May 06, 2019: Max Homa was unflappable on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship. He continually holed important putts to stay atop a leaderboard that featured some of the game’s biggest names. He never made a mistake while conquering a course of major-championship caliber.
His steady play under Sunday pressure makes his performance two years ago that much more unfathomable.
Homa is a PGA TOUR champion less than two years after he couldn’t find a fairway or make a cut. The former NCAA champion, a collegiate contemporary of Justin Thomas, was embarrassed to go into locker rooms. He wanted to spare his peers from playing practice rounds with him.
Now he’s a winner at Quail Hollow Club, where the list of champions includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Homa started Sunday with a share of the lead, then went out and shot the low round of the day.
That’s not what you usually see from players pursuing their first PGA TOUR title. Especially when their last season went the way Homa’s did. He missed 15 of 17 cuts and made less than $20,000.
He won’t have to worry about money anymore. He earned his first winner’s check by shooting 67 to finish at 15-under 269 (69-63-70-67). Joel Dahmen, who also was seeking his first PGA TOUR win, finished alone in second.
The victory moved Homa to 35th in the FedExCup standings and earned him a two-year exemption. Homa finished 163rd and 244th in the FedExCup in his first two PGA TOUR seasons.
“The only goal I had this year was to make it to the TOUR Championship, so that’s obviously a big boost there,” Homa said. “Moving up that FedExCup’s sweet. The job security’s probably a little sweeter. I know it’s been tough on my family.”
The reigning FedExCup champion, Justin Rose, finished four back. Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey and Jason Dufner all tied for fourth. Rory McIlroy was two shots back at the start of the day, but faded to eighth place with a 73 on Sunday.
“I told (caddie Joe Greiner) on one of the holes that I felt like I was going to throw up, but my hands felt unbelievable on the club,” Homa said.
He couldn’t say the same in 2017, when he shot a cumulative 61-over-par in 17 starts on the PGA TOUR. But ‘resilient’ is a word that multiple people used to describe Homa. He has a similar word, ‘RELENTLESS’ tattooed on his wrist.
“I refuse to give in and I believe that hard work will pay off,” he said. He’s just the fourth player in the last 25 years to win on the PGA TOUR after enduring a season in which they made less than $20,000 in 15-plus events.
His toughness showed in Sunday’s performance. He made two birdies and no bogeys on the front nine to take a one-shot lead at the turn. He pulled away by holing putts of 14 and 13 feet to birdie 10 and 11.
On Sunday, he missed just one of his five attempts from 10-15 feet. He also went 4 for 5 on putts from 5-7 feet. He led the field with 4.1 strokes gained on the greens Sunday.
After pulling ahead with those two birdies to start the back nine, he holed three consecutive 5-footers for par on Nos. 12-14. The last one came after a rain delay of more than an hour.
A bogey at 14 would have been especially costly. He laid up on the drivable par-4, then pulled a wedge that bounced into the rough left of the green. His chip shot skidded past the hole just before a heavy downpour hit the course.
After marking the ball, Homa took one last look at the line before getting into a van. When the rain subsided, he practiced a similar putt on the practice green.
“I knew in the back of my mind that if I make that putt, I win this golf tournament,” Homa said.
Making that putt gave him a three-shot lead as he walked to the tee of the reachable 15th hole. A two-putt birdie there gave him a four-shot lead with only the infamous Green Mile remaining. He made his only bogey of the day at 16, but followed with an 11-footer for par on 17. With a three-shot lead, he was able to emulate his idol, Tiger Woods, and twirl his club after his tee shot on 18 found the fairway.
Homa’s struggles started when he fell for the lie that he had to improve exponentially after turning pro. He won both the Pac-12 and NCAA titles in 2013 as a senior at Cal, winning the conference championship with a course-record 61 at Los Angeles Country Club, a future U.S. Open venue.
“He has this calm resiliency,” said fellow PGA TOUR player Brandon Hagy, who played with Homa at Cal. “You just see it time and time again in big tournaments. Winning the Pac-12s, winning NCAAs. In the bigger events he would step up at the right moments.”
Homa was Walker Cup teammates with Justin Thomas, and they both made their pro debut on the PGA TOUR at the 2013 Safeway Open. Thomas finished 72nd. Homa was ninth. They both graduated to the PGA TOUR in 2014 after one season on the Web.com Tour.
But while Thomas thrived, Homa’s game went into a nosedive.
“He got too far in his own head,” said Homa’s swing coach, Les Johnson. “He’s so darn smart, so when he gets in his head he can get going in too many directions.”
Homa returned to Johnson in 2017, seeking to become the player who left college as a can’t miss prospect.
“When he came back to me, he was low,” Johnson said. “The first thing I told him is that you just have to get your game back in order. Once you do that, you can work back toward being the Max Homa that we know that you are.”
Homa’s road to the winner’s circle started with another performance that proved the resiliency that his friends describe. At the WinCo Foods Portland Open, the final event of the Web.com Tour’s regular season, Homa birdied his final four holes Friday to make the cut on the number. If he had not made the cut, he would have fallen $96 short of the Web.com Tour Finals and would have needed to go to Q-School. He could have even been without Web.com Tour status this year.
He doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
“It was embarrassing at times,” he said. “But it ain’t embarrassing anymore. It’s a cool story now.”