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Max Homa Gaining Momentum On PGA Tour

February 25, 2019
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Former Cal golfer Max Homa is having the best stretch of his pro career. It hasn’t been easy, but golf isn’t supposed to be.

The 2013 NCAA champion has twice lost his PGA Tour card. The third time seems to be the charm, although it took a little doing. In the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club he braved some horrible conditions to post a four-round total of two under par, good for a tie for 37th place. It was his third straight finish in the money.  He goes into the Honda Classic this week on a bit of a roll.

Bear Insider caught up with Homa last Saturday following the completion of his second round in the weather battered event in Los Angeles.

“This tournament really does hold a special place in my heart. I used to come to this tournament every single year since I was like three years old, so to play here and walk down one yesterday, it makes me -- it’s an odd feeling. You know, every time I maybe get a little bitter or something’s not going right, I snap out of it because I’m like ‘Man, you get to -- you’re getting to play Riviera’ like this my favorite course, my favorite place.”

Another reason he is partial to Riviera is his performance in the 2012 NCAA Championships that were held there. Homa had one of his better collegiate performances that week.  

“I remember being super nervous, but we had great crowd support. I remember beating Justin Thomas. It felt amazing. I remember getting drummed by J.J. Spaun (San Diego State) which was not as fun. But it was just great,” he said. “It’s so fun to play Riviera Country Club, it’s just a blast.”

The match against Thomas is particularly memorable for Homa.

“When I played with him that match was the first time I ever played with him and he was, you know, a little kid basically.  But he had just won Player of the Year,” Homa said. “So I knew -- everyone was telling me how good he was and everybody was telling me how far he hit it -- really far, really straight -- his irons are awesome.  He also showed me -- he has kind of a, bit of like a blue collar kind of chip on his shoulder attitude, which I wasn’t expecting. Somebody who has played that well their whole life, I kind of just assumed it was silver platter type stuff and it’s not with him.”

“I respect everything about him. His game, his attitude, everything he does.  When I watched him play that time and I played him again a couple months later -- I was ready for him to be doing what he’s doing now, you know. So it’s been no surprise to me.”

Homa’s coach at Cal, Steve Desimone, also enjoys recalling those moments.

“Max was part of one of the best teams in the history of college golf,” Desimone said in a phone interview last week. “Max was the leader. He was the team captain and he had a tendency to shoot low numbers. When we got to the NCAA Championships at Riviera we were clearly one of the favorites and Max was certainly one of the top five or six players in the tournament. We were so close.  Max won his (semifinal) match and we wound up losing on the 18th hole twice. We lost a heart-breaker to Alabama. Max played like the All-American that he was.”

Homa’s  current run of success began with the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this month when his career seemed at a low ebb. He had missed the cut in the preceding five tournaments, and once again seemed in danger of losing his spot on the Tour.  He then made the Phoenix field the hard way, via a Monday qualifying round 65, following which he also survived a 4-for-3 playoff.

Cranking up his game that week, he finished the tournament seven under par in a tie for 26th place. That gave him not only confidence, but some momentum heading into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the following week.

That is where a little luck, combined with good putting, combined to give his career a real boost.

He needed a top ten finish to qualify for the next event.  Rain and hail delayed the start of the final round, and when Homa finished he was in tenth place. But golfers were still on the course in the rapidly descending darkness.

“Now I’m tenth (place), so I was like OK, well this is gonna be an anxious hour or so and maybe into the morning,” Homa said. “We drive to the airport, I’m in ninth -- I’m thinking OK now, it’s really looking good. Then the perfect storm of birdies happen, so then I’m thinking I have no chance. And then Joe Skovron, who’s Rickie Fowler’s caddy, was texting me --  I wasn’t watching the TV -- and he told me what was happening and I couldn’t believe it.”

What happened was that while eventual winner Phil Mickelson was making the futile argument that despite the diminishing light he should be allowed to finish his round that day, Scott Piercy was proving the tournament’s decision to halt play was the right one by three-putting from 20 feet on his final hole in the dark. Piercy had been ahead of Homa, but his final hole stumble dropped him into a tie with Homa -- for tenth.

“I owe Scott Piercy a thank you or something,” Homa said. “I was really lucky. I was getting ready to go to the Monday qualifier.  You always want top ten, you know, just you played better, make some money or whatever -- get into tournaments. But this one (at Riviera)  means more to me than any golf tournament in the world. So it was especially nice to be able to come here and not need to do the Monday qualifier and get to play on my favorite course.”

