PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Sometimes you have to walk away from something you love to find how much you truly miss it.
That is what San Diego State’s Matt Hoffenberg did with golf, a sport he never thought he would tire of, but that is exactly what happened midway through his junior year.
Hoffenberg had been playing competitive golf since he was eight years old. He did the junior golf circuit anticipated of a player with his burgeoning talent. He played in local junior PGA events and competed in the prestigious Junior Worlds that was a stepping stone for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
When he reached high school age he played in American Junior Golf Association events and traveled around the country.
By the time he reached San Diego State he had a loaded resume and was expected to be one of the stars on the team.
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It didn’t go exactly as Hoffenberg had envisioned. He didn’t struggle, quite the opposite. As a freshman, Hoffenberg became the first Aztec golfer to capture the conference’s Freshman of the Year award. He played in all 15 tournaments and was second on the team with a 72.83 scoring average.
Hoffenberg didn’t suffer from a sophomore slump. He played in 11 of the 13 team’s tournaments and had six top 20 finishes.
By his junior year, though Hoffenberg was tiring of the sport. He didn’t want to play and he definitely didn’t want to practice. His attitude got worse as the season dragged on and with five events left in the year, he told the coach he was quitting.
“I just got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying the game at all,” Hoffenberg said. “I wasn’t enjoying practice, I wasn’t trying to get any better and I was struggling. There was no reason to keep going. I didn’t plan on coming back.”
Hoffenberg wanted to see what else was out there. He had been so focused on golf, he didn’t really know what else there was. He focused on his course work, got some part time jobs and enjoyed being a non-golfer.
“I was totally done, I was beyond it,” Hoffenberg said. “I still lived in a house with a couple of the guys but I was far away from golf. There was no desire to get back into it when they would talk about it. I liked listening to them and how good there were doing, but didn’t miss it or the competition.”
For about a year Hoffenberg lived without golf, he didn’t even play with friends. He went to school and worked odd jobs, including tutoring at a high school and at a retail hat store.
“I focused on school a lot started getting pretty good at it,” he said. “I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t know, I tried to take the time to think about it.”
Then Hoffenberg got an invite to last year’s Scholar Athlete Banquet in May an invitation he probably shouldn’t have gotten since he wasn’t on the team.
“I started thinking my coach was going to be there and it got me thinking,” Hoffenberg said. “I started wondering if I could do it again. That’s what it became proving to myself that I could do it again after such a long break.”
His coach welcomed him back, though there was no scholarship for Hoffenberg, but he didn’t care, he just wanted to play golf again.
“I told him at the banquet that I wanted to come back and a week later we had a meeting and it was pretty much set,” Hoffenberg said. “He didn’t have to take me back. I was playing poorly and letting people down and totally being a jerk.”
Hoffenberg might have been on the team but he had to earn his way back in the starting lineup. It took a bit last Fall, but Hoffenberg managed to get a spot.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “Nothing was handed to me. I had to grind and work really hard. I was going through qualifiers for a long time to get a spot.”
He completes his golf career with his team at the NCAA Championships already with a tournament win and being part of a conference-winning squad. After this event, he will turn professional and try and earn his PGA Tour card in November.
“I am going to move back home and we live right on a golf course,” Hoffenberg said. “I am going to practice and work with my swing coach and play a pretty scattered schedule. Local professional tournaments and get ready for Q-School in November. I’m proud of myself for sticking to it. It hasn’t always been easy.”