COLUMBUS, Ohio — Playing a PGA Tour event in your hometown can be tricky.
The familiarity and crowd support are certainly helpful, but the pressure to do well can be a burden.
“Yeah, I’m trying to figure that out,” Columbus native and Ohio State graduate Bo Hoag said.
On Thursday, he certainly did. Hoag briefly shared the lead late in his first round before finishing with a 4-under-par 68 at the Memorial Tournament.
Hoag’s family has a longtime friendship with Memorial founder Jack Nicklaus’ family. Hoag has played Muirfield Village Golf Club hundreds of times.
“This is a tournament that I grew up watching as a kid coming out here, trying to get an autograph,” said Hoag, 32. “I volunteered as range guy for a little bit and obviously with some family ties and my connection with Jack Nicklaus, it is my favorite tournament, for sure.”
But this is only his third time playing in the Memorial. He missed the cut in 2012 playing on a sponsor’s exemption. As a PGA Tour rookie last year, he finished 66th after making the cut with a second-round 67.
“I was trying to get a game plan last night,” Hoag said. “It’s different when you’re playing in your hometown. Anybody will tell you that. But I think if you approach it the right way, it can certainly be an advantage. I have my friends and my family out here, wanting me to do well, so I think I’m figuring out how to use it as an advantage.”
Hoag was nearly error-free on Thursday. He was even par through six holes before birdieing the seventh and eighth holes. He also birdied 12 and 13. When he made a 5-foot putt for birdie on No. 17, he tied Collin Morikawa and Adam Long for the lead at 5-under.
“I did everything pretty nicely,” Hoag said. “Put the ball in the fairway, hit some good approach shots, and I rolled the ball well. Didn’t make too many mistakes and made it pretty stress-free.”
Bo Hoag misses a birdie putt on the 10th hole at the Memorial on Thursday.
Even on a bogey on the 18th hole, he wasn’t too displeased. Hoag missed a 5-foot par putt after hitting his approach shot in the sand.
“That’s one of the hardest finishing holes in golf,” he said. “I hit a good tee shot and I thought I hit a pretty good second shot, but it came up about a yard short. I hit a pretty good putt. It just missed. Still, I’m pleased with how I started.”
Hoag was also thrilled to have his parents, other relatives and friends on the course. Last year, fans weren’t permitted at the Memorial because of the pandemic.
“It was my first year on the PGA Tour, and it’s your hometown event, and that’s what you play for — to get your card and go play in your hometown event — and I didn’t have any fans out here. It was still great, but to be able to share that a little more and have that energy is way better this year.”
Those who wanted to watch Hoag’s entire round had to awake early. His tee time was 7:44.
“I think we were the third group off, so had to get people out of bed if they wanted to come watch me on the front,” he said. “It’s just nice to see a bunch of buddies and aunts and uncles.”
His Ohio State supporters were also vocal.
“I got a lot of O-H’s out there,” Hoag said. “We’re keeping a tab on the O-H’s, and there are about 12 or 15 so far.”
Muirfield Village underwent extensive renovations in the past 11 months, so the layout isn’t the same Hoag grew up playing.
Hoag’s grandfather was involved in @JackNicklaus‘ establishment of Muirfield Village.
This week, he competes there for the fourth time. pic.twitter.com/5vxwesahJj
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 3, 2021
“I don’t feel like there are wholesale changes,” he said. “For me, I’m not changing my strategy that much with the changes to the course. But I really like it. It looks really good. It wasn’t bad before, as we all know. It’s a little cleaner (now), is what I like to say.”
Hoag had a stretch from November to March in which he made seven of nine cuts. But he missed seven straight cuts before finishing 66th last week at the Byron Nelson tournament following a first-round 66.
“I’ve been playing well,” Hoag said. “I’ve just kind of had a shot here or there that’s gotten in my own way and just needed a good stretch of holes somewhere. The first round of the Byron Nelson, I got off to a hot start, and I feel like I just needed that good stretch of holes.”
He didn’t have the cheering section last week that he had Thursday.
“It was awesome,” Hoag said. “It was awesome playing it last year, my rookie year on the PGA Tour. (But) there was a piece missing without my fans, friends and family out there. We’ve got that back now, and it’s a new course this year. I think everybody’s ready for the 2021 Memorial this year.”
Follow Bill on Twitter @brdispatch