2005: A little flair, a little ferocity, a lot of fun

By Rex Hoggard

Prattville, Ala.

There are plenty of reasons to like Charley Hoffman.

He lives in Las Vegas, and when he’s at home in America’s Playground, he’s as comfortable in a casino as he is on his couch playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on his PlayStation.

He counts among his friends fellow professionals Jason Gore and Pat Perez, an eclectic combination of associates that gives a telling glimpse into an equally diverse persona.

And, of course, there was that final-round 70 at the Nationwide Tour Championship Oct. 30. The 2-under effort was about as nondescript as they come on the demanding Senator Course: a few birdies, a bogey, one “other,” and sign the card.

But after spending much of the week watching his PGA Tour hopes slip away like a runaway 5-footer from above the hole, Hoffman delivered. His closing 70 was good for a tie for seventh and, more important, enough ching ($20,258) to keep him inside the top 21 on the season-ending money list and earn him his first trip to “The Show.”

“It was a little tougher than I wanted it to be,” the 28-year-old Hoffman sighed with a broad smile etched across his face.

It’s easy to label Hoffman “Jason Gore Lite.”

Each is an affable journeyman with a quick smile. Each has a sense of humor that is slightly sophomoric. Both feel equally comfortable delivering the punch line or being the butt of a joke. And, thanks to Hoffman’s final round on a chilly day in Alabama, both will be coming to a PGA Tour event near you next year.

But this is one cover that doesn’t match the book.

Although Hoffman would look equally at home coming out of a Kia Sportage at Long Beach Pier with a surfboard in tow or a courtesy car at a Tour event with his golf clubs hitched over his shoulder, the blond locks and easy smile are simply cameo roles in a complicated story.

Late Wednesday, as dusk settled over the Capitol Hill Complex, he was one of the final players on the practice range. Forget the easygoing exterior. Hoffman is the Nationwide Tour’s version of Vijay Singh.

Hoffman is an intense competitor who, at least earlier in his career, could be overly critical of himself. He also has a healthy temper that has, on occasion, surfaced on the golf course.

“You can tame a fire, but you can never build one. You can’t go out there and hit a bad shot and say it’s all right,” Hoffman says. “You’ve got to let yourself know you hit a bad shot. You can’t kid yourself out there.”

They say Perez has never had an unspoken thought, and Hoffman is equally candid. He’s also only slightly less combustible.

“Sometimes the only time Chuck should open his mouth is to change feet,” Gore joked.

The tour doesn’t release information about player fines, but it’s rumored Hoffman is the leader in the clubhouse for paying up for a potty mouth.

“I haven’t (been fined) since probably my second year out here (2001),” he says with the same boastfulness as a smoker who just shed his two-pack-a-day habit. “But I probably could have been fined if (officials) were close enough (to hear him).”

His language isn’t the only thing that’s improved since he left UNLV in 2000. Since his first year on the Nationwide Tour, Hoffman has reined in his emotions and learned that he doesn’t have to be perfect to succeed.

He’s learned that when you airmail a green by 30 yards, like he did at No. 15 Saturday, it’s not the end of the world.

“What’s one bogey? It’s a bogey. It’s not going to kill you,” Hoffman says. “But I’m fun to watch because I don’t hit every shot perfect.”

His prodigious drives – he’s 22nd on tour with a 304.9-yard average – are often off-line. His iron play is sometimes a bit haphazard. But he’s a magician around the greens.

Still, he’s imperfect. The classic hero complete with a few character flaws. Just the type of everyman the crowds can connect with.

“He’s just a really good guy. What you see is what you get . . . just look at his hair,” Gore says. “I like watching guys like that – guys with a little emotion.”

Tour money lists are filled with mechanically correct, A-frame, swinging machines who hide behind wraparound sunglasses and keep their emotions sealed in a case with a sign attached: “Break only in case of a victory.”

Emotion, like an effective fairway bunker, is becoming something of a relic within the play-for-pay circles.

Hoffman never will be confused for Tommy Bolt. Or even Perez, with whom Hoffman has been friends since the two played junior golf in San Diego. But he is honest. And sometimes that honesty runs a little hot.

“There’s too many (pro golfers) who all do the same thing,” Hoffman says. “The PGA Tour sort of molds you like that. They don’t let you do some stuff. But I think people would rather watch me play good golf than someone else. I think I bring a flair to the course.”

That’s flair, not flame. There’s a fine line between the two.

One man’s outburst is another man’s outlet, or so the fortune cookie goes.

Hoffman, however, seems to have found the perfect combination of fierceness and indifference.

The towheaded kid with the strong swing who helped lead UNLV to the 1998 NCAA Championship has grown up, but he’ll never grow out of his fun-loving ways.

As intense as he is between the ropes, Hoffman is just as relaxed off the course.

“You have to have fun,” he says. “If I beat myself up off the golf course like I did on the course, I may as well go jump off a bridge or something.

“I love to gamble. I love to go out and have fun. I’m no Phil Mickelson. I don’t have Phil Mickelson’s bank account. But I love to gamble.”

Hoffman may lack Lefty’s liquidity, but he’s now got an entire year on the PGA Tour to pad his bank account.

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