What is it about golf that appeals to you? For Folsom’s Emilee Hoffman, the answer is as straightforward as an uphill 3-footer: “It is unconquerable no matter how hard you try,” she said.
Not the response you expect from someone at the end of arguably the best year ever by a junior player from the region, but when you consider that even the best golfers fail far more than they succeed, it makes sense.
And explains a lot.
Hoffman is wise beyond her 18 years. She also has proven to be better than almost every American female golfer her age during a 2015 in which she won six times, finished second five times and rocketed up the national junior girls rankings. She’s 26th (Golfweek) and 17th (American Junior Golf Association Polo).
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She will play for the University of Texas starting next fall. Time will tell where she’ll rank among the best golfers to come out of this area. But while many in her position would salivate over thoughts of life as a touring professional, Hoffman, in typical fashion, downplays LPGA Tour talk.
“I’m super excited to get to Texas and see how my game grows and develops,” she said. “I can’t predict what will happen after that.”
Emilee has a great work ethic. She’s doing things that women her age aren’t doing.
Texas women’s golf coach Ryan Murphy, on Emilee Hoffman
That aha moment
Emilee is the only child of Jeff and Michelle Hoffman. She was born in Folsom. As an inkling of what might lie ahead, the spelling of her name was inspired by former LPGA Tour player Emilee Klein, whom Jeff admired “for her spunk” while watching her play when the tour annually visited Sacramento.
Jeff, one of the area’s top amateur players for decades, introduced his daughter to golf at age 5. There were M&Ms and handstands between shots, and barefoot putting contests in those days. Golf was just a sliver of Emilee’s world as she also participated in gymnastics, softball, volleyball and soccer.
She was 12 when she caddied for her dad in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in Kiawah Island, S.C. That’s when the lightbulb went on, she said.
“I just loved watching him compete,” she said. “The satisfaction of hitting good shots; just being outside.”
It wasn’t happenstance, Jeff said.
“I was waiting for her to get to the age and get inside the ropes and see what high-level competition looked like to see if that interested her,” he said. “And it did.”
Emilee’s game has gotten markedly better since. She qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior and made it to match play. She burst onto the national scene with two AJGA 16-and-under victories two years ago. She took it to a higher level this year during a three-week tour through Kentucky and Kansas with three consecutive runner-up AJGA finishes in June against the best players in the country.
“Two states, three courses with different layouts and grasses. She played great,” Jeff said. “A completely different player than in 2014.”
She won an AJGA event at Serrano in July. She capped her year averaging 34.1 strokes for nine holes while playing for Vista del Lago High School and earning league MVP honors for the fourth consecutive year.
“I grew so much as a player and person this year,” she said.
‘Coaching, not criticism’
With her mom, it’s movies, shopping and girl talk.
“I love my mom,” Emilee said.
With her dad, it’s no less loving, but it is potentially more complicated since he’s been her only coach.
That wasn’t necessarily the plan.
“Initially it was just about spending time together,” Jeff said. “We’ve stayed on that course largely because she’s had success. It’s been easy.”
Jeff is a student of the game and has taken lessons and retained knowledge learned from the area’s best instructors. Combine that with his success and experience as a competitor and it’s been win-win for father and daughter.
The golf landscape is littered with players who abandoned the game because of overzealous parents. Casie Cathrea, a regular at Sacramento tournaments throughout her junior career before leaving for Oklahoma State in 2013 as one of the nation’s most highly regarded recruits, has had a very public falling-out with her father and no longer plays.
Jeff and Emilee are aware of the pitfalls of working so closely together and work hard not to blur the lines between parent and coach.
“I love having him as my coach,” Emilee said. “We have a lot of honest conversations. We have this saying: ‘It’s coaching, not criticism.’ On the course, he’s my coach. Off the course, he’s my dad.”
Jeff said he’s observed how other parent-child relationships have gone off the rails. He said keeping golf in perspective is key.
“When golf becomes everything to anyone, that’s the wrong road to travel,” he said. “When we’re done, we’re done. We don’t come home and talk golf. You have to give your child the freedom to become the person they want to become.”
Where will she fit?
Barbara Romack and Alice Miller were top area juniors decades ago before having distinguished competitive careers. Noni Schneider, Carol (Slane) French and Judy (Anderson) Ghilarducci were also top young players from decades past and had competitive success later in life.
Natalie Gulbis, Kim Welch and Jamille Jose were prep phenoms whose career arcs veered in decidedly different directions. The competitive fire has flamed out for Sarah Huarte and Christina Stockton. Briana Mao, Paige Lee, Chelsea Stelzmiller and Kelsey Ulep are still works in progress.
Where will Hoffman stack up to Sacramento’s best when all is said and done?
Texas women’s golf coach Ryan Murphy, who was an assistant men’s coach when Jordan Spieth played for the Longhorns, said there are so many factors that make it impossible to predict. Desire and work ethic are among them, though, and from what he’s seen of Hoffman, her ceiling might be higher than most.
“Emilee has a great work ethic,” Murphy said. “She’s doing things that women her age aren’t doing. Working out at 6 a.m. on her own. This girl has tremendous desire. That’s probably the best predictor – how bad you want it, what are you willing to do.”
I love having him as my coach. We have a lot of honest conversations. We have this saying: ‘It’s coaching, not criticism.’ On the course, he’s my coach. Off the course, he’s my dad.
Emilee Hoffman, on her dad, Jeff
At 5-foot-8 with plenty of leverage, Hoffman has above-average length off the tee, which should help her on the longer setups played in college. She’s an aggressive player who likes to go for par-5 greens in two shots (she reached Bing Maloney’s ninth green in two from the tips twice during city four-ball play alongside her father this year).
One piece of advice: If you get the chance to play alongside her, do all your talking before she reaches her ball.
“When I’m playing golf, I’m lighthearted,” she said. “but 20 yards from my ball, I’m locked in.”
It’s been that way all year.