Burden of not closing lifted for Hoffman

Valero Texas Open - Final Round

Clutch 9-foot birdie putts avoids playoff with Reed, clinches Valero Texas Open win
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – While Charley Hoffman was inside the scoring area double-checking the numbers on his winning card, his oldest daughter, Claire, was sitting just outside the door, crying and in pain. She was not a happy camper.

As normal, Claire would greet her father on the 18th green at the end of his tournaments. This Sunday, however, was slightly different. About the same time as Hoffman rolled in the decisive birdie putt from 9 feet, 2 inches to claim the Valero Texas Open, 5-year-old was stung by a bee, or perhaps an ant. “She was in tears a little bit,” Hoffman said. “I was also maybe in tears for another reason.”

With good reason. After spending the last couple of months getting in position to win his fourth PGA TOUR event – only to see his chances wash away at various points on the weekend – Hoffman finally sealed the deal at the AT&T Oaks Course. His 3-under 69 gave him a one-stroke win over playing partner Patrick Reed, who also birdied the final hole, forcing Hoffman to get up-and-down at the par-5 hole to avoid a playoff.

Although the pressure was not the do-or-die variety, Hoffman told himself to end the tournament now instead of taking his chances against Reed, who knows a thing or two about thriving in a match-play type of environment (Just ask the Europeans.)

When the ball dropped, Hoffman pumped his fist, then raised his arms into the air, as much from relief as from joy. “This is my fourth win,” Hoffman said. “That was the hardest one I’ve had.” Afterward, Reed – who bemoaned his own lost chances, having missed birdie putts inside 8 feet on the previous two holes — could only applaud Hoffman’s final stroke. “To make him have to make that 9-footer on the last, he did so,” Reed said. “He won the golf tournament.”

“When you’re one up going into the last hole and you have to hit a drive down the middle of the fairway and hit those two golf shots and the bunker shot and to make that putt just shows that he was ready to win a golf tournament.” Hoffman has been ready for the last two months. At the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, he was tied for fifth going into the weekend but shot two rounds over par to finish tied for 17th. At the Valspar Championship, he was tied for third going into the final round but shot a 4-over 75 to tie for 11th. At the Shell Houston Open, he led after each of the first two rounds but shot 74-76 on the weekend to tie for 33rd.

He wasn’t in contention at the Masters but at last week’s RBC Heritage, he shared the 36-hole lead and was tied for second after 54 holes until shooting a 4-over 75 (sound familiar?) to drop into a tie for 14th. Collectively in the 16 rounds of those four tournaments, Hoffman had a top-10 position on the leaderboard after 11 rounds, and yet failed to actually finish inside the top 10. No wonder he ranked 200th on the PGA TOUR in final-round scoring average heading into this week, nearly 5 shots higher than his opening-round average.

The frustration kept building, but give credit to Hoffman for not letting it conquer him mentally. He knew he was coming to a tournaments he’s played well in the past – top-15 finishes in nine of his previous 10 starts, including all six events held at TPC San Antonio. No reason to think he wouldn’t have another solid week, especially with the form he was showing. He just needed to channel those lost opportunities into a positive manner. Now you can understand why Sunday’s win meant so much to him – and why he kept saying, “It’s about time” during the post-tournament celebration.

“It’s been a rough month and a half,” Hoffman said. “That’s where ‘It’s about time’ comes from. Obviously I had good feelings coming into this week and knew I needed to close the door. “It’s been tough. To be able to go through that period in the last month and a half and close the door like I did – it’s a very good gratifying feeling.”

His clutch play was not just limited to that final putt on 18. He followed a bogey at the third with a bounce-back birdie on the next hole. He was bogey-free after that. When he birdied No. 11 from just outside 9 feet, he was at the top of the leaderboard and had to fend off the chasers the rest of the way. The tournament could have easily gotten away from him down the stretch, but Hoffman saved par with putts from 5 feet and 7 feet, while Reed misfired on his two opportunities.

“Definitely dodged bullets,” Hoffman said. In a state of legendary western gunslingers, that’s an apropos description.  Afterward, Hoffman even tried on a pair of cowboy boots that all Valero Texas Open winners received. By then, his daughter Claire was in good spirits, the pain from the insect sting having disappeared. She asked the questions of her daddy that she always asks after tournaments. Did you win? Are we going to get to go to Hawaii? Daddy said yes. The family will be at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions next January. Smiling as he told the story, Hoffman added, “It’s nice to be able to put Kapalua back on the calendar.” Especially the way the previous few months have gone.