Morgan Hoffmann takes lead at Bay Hill same day he loses grandmother


Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

Morgan Hoffmann found out his grandmother died the very morning he was set to tee off at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

WINDERMERE — On the same day his 97-year old grandmother died, Morgan Hoffmann shot six-under par and finished the day in first place after the opening round in the 37th Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.

“Mentally I’m in kind of a weird state right now,” said Hoffmann after his round. “My grandma passed away this morning… (I) just wish my family the best at home.”

Hoffmann got word of his grandmother, Dorothy Lionetti’s death on Thursday morning, hours before he was set to tee off at Bay Hill. But Hoffmann decided to play despite the news and finished the day at the top of the leaderboard.

The 25-year old Hoffmann played his opening round in memory of his grandmother and says he received texts from his family on Thursday morning saying “Nanny is playing golf with pop up there,” which he says helped put him in a good mentality.

“Yeah. I mean appreciative, I think, of just being alive, you know and how you take things for granted and take people for granted and it’s just crazy how quick life goes,” said Hoffmann about his state of mind on Thursday. “I’m 25 and feels like I was five rollerskating with my sister yesterday.”

Multiple players scored eagles throughout the opening round including Hoffmann, who chipped his way out of a bunker on the par-5 6th hole and saved for eagle.

World No. 1 player Rory McIlroy made his Arnold Palmer Invitational debut and shot two-under par during the opening round of the tournament on Thursday putting him in a tie for 32nd place. McIlroy hit 17 out of 18 greens on Thursday at Bay Hill.

This was McIlroy’s first time playing at Bay Hill after opting out of Arnie’s tournament the past couple of years. Spectators also noticed McIlroy’s presence as his group, which consisted of himself, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, was heavily followed through the course from the time the pairing teed off to the time they reached the final hole of the day.

“It was good,” said McIlroy of his first tournament at Bay Hill. “I felt like I was seeing good signs out there with my game. I hit a lot of good shots.”

While McIlroy’s two-under has him in 32nd place going into Friday’s second round, PGA Tour veterans Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na, Ken Duke John Peterson and Ian Poulter are all tied for second after shooting five-under par on Thursday.

Kokrak was in one of the first pairings to tee off during the first round of play and had four birdies, an eagle and a boogie during his first 18 holes. His eagle came on the 16th hole, which is a 511-yard par-5.

“It was solid,” said Kokrak after his opening round. “There’s really nothing to look down upon on this round. I missed one, the green on 7, didn’t get it up and down but, you know, rolling the ball good and giving myself a lot of real good birdie opportunities inside 15,18 feet.”

Hoffmann is scheduled to be a part of the first group of pairings to hit the fairways on Friday along with Kevin Chappell and Danny Lee. The first group of golfers are set to tee off at 7:35 a.m. on Friday at Bay Hill, while McIlroy will tee off at 8:11 a.m.

All photos by Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice