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NORTON, Mass. – It was sometime in late April, the memory of three competitive rounds at the Masters still providing a nice buzz, when Charley Hoffman jokingly asked U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Steve Stricker a question.
“Are you ready for a 40-year-old rookie on the team?”
We’re now a month away from The Presidents Cup – and it’s no longer a laughing matter. Hoffman is 72 holes away from making it a reality.
With a chance to secure his first-ever appearance on a U.S. national team, Hoffman will enter this week’s Dell Technologies Championship ranked 10th in points. The top 10 players after the Labor Day completion of the tournament at TPC Boston automatically earn spots on Stricker’s team.
It’s certainly not a done deal. FedExCup Playoff events are weighted the same as World Golf Championships in terms of U.S. Presidents Cup points – and this year, points are doubled. A win is worth 1,100 points, giving any player ranked between No. 11 through 18 enough points to climb inside the top 10.
Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, currently ranked 11th, flip-flopped spots all last weekend at THE NORTHERN TRUST. In fact, Chappell was projected into the 10th spot through 54 holes, but Hoffman moved back inside the bubble at Glen Oaks with a final-round 65 to Chappell’s even-par 70.
Even so, Chappell closed the gap by finishing ahead of Hoffman and is now just 23 points behind. Just how tight is the race between Hoffman and Chappell?
Consider this scenario: If Chappell finishes solo 23rd this week, he would earn 88.4 points. If Hoffman finishes solo 30th, he would earn 63.466 points. That’s essentially a 25-point difference, and Chappell would rise to the 10th spot while Hoffman falls to 11th, leaving his fate in the hands of Stricker, who will announce his two Captain’s Picks next Wednesday.
It seems likely that one of those picks would go to the 11th player on the list. But there are no guarantees. In 2013, International Team Captain Nick Price did not select the 11th player on his list, Thongchai Jaidee (International points are based on world rankings). Instead, Price opted for No. 12 (Marc Leishman) and No. 14 (Brendon de Jonge).
Stricker isn’t tipping his hand, but it was a positive sign that Hoffman was part of the U.S. contingent that appeared at Liberty National during a media outing Monday before THE NORTHERN TRUST.
“He’s been playing solid all year,” Stricker said. “He’s got a wonderful game. I’ve been keeping in touch with him. He’s been close a few times over the years. But I think he’s been playing solid enough where he’s going to do it this year … I think he’s due to make the team.”
Neither Hoffman nor Chappell – also seeking his first team nod -- have any interest in getting caught up in the projections. They share the same approach: Play well and good things will happen. Said Chappell: “The team events are always the result of achieving individual goals.”
Ask Hoffman how much he’s thinking about his Presidents Cup position, he replied, “None. Zero.”
He added: “I’m focused on playing good golf, having a good Playoffs, have a good FedExCup and guess what? If I do that part of my job, I’ll be on The Presidents Cup team. … I don’t want to [make the team as] a pick. If I end up being a pick, that means I didn’t do my job because I didn’t qualify. I’m in a position to qualify now. …
Designing the 2017 Presidents Cup host course Liberty National
“I control the cards.”
He was nearly in the same position two years ago, finishing 13th in Presidents Cup points. Then-Captain Jay Haas selected No. 11 (Bill Haas) and No. 12 (J.B. Holmes). Hoffman came up 71 points short.
If the current U.S. standings hold, five automatic qualifiers would be Presidents Cup rookies – Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger are 24 years old; Brooks Koepka (a Ryder Cupper last year) is 27; Kevin Kisner is 33; and Hoffman is the outlier at age 40.
While it’s rare that a player at such an advanced stage of his career makes a national team for the first time, it’s certainly not unprecedented. Fred Funk was 47 when he made the 2003 team. Woody Austin was 43 in 2007. Scott Verplank was 41 in 2005. Funk and Verplank were each Captain’s Picks.
Having a 40-year-old rookie could certainly bring an interesting dynamic to the team room. On one hand, there’s the usual wide-eyed enthusiasm that any player feels upon making his first national team appearance. On the other hand, there’s the experience of being able to put things in perspective and appreciate the moment, knowing the windows of opportunity are beginning to close.
“I think I would make that team better, personally,” Hoffman said. “I think my experience would be great, although I could see the reasons of picking a young guy and grooming him for X amount of years. … Behind closed doors, I’m a pretty fun guy to be around, I think. I’d bring a little bit of that to the team room.”
Said Stricker: “He might be a rookie but he’s an older guy. He’s been around. He wouldn’t be like one of the kids, like Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth [also 24 but a Presidents Cup veteran]. You’ve got to talk a little different language to those kids.” Added Stricker with a smile: “I’ve got to talk to my daughter before I talk to them to see what some of the words are.”
Hoffman was never a member of the junior national teams as an amateur. The last time he played in a team environment was during his college days at UNLV in the late 1990s.
“If I don’t make it, I don’t know what I’m missing because I’ve never played in one,” Hoffman said. “Now don’t get me wrong – I would love to play and I want to play. But thinking about it is not going to make me play any better.”
Hoffman said his primary goals at the beginning of the year were to compete in majors and win a golf tournament. Check on the first one. At the Masters, he opened with a 65 and held a 4-shot lead after 18 holes. He remained inside the top-5 through 54 holes before fading on Sunday. At the U.S. Open, he was tied for seventh through 54 holes and eventually finished solo eighth. At the Open Championship, he was tied for 10th entering the weekend and finished T-20.
But he hasn’t won a tournament this year, although it wouldn’t be a surprise at TPC Boston. He won here in 2010, closing with a 62, and two years ago shot a second-round 63, eventually finishing third.
“I’m hungry,” said Hoffman, who has four TOUR wins, the last one at the 2016 Valero Texas Open. “I want to win. I tell people I play this game to win. I don’t play to see how many top 10s I have or top 15s. I played this game to get Ws.
“When your career is said and done, you see how many wins you have. I don’t have as many as I’d like, so I need to get going.”
One of Hoffman’s Southern California neighbors is Phil Mickelson, who has played on every Presidents Cup team. Mickelson is on the outside looking in, currently ranked 18th in points and hoping to make one last big impression this week to justify a spot on the team.
Mickelson has played on 22 straight Presidents Cup/Ryder Cup teams and has told Hoffman how thrilling it is to represent the U.S.
“He’s like, ‘You’d love that and you’d be good. You just need to play better,’” Hoffman said. “Now Phil’s saying, ‘I want to play better so I can play with you on the team.’
“It’s one of those things – no matter if I’m on the team or not, there’s going to be great players representing America at The Presidents Cup. Hopefully I’m one of them.”
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