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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Charley Being Charley

Story by Brian Hurlburt, @LVGolfInsider

Life is about choices. Early on in his UNLV golf career that spanned from 1995-99, Charley Hoffman, a San Diego native with some surfer blood pumping in his veins, was given a choice by his new head coach, Dwaine Knight.

“You know, Charley, this isn’t a dictatorship here at UNLV golf,” Knight told him one day. “You have a choice. You can keep your hair long or you can play golf at UNLV.”

After that conversation, Hoffman quickly found the nearest barber and continued his golf, and Rebel, career—but not without challenging his hall of fame coach by returning to school after each summer not perfectly trimmed.

“Sometimes I had to tell him, ‘Charley, you need to go back and stand a little closer to the barber this time,’ and he would head back and get it a little shorter,” remembers Knight, almost two decades since Hoffman helped lead the Rebels to the 1998 NCAA title.

Hoffman exacted his revenge on Coach Knight as he made his way up the ranks of the PGA TOUR while sporting long, blonde surfer hair, before finally chopping it off a couple years ago.

It was lessons like keeping hair trimmed and wearing slacks to the golf course even when only practicing that Hoffman most remembers from his Rebel days. Yes, he was a member of a national championship team and that was an amazing experience, but what left an indelible impression on him is all of the knowledge that Knight instilled in the team.

“The best tip I ever got from coach wouldn’t be golf related,” says Hoffman. “It would be him always demanding us to show up on time and to be ready and prepared. That’s more of a life lesson than a golf lesson. He stressed going to class and showing up on time, and that made me a better person and I still remember that to this day. When I tell you a time, I will be 10 minutes early and I won’t be 10 minutes late. I learned that from Coach Knight and being a part of the Rebel program.”

Knight remembers Hoffman, who will hold his annual Charley Hoffman Foundation Pro-Am at TPC Summerlin on Monday, October 19, as a fearless player and a free spirit.

“When I think about Charley Hoffman, there are a lot of things that come to mind,” says Knight. “He’s an outstanding competitor, number one. And he has always had a lot of courage as a player. He is not afraid to challenge things to get a victory and doesn’t fear the result if it doesn’t go his way. I remember that I could see that from the very first time I saw him play as a junior in San Diego. And we saw it every day at UNLV. He was a stalwart on the 1998 national championship team, and I very much appreciate what he brought to that season, but I remember his practice sessions as much as anything and his fearlessness was always on display. There was a par 5 on the front nine at the old Desert Inn course where we practiced and played a lot, and I remember that Charley would go for the green in two from no matter where he was on that hole. Every time he would go for it and that really shows you his mentality to challenge any situation. I also remember he had a big heart and I really admire what he is doing now with his foundation and helping people.”

Overall, Hoffman had a solid career at UNLV, but it wasn’t always fairways and greens. His aggressive play as a young Rebel would be part of the reason why Hoffman wouldn’t qualify to travel and was not a coach’s choice. Those dark days inspired Hoffman to get better and to this day he remembers the anger that he felt at not playing.

“There are a lot of memories that I have about UNLV, like learning about how important the process is to become a great player, but what stands out to me early on is not playing and getting pissed off about not traveling and not playing,” says Hoffman, who earned honorable mention All-American in 1998. “I was frustrated, but I look back now and see that it probably made me want it a little more and made me a better player. It was gratifying to finally break through and be a part of the national championship, but it seemed like decades had passed from my early bad memories of not playing to that pinnacle moment. It definitely made it all worth it.”

Hoffman’s sense of humor and personality was also always on display as a Rebel. Knight and Hoffman both vividly recall a time in Austin, Texas, when Hoffman spotted a group of mule deer on the side of road as the team was returning from the day’s play.

“Charley saw those deer and just kept saying, ‘I can catch one of those deers’, and kept telling us to pull over,” says Knight, chuckling at the memory. “The rest of the team told him there was no way he could so finally we pulled over the van and out jumped Charley. He took off after the deer and would get close but then they would make a quick move and Charley would go flailing. But that was Charley, always having fun and thinking he could do the impossible.”

Following his Rebel career, Hoffman played the mini tours for a few years. He officially qualified for the PGA TOUR in 2006 after finishing 19th on the Web.com Tour money list (then called the Nationwide Tour). Hoffman earned more than $1.1 million in his first season but his career really took off when he won the 2007 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. As of this writing, Hoffman had earned more than $17 million in his professional career.

