Just days before the coronavirus pandemic slapped the door closed on the United States, Max Homa sat in a chair inside the champions section of the Quail Hollow Club locker room, being fussed over by a stylist, a lighting director and others intent on shooting commercials and videos featuring the defending champion of the Wells Fargo Championship.
A hanger full of shirts with a steamer to iron out wrinkles stood just outside camera range and a spray of make-up brushes were laid across a long wooden bar as Homa looked into the camera. Just over his shoulder was his new locker, near ones for Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and others.
Running through his lines again, the director encouraged Homa to smile as he talked. After calling “cut” after another take, the director said to Homa, “I love how you were smiling.”
“I smiled so well,” Homa said drolly.
While waiting for the lights to be adjusted, Homa engaged the crew.
“Does that feel natural to you?” a crew member asked.
“I don’t think any of this feels natural to me,” Homa said.
Homa smiled again, finding the irony in the fact that his father is a professional acting coach.
In a normal world, Homa would be doing what defending champions do during tournament weeks. But with the Wells Fargo Championship erased this year, Homa has found himself at home in the Phoenix area using his makeshift backyard practice area (“I think it looks just like Tiger Woods’ backyard,” he joked) and racing his wife for dominion over the remote control.
His victory last May was a cherry-on-top moment in a career climb that reflects both the fickle nature of the game and Homa’s underlying tenacity, which carried him through a competitive abyss that would have swallowed many others.
For all of his social-media influence and sass, which is delivered in a winking, good-natured way, Homa is a player first and winning at Quail Hollow validated not just his talent but his determination.
Two seasons before his Wells Fargo victory, Homa missed 15 cuts in 17 PGA Tour starts, earning more money playing Monday pro-ams than in the two meager checks he won. It got so bad that Homa recalled hitting nine provisional tee shots in two days before missing the cut at the 2017 Wyndham Championship. He admitted to falling into a dark place, digging his hole deeper before finally deciding to climb out.
It’s why he has “relentless” tattooed on the inside of his right arm. Even when his game went away, and Homa wondered where the guy who won the 2013 NCAA individual championship had gone, he believed he would find his way back.
“For him to find it again, that was all hard work. That was his nose to the grindstone. As funny as he is, he also takes this very seriously. He’s so respected out here for what he’s gone through,” Homa’s friend Joel Dahmen said.
Homa put a plan in place, reuniting with caddie Joe Greiner and swing coach Les Johnson, understanding the journey would be as long as it would be steep.
“At the end of the day, at the end of your life, at some point you’re going to kick your feet up and think, ‘Did I do things the right way and was it the most efficient way to do it?’ ” Homa said, taking a break from his seat in front of the camera.
“I felt I had picked something where there is no right answer and I went with what I thought would work and the people who I thought would help make it work and it was nice to know I was right about that. I’m going to figure out a way to get the old me back. I feel like I had taken a slip on progressing for a couple of years. I wanted to get back to where I felt like I knew who Max the golfer was.”
Before this season was put on hold, Homa was on a nice roll. He had a run of four consecutive starts in which he never finished lower than T14 and he had another top-25 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the game stopped.
Homa’s profile isn’t based purely on his Twitter feed where he critiques swings and golf attire with an attitude that would make the late Don Rickles smile. He’s smart, thoughtful and funny. Homa sees the big picture and he comes across as a guy you’d love to hang out with for a while.
“He’ll sit on the couch and do nothing with the best of them,” Dahman said.
“But you get him going in the right scenario and he’s hilarious. He kind of enjoys, I don’t know if it’s the spotlight, but he enjoys making people laugh.”
Homa had already developed a social media following before he won the Wells Fargo Championship, beating his buddy Dahmen, who was also chasing his first Tour victory. Deep down, there’s nothing funny about missing cuts and losing your Tour card, which Homa had learned the hard way.
“There’s a lot worse things you can be doing than being pretty bad at golf,” Homa said. “When I was struggling, my dream, my grand dream, was to inspire other people who are struggling with whatever the heck they do, whether it’s work, or some personal struggle, to know that if you put your head down and surround yourself with your family and your friends and do your absolute best to be positive. That was kind of my grand goal.
“My small goal was to get less bad at golf, fast, which fortunately I did.”
At the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, Homa met a young man who had been listening to a podcast Homa does with Fox Sports announcer Shane Bacon. The guy told Homa he had been kicked out of college because of bad grades and he was trying to get his life back in order.
Hearing Homa’s story, the guy said, inspired him to make changes in his own life. It’s not the first time someone told Homa he was an example for them.
“Everyone can understand being bad at something or feeling like you’re bad at something. Life’s not so linear. There are a lot of bumps in the road.” – Max Homa
“I think the reason people may resonate with me so much is because everybody can understand what I was doing,” Homa said.
“Everyone can understand being bad at something or feeling like you’re bad at something. Life’s not so linear. There are a lot of bumps in the road.”
As Homa sat on a bench in the Quail Hollow locker room waiting to be called back to do a video thanking the tournament’s volunteers, he checked his phone and found an NFL player had posted his swing on Twitter, begging for Homa to make fun of it.
In golf’s Twitterverse, getting grilled by Homa – whether it’s for your swing or your clothes – has become a badge of honor. It’s like hopping in one of those old-school dunking booths, begging to be dropped into the water.
A few of Homa’s riffs about golf swings and more:
- “U swing it like a semi decent adult softball player who mainly goes for the booze and the pizza after the games.”
- “What U lack in confidence off the tee you also lack in swing speed.”
- “The older I get the more I understand the importance of drafting linemen in the first round.”
- “By the time you are 52, you may not have enough speed to get the ball off the tee.”
And Homa doesn’t let himself off the hook as this Tweet showed:
- “I can’t wait to tell my future kid they can’t have a soda at dinner cuz it’s unhealthy while I drink my 5th bud light of the night.”
“For him to be that positive light out here and have that much fun and he’s so magnetic. Everyone out here talks about it. It’s awesome,” Dahmen said.
No one is more amused by his social media standing than Homa, who got a bit of his own medicine when a video of him shanking a shot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spread like gossip.
“It’s absolutely wild to me how many people love golf and golf swings. They want me to make fun of them,” Homa said. “That’s the thing about social media. It should be light-hearted. It was made to be light-hearted. It wasn’t made to be taken seriously and have debates about which side of the aisle you’re on politically. That’s not why this thing was invented. I feel like I’m a nice voice for the middle.”
Homa will have to wait a year to play the role of defending champion at the Wells Fargo Championship and by that time, he might have another trophy or two in his collection. He’s not going anywhere and if you want to know what Homa thinks about something, just ask. There’s a decent chance he will answer.
“It was just nice to have people stop yelling at me about how badly I’d played before. Now at least I have a little ammo,” Homa said.
The short break from taping was over. The lights were back on and the director called Homa back to his place in front of the camera.
He didn’t have to be reminded to smile.
Max Homa offers a smile at the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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