There's no stopping Morgan Hoffmann in his fight against muscular dystrophy
Jared C. Tilton
“Once I find a cure.”
It’s a rather fanciful proposition to attempt to sum up the totality of a person in five spoken words. How fair would that be to most of us? How authentic? Five words to distill the essence of an individual? Five words to capture his character? A life in a two-second sound bite?
But here we offer five words spoken by Morgan Hoffmann, and they tell us so much about the 30-year-old PGA Tour player, more than just about anything else we can write about him as a golfer, as an outdoor enthusiast, as a certified pilot, as a Yankees fan, as a friend or husband or son.
Ah, yes, context. Hoffmann intends to find a cure for muscular dystrophy, with which he was diagnosed in late 2016 after sensing that something wasn’t quite right starting in 2011, which happens to be the year he turned pro. After consulting more than two dozen physicians, Hoffmann saw a neurologist in New York who suggested a blood test. It revealed that Hoffmann was suffering from the progressing effects of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy.
Muscular dystrophy actually refers to a group of more than 30 genetic diseases that cause progressive weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles. Because there are different strains of the disease, prognoses can vary. But there is no cure for a malady that affects one of every 5,000 males. Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy causes atrophy of the chest, back, neck, arms and sometimes legs.
A two-time All-American at Oklahoma State and a former No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Hoffmann first noticed a change in his body in his right pectoral muscle. It was a bit sunken. That was late 2011. He was 22. Nevertheless, two years later he became a PGA Tour member and played well enough to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs in three of his first four seasons. That included finishing 81st in the FedEx Cup standings in 2016-’17, the season after his diagnosis.
Because of the progression of the disease, Hoffmann has competed just 24 times since, including four starts this season, all in the fall and the last in early October in Las Vegas. He is targeting January, at the earliest, to resume his attempt to retain his card while on a major medical extension. For the foreseeable future, he is concentrating all his energy on beating the illness, primarily by undertaking a holistic, nature-based protocol. That might sound unconventional, but not to a young man who made a frustrating foray through the medical community before receiving an accurate diagnosis.
Jared C. Tilton
So, here’s the crux of what he had to say about his determination to not just beat the odds, but to beat those odds over the heads of physicians espousing so-called conventional wisdom:
“What’s frustrating is that most if not all of the doctors in the United States say that MD is incurable, and I disagree. So, I’ve been studying with doctors around the world, and this is the path that I’m on, that I’ve chosen to take. So, I’m trying to pave a new path to health and, hopefully, educate people once I find a cure.”
He did not intend to say if I find a cure. He didn’t intend to say once they find a cure. He is taking full ownership of his condition and the fight to overcome it. He is not thinking he will fail. He is not leaving his fate to others.
“Once I find a cure.”
Because of his steadfast determination as well as his dedication to helping others who suffer from MD through his Morgan Hoffmann Foundation, which he and his wife, Chelsea, started in 2017, Hoffmann is the latest recipient of the PGA Tour Courage Award announced Monday at the Honda Classic.
According to the Tour, the Courage Award “is presented to a player who has overcome extraordinary adversity, such as personal tragedy or debilitating injury or illness, to make a significant or meaningful contribution to golf.” Introduced in 2012, the PGA Tour Courage Award previously has been presented to Erik Compton in 2013, the late Jarrod Lyle in 2015 and Gene Sauers in 2017. The award comes with a $25,000 contribution that Hoffmann can designate to the charity of his choice.
Hoffmann would prefer to not be in a position to receive this award. That’s only human nature. But he is nonetheless grateful because he hopes it brings more awareness to MD and his foundation.
“It’s a true honor to be among that list of recipients,” Hoffmann said. “Obviously, it’s not a position anybody wants to be in to receive this award, but anything that the PGA Tour gives out is really special. Going forward, to make do with what you have and, hopefully, help people and create awareness is really all that we can hope for. And I think each of those people [honored] in the past have done that.”
As he spoke on the phone from his home in Jupiter, Fla., Hoffmann was preparing his breakfast, which consists of various kinds of fruit. Lunch was to be the same. Dinner, too. In fact, he is early into his second month of a six-month all-fruit diet to cleanse his body of toxins. He does not eat meat, dairy, breads or even vegetables, nor does he consume alcohol or caffeine.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Hoffmann is taking his cues from Dr. Robert Morse, a Florida naturopathic physician and herbalist. “He is all about regenerative detoxification. So, what that means is you’re pretty much detoxing the body to regenerate new cells and rebuild your body,” Hoffmann said. “And what that looks like is getting rid of all the waste and build up that you have and breaking your body down to rebuild it.”
