Bluffton's J.D. Hoft wins Hilton Head Amateur crown

J.D. Hoft plays the No. 9 green Sunday afternoon duirng the Hilton Head Island Amateur Golf Association's Hilton Head Amateur Championship at the Golf Club at Indigo Run on Hilton Head Island.
J.D. Hoft plays the No. 9 green Sunday afternoon duirng the Hilton Head Island Amateur Golf Association's Hilton Head Amateur Championship at the Golf Club at Indigo Run on Hilton Head Island. Sarah Welliver

The most recent time J.D. Hoft received an invite to the Players Amateur, he was forced to decline.

Elbow surgery started a lull in his golf game that lasted more than a year. But he has long since recovered, his game returned, and Hoft will have a second chance after winning the Hilton Head Amateur Championship on Sunday at The Golf Club at Indigo Run. The Bluffton resident won the event for the second time, the first in 2007.

Hoft finished with a 3-under-par 141, pulling away from Beaufort's Matt O'Quinn and nine-time amateur champion Kevin King to win by six shots. He earned an invitation to the 2014 Players Amateur.

"They like a lot of national players, I guess," Hoft said. "It's nice enough for them to give us an exemption for a local tournament, which is good."

Hoft and O'Quinn were tied when a downpour halted play with the final group on No. 12 green. After the restart, O'Quinn posted a pair of 7s to fall out of contention. King, at 56 years old and wearing a brace after breaking his ankle in January, chipped in for eagle on the par-4 15th on his way to tying for second.

O'Quinn, with closest-to-the-hole prize, qualified for a chance to win $25,000 if he could hole a 165-yard shot from the 18th fairway after play ended. He missed the green pin-high left.

The victory started a busy stretch of golf for Hoft. He will play the S.C. Open at Belfair this week and Saturday will defend his title at the Beaufort City Championship on Fripp Island.

"I haven't been playing particularly well, just kind of scraping it around until I figure it out," Hoft said. "We'll see."

Hoft led by one after Saturday's opening round. O'Quinn made five birdies on the front nine Sunday to apply pressure, but two wayward tee shots cost him.

He said he wasn't loose after returning to the course following the rain delay and didn't finish two swings, hanging his first tee ball out of bounds and driving into a lateral hazard on the next tee.

"Everybody else was stiff too, I would imagine," O'Quinn said. "That's no excuse."

Some players grabbed lunch and beer while rain created standing water on greens and fairways. Hoft, who did not have a rainsuit when the downpour started, sat in the sauna drying his clothes.

He played the final six holes 1 under, making birdie out of the greenside bunker on No. 15 and rolling in a 7-foot putt on the par-3 17th.

The runaway Sunday was similar to Hoft's victory at the Beaufort City in 2012, when he led by as many as eight shots on the final day.

The 32-year-old Hoft said he did not play much before the amateur. His game is in better shape than recent years, after the surgery sidelined him starting in 2008. Doctors took stem cells from Hoft's bone to replace missing cartilage in the elbow. He waited eight months before chipping again, 10 months before hitting balls.

Hoft picked up a $450 gift certificate to The Golf Club pro shop, good for replenishing gloves, balls or updating equipment and apparell. He likes to tinker with his own clubs, his driver cut short and his 4-wood hybrid a personal creation equipped with a 3-iron shaft.

Hoft chokes down, hits a low draw and was still among the longest hitters in the field. He was modest in victory, accepted congratulations from O'Quinn and said his playing partner's struggles happen to everyone in these type events.

"We're not doing this for a living," Hoft said. "We're working guys, for the most part, so anything can happen."

HHIAGA Hilton Head Amateur Championship

The Golf Club at Indigo Run, par-72

Championship flight, top-10 and ties

J.D. Hoft 72-69 -- 141

Matt O'Quinn 73-74 -- 147

Kevin King 73-74 -- 147

Judson Milam 73-76 -- 149

Jack Bingham 75-76 -- 151

Bill Fuge 74-78 -- 152

Benji Gecy 76-76 -- 152

Charlie Hall 78-74 -- 152

Chandler Vilcheck 79-73 -- 152

Tate Hoisington 79-74 -- 153

Jeff Wong 74-79 -- 153

Tray Testino 76-77 -- 153

Christopher Finke 76-77 -- 153

Handicap division champion

Tony Gonring 70-70 -- 140

Senior division champion

Kevin Arnold 71-73 -- 144