RIDGELAND, S.C. – Max Homa is a lifelong California guy, so he is very familiar with the concept of riding a nice wave. He still is feeling the ripple effect of finishing a perfect 4-0 in last month’s Presidents Cup, his first foray into team cup competition as a professional. The week prior to that, he won his fifth PGA TOUR title, capturing the Fortinet Championship in jarring fashion with a miraculous chip-in birdie at the 72nd hole.
At 31, he and his wife, Lacey, are about to be first-time parents. They are having a boy, due Nov. 2. This week at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina will pretty much be it until December, when he returns to play the Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s event in the Bahamas. You could say Homa is in a great place, though on Thursday at Congaree Golf Club, in the first round of THE CJ CUP, he wasn’t. Not health-wise, anyway.
Homa has been dealing with back tightness for a few weeks, since the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas, and in Thursday’s opening round, a number of factors – cool temperatures, walking 18 holes for the first time in a while, a shot from an awkward lie in a bunker at the par-4 11th – stiffened him up so badly he barely could retrieve his ball from the hole. Each time he slowly bent down, he looked like a man about to be knighted.
So on Friday, he decided to just take care of depositing putts into the hole – he did so seven times for birdies – and leaving the fetching to his caddie, Joe Greiner, who was happy to do it.
The scene – Homa knocking down a putt, then exiting the green – produced some lighter moments in his group, and wasn’t lost on one of his playing partners, Jordan Spieth. It was Spieth who poured in a long eagle putt at Royal Birkdale on Sunday on the 15th hole of the 2017 Open Championship who, in the heat of the frenetic moment, yelled to his caddie, Michael Greller, “Go get that!”
“Jordan said he and Greller are going to do it (Saturday),” Homa said, smiling.
Homa’s iron play has been spot-on for two days, and Friday he was able to add better driving to his repertoire, which produced a second-round, 6-under 65 that lifted him into a tie for 18th. He made two crazy scrambling pars to start his round, then settled in nicely, hitting approaches to 3 feet at the third, rolling in a 16-footer for birdie at the fourth, and hitting close irons into Nos. 5 and 7, a pair of par-3 holes. He at times moved a bit gingerly, but when he finally stood over the golf ball, he made the game appear easy.
“For me, it all starts off the tee here,” Homa said. “All of a sudden I was playing out of the fairway and my irons feel really good. I found myself with a few kick-ins. It was just nice to get moving. I played so poorly yesterday. It was nice to feel I was going in the right direction for longer than two holes.”
Homa will be riding the high of last month’s Presidents Cup for some time, saying it provided him a “highlight reel in your head of cool moments.” Week to week in regular tournaments, those meaningful moments can be few and far between. It is difficult to get into contention. But at Quail Hollow in his first Presidents Cup, every shot had something on the line, giving Homa the sense that every match felt like the back nine on Sunday.
“This week, I have to play incredibly well the next two days just to be in position to where I could maybe have some sort of highlight moment where you feel that nervous,” he said. “Four matches-worth, that’s good for the future Rolodex of things you go through when, maybe at a major, or Sunday of a tournament, when you have a big moment you can sort of harken back to.”
Scottie Scheffler, the world No. 1, knows the value of taking momentum earned in a team setting and using it to one’s individual benefit. It was last autumn that he was a captain’s pick on the U.S. Ryder Cup, and delivered a huge point on Sunday when he took down then-world No. 1 Jon Rahm in singles. A year on, Scheffler has won four times, including the Masters, and he is world No. 1.
“I think those tournaments are some of the most pressure you can feel as a player, and so any time you can succeed in those conditions and play really well, you’re going to see a surge in confidence,” Scheffler said Friday at Congaree. “Max is a guy who has performed well out here for a number of years and won some tournaments. I’m sure you’ll see his trajectory continue to go upwards.”
At 31, and having his paid his dues for a number of seasons, Homa is enjoying his view as he continues to climb the hierarchy of the game. When the PGA TOUR stages its elevated events beginning in 2023, Homa will have ample opportunity to climb even higher.
Once his weekend ends at Congaree, Homa will be switching from a “making-birdies” mode into a “changing-diapers” mode. He cannot wait to meet his new son. What does he look forward to most?
“Being able to mold a person, in a way, is a big responsibility, and it’s also very cool,” he said. “And I’m also excited for the things that I don’t even know that I’m supposed to be excited about … I’m excited for that.”
Friday, he was excited that his back was good enough to get him around in 65 shots. He trails the leaders by six, but hopes to have a weekend good enough to be highlight-reel worthy.