This has been a year to remember for Charley Hoffman, although it didn’t exactly start out that way.
The former UNLV golf star was plagued by a wrist injury to start 2010 and missed the cut in four of his first six PGA Tour events, at which point he took five weeks off to get healthy. Even through June, though, Hoffman’s best finish was a tie for 13th place in what was, at that point, a respectable but unremarkable season.
After three top-10 finishes in July and August, however, Hoffman earned national recognition last month when his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second playoff event on the PGA Tour, catapulted him from No. 59 to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings and within reach of a $10 million bonus.
Although Hoffman, 33, ultimately fell short of the mark, placing fourth in the final standings, the Las Vegan enters the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (Oct. 21-24 at TPC Summerlin) with a newfound confidence and attitude.
“After winning your first event out your second year [the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 2007], you think you’re going to win more than I did, which was unfortunate,” he says. “But now winning a world-class event, it just puts your name on the map and there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes out of that.”
Returning to Las Vegas for the PGA Tour event is all the sweeter for Hoffman given that his wife, Stacy, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child, a girl, on Nov. 8.
“I’m just hoping the baby holds off for another week and a half or so and doesn’t come out during the event,” he says.
After winning two California state titles in high school and being a part of UNLV’s national championship squad in 1998, Hoffman turned pro in 2000 but struggled to establish himself for most of the decade. He started on the Nationwide Tour in an attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour, but often failed to even make the cut, forcing him to play mini-tour events in 2003, which left him questioning his ability and his future.
“There was a time period in there where I was really scraping along and wasn’t making any money because it’s hard to make money on those mini-tours,” he says. “And there was a point where I pretty much said if I don’t get through [qualifying] school or get on the Nationwide Tour this next year I’m going to hang it up. Who knows if that would have been true, though? … There was a period of time that I definitely wasn’t enjoying golf as much as I always did.”
After working his way back onto the Nationwide Tour through Monday qualifying, he finally earned his first professional victory in October 2004 and carried that success into the following year, when he earned his PGA Tour card for 2006.
Hoffman says his breakthrough this year stems from extensive work last offseason on his short game, which resulted in his wrist injury. Once healthy, though, the extra preparation paid off as he holed a bunker shot on the 13th hole during the final round of his Deutsche Bank victory, which earned him entry into all four major tournaments next year.
Before Hoffman’s Deutsche Bank victory, the California native was known best for his shoulder-length blond hair, which has helped make him a fan favorite at tournaments.
“It’s definitely become a trademark,” he says of his hair. “And that’s sort of what I was thinking from the beginning—the ability to be able to stand out. … But obviously I want to be known more for my golf game, not just my hair.”
Hoffman says being in the potentially life-changing position of playing for $10 million following his Deutsche Bank win crept into his mind at times during the two FedEx Cup tournaments that followed.
“My mind frame and goals changed week to week, which usually they don’t when you’re playing golf,” he says. “Usually they’re yearlong goals, and all of a sudden I went from just wanting to make sure I play good … to I’ve won and now I have a chance to win the $10 million. The mindset changed a lot really fast.”
His hot play down the stretch made him a legitimate contender for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but although he wasn’t selected he wasn’t disappointed, especially with his wife’s due date drawing near.
Hoffman originally had planned on playing a couple of PGA Tour-sanctioned events overseas following the Shriners Hospitals tournament, but he is now content to wrap his year up in Las Vegas with a prize worth more than any golf tournament can deliver.