“Getting that first win is the most memorable moment of my career to this point because that solidified who I was on the PGA TOUR and what I was trying to do,” says Hoffman in between practice swings on the back of the TPC Las Vegas practice range. “It is something I will never forget. In a game where you never really have any security, winning out here means a lot. You become a lifetime member and you’ll always have somewhere to play and practice at a TPC course like here at TPC Las Vegas. You want to get to the PGA TOUR but once you’re there you want to stay there and winning solidifies everything. I wasn’t really on top of my game going into that week, but I got the job done and that’s kind of the way all of my wins have been (other wins: 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship and 2015 Mayakoba Classic). When it clicks it clicks, and I kind of just go with it.”

Hoffman also made a big splash at The Masters earlier this year when he was among the leaders throughout the tournament. “It was a great experience, and from tee to green I probably hit it better than anybody,” says Hoffman about his run at The Masters when he finished tied for 9th. “I struggled on the greens on Sunday and I would say I probably got a little tentative with my putting. It’s hard to explain how fast and undulated those greens are, but the first couple days I was making putts and getting balls to the hole. The last couple days I wouldn’t say I wasn’t trying to three-putt, but you can knock a six-footer six feet by and you can’t be scared to do that. I lost my pace on the weekend at Augusta so I learned from that, but I also learned that I can compete with the best in the world on the biggest stage. My goal now is to contend in all majors. Your career is based on how you perform in major championships for the most part. I haven’t competed in a lot of them and haven’t had much success, but that finish has given me a stepping stone to believe that I can compete.”

Even at such a major tournament, Hoffman’s thought process about helping others is always front and center. Despite preparing for his own round, Hoffman had the presence of mind to corner golf royalty Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on the range prior to their ceremonial tee shot. The moment wasn’t lost on the national media, including this post by Associated Press golf writer Paul Newberry.

“(Hoffman) showed some spunk when he spotted Nicklaus and Palmer warming up on the range, getting ready to hit their ceremonial opening tee shots along with Gary Player. Hoffman had purchased a couple of Masters flags the night before, and he persuaded Nicklaus and Palmer to sign them. They'll be auctioned off to benefit Hoffman’s favorite charities.

“That was pretty cool," Hoffman said. "I was sort of scared of them. 'Should I ask them? Should I not ask them?'"

The good of the charities and the Charley Hoffman Foundation was top of mind at that moment, and that will continue to be the case as Hoffman prepares to play in his hometown event, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, October 22-25 at TPC Summerlin. The annual Charley Hoffman Foundation Pro-Am will be held on the Monday of tournament week and Hoffman, along with several PGA TOUR buddies, will tee it up to help benefit various Las Vegas charities.

Hoffman and his wife, Stacy, created the foundation in San Diego several years ago and hold an event there as well as in Las Vegas. The events have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities, which are very grateful for the support. It has been a personal journey for the Hoffmans.

“My wife and I had an idea to start a foundation after we ran a charity event for San Diego junior golf, and we thought, ‘why don’t we start a foundation so we can give back to more than one organization’,” says Hoffman. “We sat down and had a discussion and decided we needed to choose charities that our hearts were in, and we went through a process of determining what we believe in and what hits home. Cystic Fibrosis was the first one we supported because my brother’s wife lost two sisters to that, and I wouldn’t be who I am without San Diego junior golf so that was important. We then made the decision to also create an event in Las Vegas and that has been wonderful.”

The Foundation has made a deep impact in both San Diego and Las Vegas, with more contributions to come.

“The support of the Charley Hoffman Foundation, and that of Stacy and Charley, is integral to the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation’s goal of providing 10,000 disadvantaged Southern Nevada children annually with new shoes and socks, as well as other items deemed essential for good health and positive development,” says Nikki Berti, president of the organization. “By putting their best foot forward, the Charley Hoffman Foundation is helping us to build a better foundation one foot at a time.”

Hoffman and Stacy met in high school in San Diego and now are parents of Claire and Katelynn and have made Vegas their home for much of the year. Charley made the decision while at UNLV that Las Vegas would be his home as be pursued his career in professional golf.

“The golf facilities here were so welcoming and as a guy trying to make it out on the PGA TOUR the golf courses here are second to none,” says Hoffman. “Dan Hammell, the general manager at TPC Las Vegas, gave me a home to practice before I was anything or anybody, and that was huge for my game and my career.”

Charley is always being Charley, and Las Vegas—and San Diego—are better for it.

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