It’s not surprising that Charley Hoffman grabbed a share of the lead in the Sanderson Farms Championship.
It was Thursday, after all.
Hoffman has had at least a share of the lead after the first round six times in his career and No. 7 looks likely after he shot an 8-under-par 64 at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi. He shared the lead with 2015 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker among the early finishers.
Michael Gligic shot 65 while four players were at 66, including 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
“Because I play better than everybody on Thursday,” Hoffman joked when asked about his first-round success. “No, I mean, I think I come in with a good game plan. I think on Sunday I may in the past have not tried to execute the same game plan depending on where I am in the lead. That may be why I haven’t played as well as I’ve wanted to on Sundays. But on Thursday the game plan I set up early in the week and I follow through with it, and it usually pans out pretty well.”
Hoffman has four PGA Tour titles, his most recent coming in the 2016 Valero Texas Open. None of the four, however, came after he took at least a share of the lead in the first round. His best finish after grabbing at least a share of the first-round lead was a tie for seventh in the 2013 Travelers Championship.
In hopes of turning his Thursday triumphs into a Sunday trophy, Hoffman will follow his game plan – hit fairways and greens – and rely on his new found length.
Spurred by his birth certificate – he’s 43 – and the enormous length of reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, Hoffman has worked to get longer. In the first round, he hit nine of 14 fairways in regulation and was ranked fifth in driving distance at 303.7 yards. He also hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
Hoffman has been working with Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Center in San Diego to lengthen his swing, thus lengthen his drives.
“I’ve never struggled with yardage until the last like couple years,” Hoffman said. “That was never something I really explored before, so I started exploring how to do it. (Rose) trained a bunch of long drive guys, and it’s something that I’ve trained to do, be a little more efficient, swing longer. The reality is in this day and age it’s more important to be long than straight, so that’s something I’m trying to do.
“I’ve gotten in better shape throughout the years, but I wouldn’t say I’ve trained to hit it longer. I’m learning to be more efficient and hit it longer.
“It’s just the game is changing.”
But Hoffman won’t try and keep up with the big hitters all the time.
“As an older guy I’ve got to pay attention when I’m swinging it hard,” he said. “As I’ve said to people, my speed, I can get it up there pretty high. I don’t hit it on every shot. If there’s a par-5 where I need to get home in two I’m going to swing hard and hopefully hit the fairway. The other holes, like 18, I’m going to try to put it in the fairway and probably not swing quite as hard.”
Walker made the softest shots he hit count. After missing birdie putts from five feet on his first two holes, Walker made a slight adjustment in his stance and started making a bunch of putts. His 64 was his lowest round by five shots since golf returned in June following a 13-week break due to COVID-19.
“I haven’t been playing very well, but I feel good, and it just hasn’t really clicked yet,” Walker said. “I had a really good nine holes last week at home, and I was like, this is starting to feel pretty good, and seeing some putts go in. I had one good round at the U.S. Open.
“But last week at home was good. I’ve had some tendonitis in my elbow, shoulder has been hurting, so it’s been tough. I didn’t do much last week at home. I just rested quite a bit and I was with my buddies, but it actually felt pretty good day.”