CROMWELL, Conn. – Sometimes, Chelsea Hoffmann wakes up and thinks she’s on a houseboat, what with the metronomic sound of the waves lapping at the shore.
She and her husband, Morgan, and their service dog, a Doberman named Yama, are bunking in their 35-foot Sunseeker RV this week, and it’s parked in the backyard of friends of theirs in Old Saybrook. Friends, meaning the parents of Hoffmann’s caddie, Sam “Ghost” Spector.
“It’s beautiful,” Morgan said after shooting a 2-under-par 68 in the first round of the Travelers Championship, his final start on a medical extension, where he needs a solo fourth or better. “You wake up and look around and it’s just water. The birds are chirping. It’s very peaceful.”
Hoffmann, you might recall, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2016 and left the TOUR three years later.
Frustrated with the limitations of western medicine, he began a healing journey that has included psychedelics, yoga, surfing, veganism, breathwork, and a grape cleanse. He’s gone from Nepal for ayahuasca (hallucinogenic medicine) to buying a home in Costa Rica for its healthful Blue Zone attributes.
He’s not the same guy who reached world No. 1 as an amateur, was an All-American at Oklahoma State, and played the TOUR fulltime from 2013-17.
And yet …
“I’m not ready to just be a weekend golfer,” he said while drinking a smoothie outside the clubhouse earlier this week. “I’ve added 7 mph clubhead speed. It’s exciting, because when I left the TOUR, I was down to 104 with the driver, which is not ideal. I’ve seen the biggest jump in the last month and a half, in the gym, lifting hard, eating a lot, getting confidence back.”
The smoothie, incidentally, is about the only thing Hoffmann can eat from player dining. He limits his menu to raw food until dinner, when he allows for cooked vegetables like spaghetti squash, lentils, spinach, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. He and Chelsea make meals in the RV, where they were Wednesday night, checking out the definition of Morgan’s right pectoral muscle.
That muscle began to atrophy as early as his junior year at Oklahoma State, and he spent much of his old TOUR career searching high and low for a diagnosis. He was poked and prodded and sampled. Doctors hypothesized, equivocated, disappeared. For years, they had no answers.
Once they did, and he was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, Hoffmann was told there wasn’t much he could do. He disagreed, embarking on a holistic journey in which he barely touched a club. That he has returned to compete against the world’s best has been an inspiration.
“He’s getting notes from players and caddies in his locker,” Chelsea said. “Because everyone is on their own healing journey.”
The most sensational part of Hoffmann’s journey, the one that fairly jumped off the pages of a Golf Digest profile, was the hallucinogenic ayahuasca treatment. He recalled a “geometric butterfly” and a moth feeding him a vine, dirt, trees, and berries, after which the vine was pulled from him, an elephant appeared, and black smoke started pouring from his mouth.
“It felt like the disease was coming out of me,” he said.
Hoffmann has always been a polymath. He’s a pilot (but sold his plane), and has an interest in a clothing company, Greyson. He wore a groovy patterned golf shirt and pink pants for the first round at the Travelers on Thursday, his flowing, blond locks fashioned into a manbun poking out the back of his black cap, the crown of which featured his foundation’s plus-sign logo.
“I got a little turned around this morning and was late,” Chelsea said, “but I saw him from afar and thought, that must be him!”
She laughed as she watched the action at TPC River Highlands with a handful of Hoffmann’s friends, including one of his partners in Greyson. Hoffmann is also involved in a venture that aims to make it easier to get non-traditional medicine covered by insurance. Long range, he and Chelsea plan to open a solar-powered healing center in their adopted home of Costa Rica. They recently closed on the land. “I’ve never seen someone with more interests than him,” she said.
In one way, Hoffmann resembles any other TOUR pro. When he’s not in Costa Rica, he lives in Jupiter, Florida, where he plays out of the Bear’s Club and hangs out with friends Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas. The house belongs not to Hoffmann but his mom, Lorraine, who is a flight attendant and rarely home. She is expected to be on site later this week, cheering him on.
Being in Jupiter has its benefits, one of which is that Hoffmann has been working out at Coastal Performance in Palm Beach Gardens. He’s not the same guy who missed the cut by one at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head in April, his first TOUR start since the fall of 2019. He’s bigger and stronger, part of a concerted effort to catch up to his old playing competitors.
“They just opened a new gym,” he said. “It’s really cool. It’s got three different hitting bays, a TrackMan, a putting green you can adjust for slope, a putting lab, and a gym with a big turf area which is cool for agility. Medicine-ball throws. Jumping. Heavy lifting, dead-lifting, kettle-bell work, Turkish get-ups, heavy carrying for full-body stability, rolling.
“Warm-ups are difficult,” he added, “and the finisher is usually like the fan bike, or the ropes, or pushing a sled. I’ve put on like 20 pounds of muscle in the last three months.”
He’s also made an inner transformation, something Chelsea noticed at Hilton Head.
“He thought he needed to birdie his last hole and bogeyed it,” she said. “It was frustrating, and there was a time when it would’ve ruined his whole week. But he was ready to do other stuff and be around other people almost immediately.”
Instead of pouting, they took the Sunseeker to Colorado for intensive hiking and got snowed on.
Three weeks after RBC Heritage, Hoffmann shot 73-80 at the Wells Fargo Championship in Maryland. That was nowhere near making the cut, but the week, while something of a disaster, provided him more information still.
“I was still hitting it short,” he said, “and with the rain and cold I was even shorter. I was hitting 3-irons into those greens. That was a big motivator for me to step it up in the gym.”
Chelsea is pregnant, due in late October. It will be a freebirth, at the couple’s mountaintop home in Costa Rica, without the usual medical assistance. Boy? Girl? It will be a surprise. Their home is being renovated, and they will return in July. That, too, could be a surprise – a pleasant one, with any luck. Morgan’s pectoral muscle is coming back. His game is coming back.
If he gets smokin’ hot Friday and keeps it going into the weekend, he could play his way to more TOUR starts, or some sponsor exemptions. He could wind up back on the Korn Ferry Tour. But he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it; for now, it’s about embracing the present moment as he finds his way back into some version of his old life.
He wants to bring the lessons he’s learned on his healing journey to others, and that includes his old TOUR colleagues. He’s especially intrigued by the treatment of supposedly incurable diseases. Where exactly competitive golf fits into his life remains to be seen, but in a perfect world it will help him fund the healing center in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
His 2-under start at the Travelers was a decent start. He’ll need to keep going.
“It could have been really good,” he said. “I feel really comfortable on this course.”