Pilot Hoffmann soars to first-round lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann nearly dunked his final approach shot Thursday en route to a 6-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Yawn.

Hoffmann is the most interesting 20-something you probably know nothing about.

For starters, his maternal grandmother, Dorothy Lionetti, died in her sleep Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale. She was 97.

Hoffmann, 25, learned of her passing only a few hours before his first-round tee time. He described himself as “kind of in a weird state right now.” He received a group text from his family that his grandparents were now playing golf in heaven. That made him smile.

He remembered Lionetti as “really positive,” and an unbelievable cook. She always made homemade pasta.


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Perhaps it’s that home cooking that has rubbed off on him, because for the past month Hoffmann has brought his own meals to the course. And we’re not talking PB&Js. During the opening round here he chowed on bison steak, broccoli and sweet potatoes. His caddie hauls around the meals in a Tupperware container and cooler. No utensils and plates, either.

“Barehanded it,” he said proudly.

On the road, he books only extended-stay hotels with a kitchen. He’s trying to pack on about 15 pounds of muscle, to get up to his fighting weight of 185. His plan was derailed when he got food poisoning in Hawaii and lost 10 pounds. The culprit was late-night pizza, not his own work.

How Hoffmann even arrived here at Bay Hill and at other tournament sites is another interesting story – he flies there himself.

When Hoffmann met Arnold Palmer at the 2009 Palmer Cup at Cherry Hills, they talked for an hour about flying. Hoffmann took ground school in college and received his pilot’s license. He’s been flying for four years.

About six months ago, he received his first plane, a six-seat Piper Lance, a hand-me-down that he got “very cheap” from NHL player and best friend David Booth. (And yes, Hoffmann plays hockey, too.)

Traveling at 200-mph cruising speed, the flight time from Jupiter, Fla., to Orlando was about 30 minutes. Good call, taking the scenic route. The spring-break traffic here is horrible.

Seriously, Hoffmann’s golf game might be the least interesting thing about him – and that’s saying something, since the guy reached the Tour Championship a year ago.

Struggling with a two-way miss for the majority of the 2015 season, Hoffmann spent two 12-hour days on the range at The Bear’s Club last weekend – an 8 a.m. arrival, with a departure at dusk.

He has always tried to hit a straight ball, which sounds ideal, except when his swing goes awry it can bring in trouble on both sides of the course. After the two marathon sessions, he now consistently hits a cut. Voila.

In the opening round he made three birdies, holed a bunker shot for an eagle-3 on the sixth hole and then nearly holed his approach on No. 9, his last of the day, which led to a tap-in birdie and the outright lead.

Of his emotional day, Hoffmann leaned back in his chair and said, “I’m appreciative of being alive, you know, and how you take things for granted and it’s just so crazy how life goes.”

And what a fascinating life it is.