Max Homa brings it all back home, wins at Riviera
After he hiccuped his first chance to win his favorite golf tournament in the world on his favorite golf course in the world, Max Homa put one foot in front of the other. He walked from the 18th green to the 10th tee.
He had been three-and-a-half curvy feet away from winning the Genesis Open, with Tiger Woods bearing the trophy. “It’s pretty embarrassing missing a putt that short in front of him,” Homa would say.
Now he was in a playoff with Tony Finau, who had just shot seven-under-par 64 at Riviera.
There was a minute or two to kill, so Homa called his wife Lacey.
“I think I choked a little bit,” he told her,
Lacey said he had actually played very well, and not to worry. Then she repeated what she had told him Sunday morning.
“She gives me some dumb advice every day before I play,” Homa said. “That was out of left field but that’s the one she came up with.”
Forgiveness must be earned. Homa responded by pulling his tee ball right against a tree trunk, to the left of the 10th green. The shot looked impossible, but Homa saw a way, and he hooded his 50-degree wedge and managed to land it low onto the hill and then let it spin onto the green, where it stopped. Finau did not make his birdie putt, and the game went on.
It ended on the next hole, the 14th, when Finau’s tee shot landed in a deep bunker, and even though Homa missed his birdie, Finau could not rescue par.
It was Homa’s second victory on tour, and it summed up the ethereal nature of winning at golf. At times it just happens, no matter what you do.
“Our mantra was position over perfection,” said Homa, referring to himself and caddie Joe Greiner. “Leave it in the best spot. Fred Couples has been texting me. He says, ‘Solid golf wins at Riviera.’ I remember playing with Tony and Si Woo Kim at American Express a few weeks ago, when Si Woo won. I observed what they did. It wasn’t anything special. They just played solid golf.”
Homa, from Valencia, was an NCAA champion at Cal. He also lost his PGA card twice, thanks to unreliable driving. Here, he played his final 26 holes without a bogey. Sam Burns had led Genesis from Thursday afternoon and led by three with nine holes to go, but his driving abandoned him and Homa tied him on the 14th.
Meanwhile, victory continued to win an agonizing game of keep-away against Finau, who was perfect on putts of 10 or fewer feet until he got to the playoff.
Since he won a second-tier event in Puerto Rico in 2016, this was the 37th time on the PGA Tour that Finau has finished second through tenth. He has been the runnerup in three consecutive events.
Finau’s list of grudges could exceed Tony Soprano’s. Instead, he managed a weather-beaten smile.
“I didn’t execute the right shot on the last one and it came back and bit me in the butt,” he said. “But I played really well this time. Usually when I’ve had a chance to win, I’m not the guy who goes low.
“Sports is about winning. But you’re going to lose a lot more often than you win. I never get tired of playing good golf. I’m not going to be the guy who fades from the sunset because he doesn’t win. When I do win, it’s going to be like a domino effect.”
Years ago, a ban on Riviera fans would have devastated young Max. He insisted on going to the tournament with his dad John, an acting coach, and not just because he craved the soft pretzels, which he did.
“It’s the place where I learned to love the game,” he said.
Providentially, Homa began his career amid social media, which he handles expertly. He has said that he has a much bigger fan base than his golf has ever deserved. Maybe that will change. Homa has four Top 25 finishes in his past five events, including a Top One on Sunday
He said he didn’t think acting translated into golfing, “except for the times when I act like I’m the best player in the world, which I know is not the case.”
But there are other times Tiger does indeed give y0u the trophy, and all your good shots outnumber your one bad one, and everybody else falls away while you’re left standing.
Homa kneeled on the 14th green and let the tear ducts work. It’s golf. Everybody needs a little mercy now.