Keeping Score

Hoffmann aims high despite health challenge

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann is a meticulous young man who savors the ability to be in control. It’s partly why he procured his pilot’s license seven years ago, his single-engine Piper Mirage allowing him to pierce light blue skies like a bird at speeds exceeding 230 mph.

A life-altering phone call that Hoffmann received in November took away some of the control that he covets. Hoffmann carries a lingering bad taste from the tone with which his New York neurologist phoned him with some long-awaited blood-test results. The doctor was matter-of-fact, and rather cold.

“You have muscular dystrophy,” Hoffmann heard the voice tell him. The words that followed mostly were a blur, outside of one last chilling sentence: “There is no cure.”

For Hoffmann, 28, whose opening 3-under 67 in high winds Thursday at the Honda Classic places him one shot off the lead and on track to make his first cut in seven starts, there was an understandable initial element of Why me? But he is a battler – always has been – and he is taking on this newfound health challenge head-on. 

“Fighting and never giving up is in my blood,” Hoffmann wrote in a poignant story that appeared in The Players’ Tribune, an online forum written by athletes, late last year. “No matter what happens to me, I will never stop doing everything in my power to make the lives of those around me better and to make the future healthier and brighter.”

Hoffmann has studied muscular dystrophy, and he has a much better understanding of the disease than he did months ago.

Hoffmann was a multi-sport standout athlete growing up in New Jersey, and later a decorated All-America golfer at Oklahoma State. Health always has been a priority. In 2011, he began to notice atrophy in his left pectoral muscle, and it sent him on a journey that didn’t provide a precise diagnosis until November’s dire phone call. Hoffmann said that his type of muscular dystrophy (facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy) can cause atrophy of the chest, back, neck, arms and legs. He said he has lost some speed in his swing, but as of now, the disease is progressing slowly. 

Missed cuts or not, he enjoys his opportunities to compete on a stage as grand as the PGA Tour. In his sixth season on Tour, he owns nine top-10 finishes, including a T-2 at last year’s Honda, in 146 career starts, with $5.8 million in earnings. Hoffmann’s personal challenge has become a personal mission. 

“I don’t think he could have handled it any better, to be honest,” said his caddie, Sam DaSilva, who has known Hoffmann for 15 years. The two were high school golf teammates. “He’s a super-positive guy with a great heart and a good perspective. I think he’s handled everything absolutely beautifully. I think the biggest thing that he wanted to do is to show kids that if they're struggling with things, they can live up to their dreams and do what they want to do.”

Hoffmann said the reaction to the Players’ Tribune piece that he penned in December has been staggering. He realizes that it’s awkward for people to approach him, not quite knowing what to say. He puts himself in their shoes, and acknowledges that he wouldn’t have the ability to find the right words, either. 

“What are you going to say to someone?” he said. “Just, ‘Sorry.’ It means so much to me when people come up to me and say, ‘Sorry, I read your article.’ That’s really, really cool."

Hoffmann, who underwent a dozen MRIs and multiple tests trying to find out what was going on inside of him, is optimistic about his road ahead. He’s adhering to a strict, disciplined diet, and next week he plans to visit “a holistic guy” across the state in Tampa who has a reputation for curing ailments through a recipe of specific diets and cleanses.

On Aug. 20, Hoffmann, who now resides in Jupiter, Fla., will stage a huge fundraising golf tournament back home in New Jersey, at Arcola Country Club in Paramus, where he says his father first put a golf club in his hands at age 1. As always, he’s looking forward, and staying as positive as possible. 

Round 1 at the Honda Classic was a windswept day that many players termed “tough” and “rugged.” Hoffmann knows about tough days; this wasn’t one of them. It was a glorious one, to be sure. He played well, but his new mission transcends golf scores. 

“Definitely, nothing lasts forever,” he said. “So, I’m out here just trying my heart out.”

Amid tough circumstances, he’ll choose to keep flying. 

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62 

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