Morgan Hoffmann is happy to be home. Not Costa Rica home, New Jersey home. It’s a chilly, dreary Thursday in the Garden State, and Hoffmann is striping 8-iron after 8-iron into the par-3 16th green at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. It’s no morning stroll on the beach in Nosara, but it’ll do for today.
Hoffmann, dressed head-to-toe in Greyson attire (the joggers game is strong with this one), is “home” for a collaboration between his foundation and the First Tee, which was hosting the day’s outing. Foursomes rolled through every few minutes, and each one had the opportunity to use Hoffman’s tee shot on the 142-yard par 3, which is guarded by bunkers on both sides and a small pond in front. By my count, he missed the green only once the entire day, and after that one hiccup, he nearly jarred the next shot he struck. There is no question that his hands are still there, but in terms of swing speed and power, there’s still a ways to go.
“My pecs are coming back,” says Hoffmann, who was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy nearly seven years ago.
“Muscle’s definitely coming back stronger than it has in a long time. It’s not a hundred percent, I’m still working on my health a lot, doing a lot of different modalities. But it’s getting there and it’s going in the right direction.”
(Morgan Hoffmann hitting 8-iron into the 142-yard 16th hole at Mountain Ridge in West Caldwell, NJ)
That direction, Hoffmann says, is another return to the PGA Tour. In April of 2022, Hoffmann made his first tour start in 30 months, playing on a major medical exemption. In need of 238.42 FedEx Cup points in just a handful of starts to continue playing, Hoffmann came up short, missing three of five cuts with a high finish of T-51 that included a second-round 64 at the John Deere Classic.
He made only one start after that at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July of 2022 before quietly fading out of the picture once more. But with full Korn Ferry Tour status for 2024 (Hoffmann is exempt because he was fully exempt on the PGA Tour for his previous five seasons), the former phenom still has a path back. He and his trainer have outlined a three-month workout plan to get him where he needs to be.
“It’s definitely the best I’ve felt in a long time,” said Hoffmann, who had played a full round at his old home course, Arcola Country Club, a day earlier. “When I stopped playing a couple of years ago, my swing speed was down to 104 mph with my driver. Right now it’s back to 111. I’m planning to get that up higher before I start playing. Definitely trending in the right direction, and my short game is still there, which is nice. Made a bunch of birdies yesterday. Good to get that confidence boost.
“It’s going to take some work to get back to the place I want to be, but I think three or four months should do it.”
Once down to 20 percent muscle due to his disease, which a number of doctors told him was incruable and would only worsen with age, Hoffmann believes he is around 40 percent now, or nearly average for a 34-year-old male. Baby steps.
“It’s a lot better than going in the other direction,” he says.
Speaking to one group as they waited on the 16th tee, Hoffman noted the feeling of Wi-Fi in the air. One of his favorite things about living in Costa Rica is the lack of this thing we are all hopelessly addicted to. Hoffmann only needs the internet on rare occasions, and he often receives texts from friends asking him to tell his wife, Chelsea, to respond to their messages so they know she’s okay. She’s just fine, as is their 10-month old daughter Rai, who loves to travel and, more importantly, loves to watch dad play golf.
(Morgan Hoffmann hitting driver on the par-5 17th at Mountain Ridge County Club in West Caldwell, NJ)
Ideally, Chelsea and Rai will get to watch dad compete against the best in the world in 2024, which was the part of professional golf Hoffmann realized he missed the most when he made his mini-return in 2022. Seeing progress when practicing and playing by yourself is certainly nice, but nothing matches the feeling of seeing how you stack up against your peers.
“You can get as good as at golf as you want on your own, right?” he said. “And you can try to be the best that you can, but then like, going up against the best in the world and really testing that out and seeing like how good I’ve really gotten. That’s what I’ve always missed.
“The competition, playing on the best courses in the world. It’s a game that I love and I’ve always loved and it’s ingrained in me. I think that there’s a part of me — I know that there’s a part of me that I still believe that I have goals that I haven’t attained and can obtain, and I want to see that out. I’m 34 years old, still somewhat young. Look at Phil [Mickelson] still killing it when he is 50, over 50 years old. I still got time, so we’ll see how it goes. I just want to play and have fun.”
Hoffmann plans to bounce between the Korn Ferry Tour and Monday qualifiers for the PGA Tour, where he’s made over $6 million in 167 career starts with nine top-10 finishes, including a runner-up at the 2017 Honda Classic. That result, plus a solo fourth at the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he led after 36 holes, remain the closest Hoffmann has come to achieving the ultimate goal of winning on the PGA Tour, a goal he believes is still attainable.
“It’s the most basic one [goal]. I’ve always wanted to hold a trophy,” Hoffmann said. “I think I can do it more than once, but I haven’t at all. So, we’ll see. We’ll see if I can prove it to myself or not.”