As Max Homa entered the locker room at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow, the memories of the last time he was there came flooding back.
That’s when he had to wait out a suspension of play during the final round of the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship as he chased his first PGA Tour title. A sudden queasiness hit his gut, just as it did on that day when he finally tasted victory after an arduous journey to being a Tour winner.
“I felt like I was going to throw up but my hands felt unbelievable on the club,” Homa said of his breakthrough.
Homa’s rise from some of the lowest of lows to a two-time Tour winner and in the midst of his best golf of his career should be the celebrated more than his ability to roast a golf swing on social media. Homa has a tattoo with the word relentless on his forearm, but his forgettable 2017 season when he earned $18,008 on the Tour, made just two cuts and played one Sunday are tattooed in his memory.
“I think that a lot of people would have either quit playing golf or gone into a serious like hole with not their game, like mentally, I think. My game was obviously already in the hole,” he said on the eve of his title defense two years later due to cancellation of last year’s tournament during the global pandemic.
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Homa delivered one of the most candid, soul-searching winner’s press conferences, plumbing the depths of his dive to No. 959 in the world at the end of 2017 and how he came out the better for it.
“I used to say when I hit rock bottom I found a shovel and kept digging,” Homa said. “I went to some low places and there would be times when I would wallow and honestly just hate my golf game, dislike what I was out there in what’s supposed to be my favorite place in the world is a golf course, and all of a sudden I started to hate it, hated going. All I’ve ever known is working as hard as humanly possible, and I realized in that year, year or two when I started to play bad, that my attitude was going to have to get a lot better because if my golf game was going to be that bad, my brain better be on point. I think that was a big turning point for me. I’m very proud I finally found a ladder and started climbing upwards because it was getting dark down there.”
Homa credits being “tough” with helping him find that ladder, and his mental strength was his biggest asset during his dark period but while he didn’t throw a pity party for himself that doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain along the way. Imagine feeling that your game was in such shambles that you didn’t want to play practice rounds with other golfers.
Max Homa reacts as he walks off the 12th green during the final round of the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 5, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
“I felt like I was on an island and it was, you know, borderline embarrassing,” he said after his victory in 2019. “It was embarrassing at times. But it ain’t embarrassing anymore. It’s a cool story now.”
As he put it, he kept dusting himself off and got back to work at getting better bit by bit. When he arrived in Charlotte in 2019, Homa was ranked No. 413 in the world and improved more than 300 spots with the W. In the aftermath, he recorded a few top 10s, including a T-3 at the 3M Open last summer that lifted him to No. 68 in the world, but he also missed eight cuts in a span of 13 events. His game still lacked consistency. The feeling of victory was fleeting and he wondered why he couldn’t do it again.
“When you come up short or when you miss a cut, it feels like you’re so far away from what your potential, what you should be doing,” he explained. “Once you win, unless you keep winning every week like Tiger, it feels like you’re kind of going backwards.”
Backwards was unacceptable for Homa, whose game had come so far. He made a difficult decision and parted ways with his longtime instructor Les Johnson.
“I felt like I was kind of going in a bit of a circle at times, and I was confused I guessed,” Homa said.
Time for a change
Homa’s caddie Joe Greiner had worked with Tour pro Kevin Chappell, who became a top-50 player in the world under the tutelage of Englishman Mark Blackburn. Greiner suggested Blackburn might be a good fit. They worked together for the first time at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September, where Homa had missed the cut. Blackburn screened his body at a Marriott and then did a session at the course.
“I called Joe afterwards,” Blackburn recalled, “and said, ‘This kid is pretty special.’ Joe said, ‘I told you so.’ ”
“I was shocked how fast everything’s clicked,” said Homa, who notched his second Tour title at the Genesis Invitational in February and has climbed to No. 39 in the world.
Max Homa stands with the trophy and tournament host Tiger Woods at the 2021 Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 21, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
When asked last week at the Valspar Championship, what he’s figured out, he gave a succinct and honest answer, “I’m just better at golf now.”
And coming off a T-6 finish in Tampa playing what he termed “one of the most all‑around good weeks of golf I’ve had as far as my game goes,” Homa is ranked No. 16 in the FedEx Cup and poised to make his first trip to the Tour Championship.
He’s even thinking the U.S. Ryder Cup team – he’s ranked 16th in the points standing for that, too – could be in the cards if he keeps his name near the top of leaderboards. It’s quite a remarkable improvement from where he was just two years ago.
“I have a really cool perspective on this game because I’ve seen what pretty much the bottom looks like,” Homa said, “so anytime I’m playing OK I feel like I appreciate it more and I appreciate how easy it is.”