Sure, he’s pushing 40, but Charley Hoffman’s recent success (including a win at the 2016 Valero Texas Open and $4 million in earnings last year) just goes to show: You’re only as old as you play.
You headed into 2016 playing some great golf, with six top 10s in 2015 on the heels of your third Tour win in 2014. You also banked more than $4 million in earnings last year. What made the difference?
The only thing I really changed was my caddie. Back in the short off-season, I sat down and thought, “What haven’t I tried to be better at?” And I’d have kicked myself if I’d never changed caddies, to not give it a try. And the first week [with new caddie Brett Waldman] worked for me—we went out and won. So that instills confidence.
You’re a late bloomer by Tour standards. Your T9 at last year’s Masters was your first top 10 in a major. What did you learn about being in the hunt on Sunday?
I learned that I felt completely calm in that situation, which I think is just years and years of playing golf. I’d thought if I ever got in contention in a major that maybe the nerves would get me. But I wouldn’t say they did at all. Obviously, I got hit with some of the best golf of all time, the way Jordan [Spieth] played last year. I witnessed it on Saturday at Augusta. He played brilliantly, putted great, and hasn’t stopped since. I just wish I had done a few things differently on the weekend.
I was a little tentative with the putter. You get to Augusta and you don’t want to three-putt. But guess what? When you don’t want to three-putt, you end up three-putting. Or you don’t give yourself a chance to make the putt. So I would have been more aggressive with the putter. That’s what I learned watching Phil [Mickelson]. I played with him on Sunday and Jordan on Saturday, and they both gave the ball a chance to go in. And a lot of them went in.
You turn 40 in December. Does that milestone make you feel like a senior citizen amid all these young guns?
I feel young at heart. I don’t feel 40. The body feels good. I’m trying to keep it in somewhat decent form. If you look on paper, I’m past my prime a bit. But I had the best year of my life at 38. And hopefully I can have another good one at 39.
Are you encouraged by Steve Stricker, 49, and Kenny Perry, 55? That they can both still hold their own on Tour?
Yeah. Back in the day, I hit it a long way. Now, I’m slightly above average. But these kids hit it so far. If I’m healthy, I think I have a good chance to play for a while out here.
Isn’t it intimidating to see all these twentysomethings out on Tour? Don’t they get in your head?
No, I think it’s great fun. Go play with a twentysomething. It’s good to feel their energy and what they’re thinking. You feed off them, and off the energy they have. It’s nice to see these fresh minds go out and just play golf the way it’s intended to be played. Play aggressive, hit it hard. It’s fun to watch. Those kids play with no fear, and that’s nice to see.
Do you mentor any younger players?
If they ask a question, I’ll answer it. When I was younger, I tried to play practice rounds with older guys like Bob Estes and Vijay Singh, to see what they do and how they do it. That’s how I learned. I watched guys. If I’m struggling on a bunker shot, I’ll watch a guy hit a bunker shot and just learn that way. Or I’ll just ask him. If you have friends out here, everybody helps you play halfway decent—unless you’re in the final group with them. [Laughs]
Long-iron play is a strength of yours. What’s the biggest secret to consistent, pure irons?
Think of your long irons like a 7-iron, rather than trying to lift the ball up off the ground like you would with a 3-iron. People think that you can lift the ball, but actually you need to hit down on the ball for it to go up.
You used to be known for your long, wavy blond hair. Why did you cut it?
You know what? It’s one of those things that just ran its course. To be honest, I probably would have cut it earlier, but one of my sponsors liked it.
It was your trademark. Maybe there’s been a reverse-Samson effect: You’ve been better than ever with a clean-cut look.
I probably kept it a year longer than I wanted to. But my daughter Claire had never had a haircut. She was scared of the word “cut” because she thought it was going to hurt. I said, “C’mon, how about we go together.” So off we went—she got her first haircut, and I got my first real haircut in a long time.