Maturity leads to victory for Hoffman

Dwaine Knight had seen it before, probably a few times more than he had hoped. There is this line in sports that separates reckless from courageous, and only those mature enough to identify when to push its limits can truly experience greatness.

It took Charley Hoffman years to realize when to push and when not to.

When it all came together one Sunday this month … magic.

"He has always been a great competitor," Knight said. "As a player, you have to learn when to temper that courage and not go for every pin. He was never afraid to go for it. A lot of times I wish he hadn’t. But when he learned to manage that with a little patience, every once in a while … I’ve seen some miraculous rounds."

Knight was speaking Tuesday from TPC Summerlin, where the UNLV coach attended a media gathering for the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, scheduled for Oct. 21 to 24.

Also in attendance were defending tournament champion Martin Laird and Hoffman, the former UNLV standout and ideal example of how a life and career can change with one of those magical Sundays.

Hoffman had played well shortly before the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago, the second of four FedEx Cup playoff events. He finished seventh at the John Deere Classic in July and fourth at the Canadian Open a few weeks later. He finished 10th at Turning Stone, the event prior to the playoffs beginning.

Then came Sunday in Massachusetts.

Know this: He shot a 9-under par 62 and had 11 birdies in that final round for a tournament-tying record 22-under 262, sending him to a comfortable win (his second on the PGA Tour) and rocketing up the FedEx points list.

Today, he stands third overall and awaits the final playoff event at the Tour Championship and its 30-player field beginning Sept. 23.

Know this also: Should he win in Atlanta, he will clinch the FedEx title and its $10 million bonus.

Know something else: That’s a lot of money to help keep his hair styled in such a creative way.

"No question, after I won the (Deutsche Bank), I started thinking about it," Hoffman said. "It’s nice to be in a situation where you control your own destiny. If I win, I get $10 million, and that’s a life-changing thing. If I don’t win the $10 million, I’ve had a great year and won a tournament. There is no downside to it.

"Never before had I been in the sort of rhythm than I was on that Sunday. Every shot I hit happened exactly the way I wanted. It was a fun experience, because I’ve been in situations before coming down the stretch on Sunday where none of my shots have gone where I wanted. It’s nice to be in this position."

Think about it: He qualified for no majors this year, and yet because of his win will now compete in all four in 2011. He also put himself in the conversation to be selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team before Corey Pavin chose four others.

Hoffman hadn’t won on the tour since 2007 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a golfer who was part of the 1998 national championship team at UNLV under Knight and didn’t wait more than a minute to reference that Tuesday. Some guys remember where they come from and appreciate it. Hoffman has always been one.

It’s impossible to predict, when a golfer might discover that charmed level of play that can change his life forever.

Hoffman is in his fifth year on the tour and had before this season managed eight Top 10 finishes.

Heck, he missed the cut in five of his first 11 events this season, including four of the first six. He struggled with injuries and his game.

Now, he is one win from the sort of payday most only dream about and a few months away from welcoming he and wife Stacy’s first child.

"I definitely think my best golf is ahead of me," said Hoffman, 33. "It always happens slower than you want. But my goal now is to compete in majors and play on world golf teams in the Ryder and President Cups."

And about that $10 million …

"I’m a pack rat," he said. "I’d probably save a lot of it. (Stacy) and I realize how lucky we are, and we already have a lot of things we like now. I don’t think we’d spend much of it.

"I think we’ll be OK on toys and baby clothes this year."

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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