AUGUSTA, Ga. – Not a bad day around Augusta National for Charley Hoffman.
He warmed up on the practice range Thursday morning with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and then immediately followed the Big Three off the first tee with a blistering opening round. Hoffman eagled the 15th, birdied the 16th and birdied the 18th to close out a 5-under-par 67 that left him as the early first-round leader.
Hoffman dealt with some serious nerves before his start, but for reasons beyond his opening tee shot. He got nervous asking Nicklaus and Palmer for autographs on the practice range.
“I was sort of scared,” Hoffman said. “Should I ask them, should I not ask them?”
That actually helped Hoffman.
“My mind wasn't really on golf,” he said. “I was watching those guys.”
Hoffman didn’t play scared. He played boldly. At the par-5 15th, he hit a 20-degree hybrid to 12 feet and made eagle. At the par-3 16th, he hit 7-iron to 5 feet for birdie. At the par-4 18th, he hit 6-iron to 3 feet for another birdie to play the final four holes in 4 under.
Though Hoffman, 38, is in his 10th full season on the PGA Tour, this is just his second Masters. He made the cut in his first start at Augusta National in 2011, tying for 27th. He qualified for a return winning the Mayakoba Classic in the fall start to this season.
Hoffman answered the challenges Augusta National presented in the first round with a fairly straight forward game plan.
“I think any time you step on this property, it's hard,” Hoffman said. “It's a major championship, and it's the coveted green jacket you want to get. I'm trying to approach it like if I get in position, I'm going to be aggressive. If I get out of position, I'm going to try to get back in position just like any other golf tournament.
“It worked today. Don't know if it's going to work tomorrow, or the next day, but I'm going to try to keep my game plans I have going into it. If you hype this thing up too much, you're not going to play good because you'll let your nerves get the best of you.”
Hoffman was perfectly attired with a green hat, green shirt and even green golf glove, but those weren’t Masters colors. Waste Management is one of his sponsors, and the glove is part of the company’s Green Glove Charity, a Keep American beautiful initiative.
It proved a good day for causes Hoffman supports. The Nicklaus and Palmer autographed flags will be auctioned off to benefit Hoffman’s foundations supporting children’s charities in San Diego and Las Vegas.