ORLANDO, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann will really miss his grandmother’s cooking.
Dorothy Lionetti, mother to six children including Hoffmann’s mother Lorraine, died in her sleep early Thursday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“She was the best cook ever; 100-percent Italian, came from Italy,” Hoffmann said. “She made homemade pasta for us all the time. … We’ll miss her.”
Lionetti’s love for cooking has evidently rubbed off on her grandson. Hoffmann, who shot 6-under 66 Thursday to grab the first-round lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, started cooking every meal for himself about a month ago.
“I actually cook my meals the night before and eat on the course,” Hoffmann said. “Even out here, I have a Tupperware (container) and cooler in my bag. … I just figure it’s better than eating candy bars or protein bars.”
On the menu for Thursday’s lunch at Bay Hill: bison, sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli. “I always have a protein, good carbs and vegetables,” he said.
Hoffmann set a goal for himself in November to gain 15 pounds. He accomplished his goal, reaching 185 pounds by December, but then lost 10 of those pounds after getting food poisoning before the Sony Open in January.
“I was out with some friends and late night ate a pizza and it wasn’t really good,” Hoffmann said.
While he’s been gaining that weight back with six meals a day and a healthy, home-cooked diet, Hoffmann is also regaining his form on the golf course. After making it to the Tour Championship last fall and finishing 26th in the FedEx Cup race, Hoffmann arrived at Bay Hill having missed the weekend in four of nine starts this season. His best finish of the year came two weeks ago at Trump National Doral, where he tied for 17th.
“Pretty disappointing,” Hoffmann said. “Missed a couple cuts and then didn’t really finish well on the weekends, and just been missing my shots both ways out there, and it’s been pretty frustrating.”
Hoffmann’s disappointment reached a tipping point last week after a missed cut at the Valspar.
“Tampa really put a spark under me,” said Hoffmann, who went back home to Jupiter, Fla., last weekend and put in 12-hour practice sessions on Saturday and Sunday at The Bear’s Club.
“I hit balls all day on Saturday, Sunday and hit every shot, hitting a cut because just trying to work one shot into my game,” Hoffmann said.
And, of course, Hoffmann packed his meals.
“My eating habits have been pretty strict,” Hoffmann said. “I’m trying to step it up, really get focused for the Masters and these majors.”
Speaking of the Masters, Hoffmann is taking these next two weeks off to prepare for his first Masters appearance – he earned his invite by qualifying for last season’s Tour Championship. He said he plans to make a trip to Augusta National next week. His mode of transportation – his personal plane.
Hoffmann was inspired to get his pilot’s license by Arnold Palmer at the 2009 Palmer Cup. Six months ago, Hoffmann purchased a six-seat, single-engine Piper Lance from his buddy David Booth, who plays hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He gave it to me for dirt cheap and I kept up with it, and it’s been great,” Hoffmann said. “I flew to Tampa with Derek Fathauer last week. He was too scared to touch the yoke. I was like, ‘Dude, we’re on autopilot, just turn it to the left a little bit.’ ”
He flies his own plane. He cooks his own meals. He’s good-looking. At 25 years old, Hoffmann, who played his college golf at Oklahoma State, is the PGA Tour’s newest candidate for most interesting golfer.
And after Thursday’s performance, he’s currently got the game to complement all that. Hoffmann went bogey-free with four birdies and an eagle in his opening round at Bay Hill.
He focused on hitting greens and he only missed two of them while hitting his final approach shot of the day, at the par-4 ninth, to 8 inches. He focused on his short game from off the green, and he holed a bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 sixth.
“If that pin wasn’t there it was going 10 feet by for sure,” Hoffmann said. “I haven’t had a hole-out or chip-in in a while and every time I missed the green, I told Steve (Underwood), my caddie, that I’m chipping this one in. Always hit good chips and finally the one that I mis-hit actually goes in. Just funny how the game is.”
That focus Thursday was even more impressive considering what had happened earlier in the day. Hoffmann said his grandmother’s health had been deteriorating for the past year, but that she passed away without any pain with several family members nearby.
“My whole family texted me and said, ‘Nanny is playing golf with Pop up there,’ ” said Hoffmann, who will fly to Fort Lauderdale for a memorial service Saturday night. “So I just went out there and had a good mentality today.”
Dorothy Lionetti was a good cook, but she also taught Hoffmann to have a positive outlook on life.
“I’m appreciative of being alive. … It’s just so crazy how life goes,” Hoffmann said. “Mentally, I’m in kind of a weird state right now; I’m just pretty chilled out there and loving life right now.”
And what a good one he has at the moment.