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Charley Hoffman puts Masters dream to good use

Charley Hoffman watches Brian Harman’s drive  from the 18th tee at Augusta National during the first round of the Masters on Thursday. Hoffman shot a 5-under-par 67.
Charley Hoffman watches Brian Harman’s drive from the 18th tee at Augusta National during the first round of the Masters on Thursday. Hoffman shot a 5-under-par 67. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charley Hoffman had an ulterior motive when he approached Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer for their autographs early Thursday morning at Augusta National.

Hoffman wasn’t just another awestruck fan asking for the signatures of two of golf’s greats – although there might have been some of that at work.

This was actually Hoffman – who would minutes later embark on a 5-under-par 67 at the Masters that would eventually leave him in a four-way tie for second place after the first round – hoping for something more.

Hoffman will return to his hometown of San Diego with the autographs on two Masters pin flags he purchased Wednesday. He will auction them off for the benefit of his Charley Hoffman Foundation, which raises money for charities in San Diego and Las Vegas, where he played college golf.

Nicklaus and Palmer, along with Gary Player, serve as honorary starters at the Masters. Five minutes after their ceremonial tee shots, Hoffman was scheduled to be part of the first grouping of the tournament.

So as they warmed up, Hoffman asked Nicklaus and Palmer for the autographs (he wasn’t able to ask Player).

“Jack and Arnie … were nice enough to do that,” said Hoffman. “I was sort of scared. Should I ask them? Should I not ask them? My mind wasn’t really on golf, really. I was watching those guys.”

When the two legends signed his pins, Hoffman didn’t wait around to talk, other than to thank them.

“No, I just said, ‘Do you mind signing this for me?’ ” said Hoffman, who has also gotten autographs from Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and others for the foundation. “I got in and out of there as fast as I could.”

Autographs secured, Hoffman went out and shot a round that led the tournament for much of the day. The highlight for Hoffman was an eagle on No. 15, when he hit a 240-yard second shot with a 20-degree hybrid that stopped about 12 feet behind the hole. He rolled in the putt for his eagle. That earned him a pair of crystal goblets, awarded to players at the Masters for making an eagle.

“I was able to knock that in and get my first piece of crystal,” Hoffman said.

Playing first – he was in a twosome with Brian Harman – suited Hoffman’s style.

“I knew going into it, I like playing early, and I like playing at a decent pace,” said Hoffman, who qualified for his second Masters by winning the November’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Mexico. “I love playing ‘ready’ golf. We didn’t rush it by any means, but (we) never had to wait on a golf shot. That’s my dream, to go play Augusta National first off in the Masters.”

Hoffman and Harman will start play at 10:52 a.m. Friday, in the middle of the field. This isn’t a unique position for Hoffman, who led after the first round of the Valero Open in March.

“Obviously it’s a four-round golf tournament,” he said. “Not a three-round golf tournament like I’ve played the last couple of weeks. I’m going to try to put four of them together this week.”

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