In Los Angeles he ran into the same sort of weather as he had on the Monterey Peninsula. On the first day he never even teed off, as the early wave did not officially begin their rounds until 3:00 that afternoon.  He played (almost) 26 holes on Friday in unrelenting cold and rainy conditions, concluding with marking a two-foot birdie putt on 17 in the dark. The next day he was able to finish his second round (at -3 and tied 21st), and begin his third.  Also in cold and generally miserable conditions.

“Man, it was rough,” said Homa, who shot 69 and 70 the first two rounds of the par-71 course. “Even going back to last week up in Monterey, it feels like it’s just déjà vu. You know, the first day was all right, first round was all right but then that second round -- I thought we were gonna get a break in the weather and just felt like every ten minutes it would start raining and then getting cold and windy again.”

Max’s father John, who was in the gallery, said he his son’s performance in the bad elements was to be expected.

“Max is a mudder,” said John.  “Even last week, at Pebble Beach, was not a problem.  When Max was young he loved to play golf in the rain. When he got older he would always play when it rained.  In high school, whenever it rained he would get in the car and go to the golf course. I would be coming in from the course and he would be leaving for the course.  He would tell me ‘I’ve got to learn to play in this stuff.’ So what he is doing in this weather, as well as last week (at Pebble Beach), is no surprise.”

He shot his worst round of the week in his third, on Saturday/Sunday, three over par, but came back with another 69 in the final round.

He was cheered on by some Cal rooters on Friday, who obviously had been hitting the hospitality tent. The shouts of “Go Bears” were a little slurred. Homa didn’t mind.

“Yeah. It’s cool.” he said. “They were pretty excited, definitely had been drinking. it was alright.  We get a lot of good crowds here (at Riviera), last week (Pebble Beach) was awesome too. Yeah, those guys might have just had a few too many. I don’t know if they actually went to Cal or not.”

Homa almost didn’t. “To be quite honest,” he said. “I chose Cal because I didn’t get into UCLA.”

But he did have some Cal connections.  ”Actually it worked out obviously great. My uncle and aunt live up in El Cerrito, so I’d always actually been a Cal athletics fan,” he said. “We used to go to the basketball and football games all the time, so it worked out for me.”

“It was a perfect backup plan or whatever you want to call it. I’m glad I ended up going there instead of here (at UCLA). This is too close to home and we obviously had a pretty good run while I was in college.”

Desimone says that in Homa’s senior year he had a round for the ages, a 61 in the first round of the Pac-12 Championships at Los Angeles Country Club. “ I don’t think that 61 at LA Country Club will ever be matched or beaten,” Desimone said. “USGA officials had set it up along with the staff at LACC. They thought possibly somebody might shoot 65 or 64. Max shot 61, and it was truly one of the great rounds in the history of college golf.”

He went on to win an NCAA title a couple of weeks later. “When guys are confident and are feeling good with their game. I don’t care whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or golf you get the feeling they are going to do something special,” Desimone said. “I wasn’t at all surprised the way Max played at the NCAAs.”

Homa  stays close to his alma mater. When time permits he serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the golf team. He is very impressed, as are most observers, with Cal’s current star Collin Morikawa, who is currently second in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

“He’s probably the best I’ve ever played with that young,” Homa said. “He hits it as good as most anybody out here (PGA Tour).  He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He is beyond impressive. I’m hoping I can get a win out here before he turns pro.”

Desimone, who retired two years ago, recruited Morikawa.

“He’s the real deal,” Desimone said. “One of his strengths  is his driver. He is medium long, not 350 but 300 or 310, which is more than enough because he is in the fairway all the time. He’s extremely accurate with his irons. I have never seen a player with better distance control. I don’t care if it’s a wedge or a 4-iron, he is almost always pin high within 20 feet. And he’s fearless.”

Homa and his former teammates stay close.  “We’re all really good friends. I hang out with Michael (Kim) a lot, Brandon Hagy -- we live five minutes from each other. Michael Weaver I still talk to quite a bit. Pace Johnson. I don’t talk to Joel (Stalter) too much but Brandon keeps in touch with him. But yeah, we’ve actually created a pretty good bond so it’s been fun.”

We will see Homa this week in the Honda Classic in Palm Beach, Florida. Two other Cal golfers, Hagy and Ben An, are also in the field.  Maybe one of these days the Tour will group these Cal guys together. In the meantime, enjoy seeing them when you can.

- Eric McDonough and David Bush collaborated on this story.

Discussion from...

Max Homa Gaining Momentum On PGA Tour

4,623 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 5 yr ago by SmellinRoses
75bear
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Awesome story - I really enjoyed it!
SmellinRoses
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Good stuff - thanks.
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