Amid all that will come with the Presidents Cup matches this week – the dismissive chatter about what an American blowout it’s likely to be, how it’s still just a Ryder Cup wannabe and the damage done by LIV Golf’s exorcism of stars from the competition – it could be easy to become jaded about the whole thing.
That’s where Max Homa comes in.
For all the good Rory McIlroy has done espousing the virtues of the PGA Tour, for all the smiles Scottie Scheffler has provoked with his emergence this year and for all the week-in, week-out stories that drive the tour, no one may live it better than Homa.
He plays golf with a twinkle in his eye and a soul-soothing sense of humor, traits that don’t come naturally to many of his peers. Homa knows the game’s dark side, but he has played his way back into its glow, becoming an unexpected star because of who he is as much as how he plays.
Find someone who doesn’t like Max Homa and it’s a reasonable assumption that he or she doesn’t like ice cream, either.
“He's such a likable guy; he's funny; he's so easy to be around,” said Presidents Cup assistant captain Webb Simpson, whose advice to Homa in his first team event is to just be himself. “He’s the kind of guy you want to be in that environment with.”
In Homa’s case, that extends far beyond the Presidents Cup team room and inside the ropes.
There are few things more valuable than being able to see the humor in ourselves and the world around us. It runs contrary to today’s world that seems dominated by the aggrieved masses intent on arguing against every perceived slight whether real or imagined.
That’s why Homa is a smile-inducing presence in the self-absorbed orbit of professional golf. His "you had to see it to believe it" victory in the Fortinet Championship on Sunday when Homa holed a pitch shot for a birdie on the 72nd hole and then watched Danny Willett three-putt from inside 4 feet exemplified his tenacity.
Homa is content to move pleasantly through his world, having pulled himself out of the place where golf careers go to die. And now he will be playing in his first Presidents Cup, having become a five-time winner on the tour.
Asked earlier this year whom he would be if he could be someone else for one day, Homa said, “I would be Davis Love III, and I would pick me for the Presidents Cup team.”
As a matter of perspective – and Homa is blessed with perspective – four years ago he was ranked No. 1,282 in the world and wearing a collection of missed cuts like a tattoo. No amount of amusing social media posts could soften the reality.
“I remember sitting in the hotel room and I wanted somebody to come down from the heavens and just say, ‘This is how good you are.’ Like a number. Tell me I'm 22 in the world, if that's what it is, or is it 1,000? I didn't really care. I just wanted to know what that number was, and I committed to myself that I'm just going to see where I can get to,” Homa said last week at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, where he was the defending champion.
“There will be no stone unturned, and I will figure out how good I am on that. If I'm not good enough to be on a Presidents Cup team, that is totally OK. But I don't want to leave this game at any point, whether it had to be back then because I was playing poorly or hopefully in 20-some odd years, but I want to know I know exactly how good I am.”
Now, the 31-year-old Homa is one of the 12 players on captain Davis Love III’s U.S. team at Quail Hollow, which coincidentally is where Homa won his first PGA Tour event three years ago. It is a goal he set for himself, one he talked openly about and one he achieved.
It took getting the phone call from Love to make real – to validate – what others felt was a foregone conclusion.
“If I had to write a letter to myself then and say you're going to make a Presidents Cup team, that would have been like almost unthinkable,” Homa said. “But the beauty of this game is that you go one shot at a time, one range ball at a time, and you add up, I don't know, almost like a million golf balls I've hit since then and you can like quantify it and you can say, ‘Dang, like I made this.’ ”
Homa relates his quest to something he saw on social media where a guy is digging for gold or diamonds and keeps hammering away. Unsuccessful, the guy finally walks away, unaware that he was one swing away from hitting the mother lode.
“Failure is in quitting,” Homa said.
It would have been easy to quit. Missing 15 cuts in 17 starts during the 2016-17 season didn’t provide much reason for long-term optimism in his fourth season as a pro.
Everyone runs his own race, though. Golf careers have been wasted and ruined by players trying to be someone whom they’re not, or chasing a swing that doesn’t fit them. The harder the game gets, the easier it is to look for something else to try.
Working with coach Mark Blackburn and caddie Joe Greiner, Homa – who had been good enough to win the 2013 NCAA individual championship at Cal-Berkeley – followed his own path.
“It's so interesting when I look back at when I played poorly and I think that the whole world, golf world, knew exactly what was going on. I talked to Joel Dahmen about it once and he said he had no idea how poorly I was playing,” Homa said.
“I always say you're only the protagonist in one person’s story, and it’s your own, and you're not that important to very many people.”
How many professional golfers see the world through that lens?
“I talk about fulfillment a lot,” he said. “The opportunity to represent my country as a part of the Presidents Cup is tremendous, but the thing that's been lingering in my brain since that phone call is I set out a goal at the end of last year and I said I'm making this Presidents Cup team.
“I would not trade my attempt at my goal for anything. That's what matters to my soul, and to fulfill that promise to myself that I was making this fricking team meant a lot to me. So … as excited as I am to play next week and be with the guys and, like I said, to represent the United States of America on a golf course is amazing, me getting to tell myself I accomplished a serious goal I had and that's why I worked so hard, that has hit home a lot for me and it's made me feel really, really good about all the hours and the heat (at home) in Arizona. I feel a lot of pride in that.”
How much does this Presidents Cup matter?
Max Homa’s presence at Quail Hollow should answer that question.
Top: Max Homa during the 2022 Tour Championship