due. And to win here, at Pebble Beach, is as good as it gets.”

    Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.

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