LOS ANGELES (AP) — Leave it to Max Homa to be so brutally honest that it easily passes as humor, even when he’s the subject.
Homa set the stage for the greatest moment of his career on Sunday at the Genesis Invitational. He was tied for the lead at Riviera, his favorite golf course in the world. The storied clubhouse was high on a hill over the 18th green, looking magnificent against a blue sky. Tiger Woods, the tournament host, was watching and waiting to present the trophy.
Homa sent a sand wedge high and true, and it settled 3 feet from the hole, a winning shot.
Except that he missed the putt.
Homa walked up the stairs toward the clubhouse, signed for a 5-under 66 that put him a playoff with Tony Finau and then called his wife, Lacy.
“I said, ‘I think I choked a little bit.’ And I laughed,” Homa said.
This had a happy ending, a true Hollywood finish for someone who grew up 30 miles away and whose father brought him to the tournament since he was a toddler.
He worships Riviera. He idolized the tournament host. He was close to tears, struggling to get out words, after his superb chip from the base of a tree on No. 10 for the first playoff hole and his winning par on the next hole at No. 14.
Except for winning a major — he qualified for the Masters again — it will be tough to beat this. And even a green jacket will face competition from Homa’s love affair with Riviera and all things LA.
“I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this,” Homa said. “Tiger Woods is handing us a trophy — that’s a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolizing him, idolizing Riviera Country Club, idolizing the golf tournament. To get it done, it’s almost shocking. It feels like it just can’t be topped for me.”
Lost in this storybook finish is the kind of golf it required and the work that goes into it.
Even with a victory at Quail Hollow two years ago — Tommy Lasorda called to congratulate him — Homa was best known for his wit on social media, especially a series of roasts to anyone who wanted him to critique the golf swing.
Most of them were recreational players, and there was no mercy. “Trust ur gut,” he replied to one who sent a video of his game and said he was prepared to quit.
The roasts even included Justin Thomas, who asked Homa for his thoughts while swinging left-handed.
As for his golf? He was a 30-year-old former NCAA champion from Cal who fell into such a slump that he missed 70 cuts during a five-year stretch.
The message Homa delivered during the West Coast Swing, capped off by his victory at Riviera, was that he takes his golf seriously. And that starts with not taking himself too seriously, which is harder than it might seem.
He has worked tirelessly on what he calls “mental growth,” filling his head space with positive affirmation. His wife and others around him have been a big help, and Lacy delivered the goods on Sunday.
The main bullet point: Forgive quickly.
“She would give some really dumb advice every day before I play — they were very random,” he said. “Sometimes they’re somewhat wise, but they’re just out of left field, whatever she could think of. So it was kind of ironic that’s the one she came up with.”
He quickly forgave himself the missed putt for the win. Why not? He had gone the final 24 holes without a bogey at Riviera. There was nothing wrong with his game.
“I forgave myself,” he said. “I remembered the (birdie) putt I hit on 17 — I think that was clutch on 17. Wasn’t as clutch on 18, but she was helping me remember the good stuff I did today, which was a lot.”
When he walked to the left of the 10th green in a playoff and saw his ball next to a tree, he didn’t pitch a fit.
“What are you going to be mad about when you make a good swing when you’re nervous?” he said. “Obviously had a weird-looking shot but I had a shot, which is cool.”
He hooded a gap wedge to start as far left as he could toward the front edge of the green, hit it with top spin knowing that the kikuyu grass can be sticky going up the slope. It was a great shot. He made par and got a reprieve when Finau missed a 7-foot putt for the win.
One hole later, it was over.
Finau went left into the bunker. Homa hit one of the best shots all day on the par-3 14th for a look at birdie, a certain par. He narrowly missed and won when Finau missed his 10-footer for par.
“It was obviously kind of a roller coaster to everybody else, but to me I was just continuing to play golf and fortunately I came out with a win,” Homa said. “I would have probably had a bad taste in my mouth had I not, but that’s golf. Golf is hard. I make it look especially hard at times.”
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