One of the few variations to his diet will come later this month when he visits Costa Rica for herbal tea treatments. “I’m in the belief system that you don’t need drugs or pills or needles to cure your disease. I think it can be done all naturally, and the earth has everything that is needed. The hope is that you can kind of reorganize your neural pathways in your brain and tell your body to heal itself and create neurogenesis. It’s a pretty amazing concept, really.”
You know who is amazed by all of this? Chelsea, who is supportive of Morgan to the point that she is sharing his strict diet.
“I’m proud that Morgan is receiving this award because I see how he lives his life,” Chelsea said. “Since he got the diagnosis, there have been a lot of different aspects to how he’s had to change his life. He’s had to relearn the game of golf, a game he has loved since he was a little boy, and I think, That has to be so hard on him. He’s had to change what he does day to day, and when you see his determination, how he remains so positive, it has an impact on your own life. He’s shown a lot of strength.”
Whenever he is strong enough to return to competition, Hoffmann will have only three tournaments remaining from his major medical extension. He wishes he hadn’t burned so many starts when he wasn’t 100 percent, but his confidence hasn’t wavered. At most, he plays just once a week, primarily at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, basically to retain muscle memory for his swing, an athletic move he’s executed probably hundreds of thousands of times since he was a kid growing up in New Jersey. Last week, at another course near his home, Lost Tree, he shot a five-under-par 67. “So that was not too bad,” he said, sounding pleased.
His next big golf outing comes June 21-22 at the third annual Morgan Hoffmann Foundation Celebrity Pro-Am at Arcola Country Club, his boyhood course in Paramus, N.J. Last year, dozens of fellow tour pros helped Hoffmann raise more than $1 million, most of which was socked away for the purpose of one day building a health and wellness center to help other MD patients.
Facebook/Morgan Hoffman Foundation
That wellness center is a few years from fruition, so Hoffmann has chosen to give grants to individuals battling the disease rather than to institutions or medical facilities. One exception was to make a $10,000 grant to the sister of an MD patient he has met. She is working on some novel concepts independently involving research on zebrafish, something that intrigues the preternaturally inquisitive Hoffmann. Otherwise, the foundation has given grants to families dealing with terminal cases. This past weekend Morgan and Chelsea welcomed a young teenager to their home who has Duchenne’s MD, a common form of the disease that typically strikes young males and proves fatal by the time a person has reached his 20s. Morgan planned to take the boy to the Honda Classic this week to meet some tour pros.
“We really just want to get to know the people that we give the money to and keep it all honest and loving,” Hoffmann said. “I think we make a bigger difference when we interact directly with people.”
At the charity event, Hoffmann said, “I don’t play golf for myself anymore,” but that doesn’t mean he is giving up on being a golfer again. His hope is to resume his career and use it to raise money and awareness for his foundation.
“I think everybody ultimately comes across the question, Why are we here? And, you know, it doesn’t matter how you come to ask that question,” he said. “Everybody has goals in life, whether within business or family … whatever that is. But I think there’s something more in all of us to help each other, and that’s ultimately what I hope to do.”
But before he can help others, he must heal himself. And he seems to be on an encouraging path. Hoffmann said that because of his diet and other healthful regimens such as meditation, he is seeing some positive effects. Back acne that has plagued him since he was a teenager has cleared up. He is sleeping better and is cognitively more alert. “And with regards to the MD, it’s definitely slowed down,” he said. “The atrophy is, I’m reluctant to say it’s stopped, but it’s been very slow, which has been awesome. And I’ve also been able to feel some muscles firing in places that haven’t for a while. I feel like I am making progress, and it would be amazing to bring hope to others, eventually.”
It’s not quite accurate to say that Hoffmann is the recipient of the PGA Tour Courage Award because of any contributions to golf. More accurately, it’s his contributions using golf as a vehicle.
“I know he has a strong sense of what his purpose is now. And I just want him to feel like he’s fulfilling that, no matter what that means,” Chelsea said. “Honestly, I think that he stands for a larger purpose is bringing him more joy than golf ever could. I see a light in him when he’s working with the foundation, with healers trying to find a cure. I couldn’t ask for more for him than just living a life that makes a difference. I know that’s what he wants, and that’s what I want for him the most.
“It makes me so happy watching him take joy out of something so difficult,” she added. “He’s a pretty inspiring guy.”
For a five-word summation of a person’s life, those last few also would suffice.