Golf 2019 highlights: Max Homa secures PGA Tour breakthrough at Quail Hollow

Max Homa celebrates with the trophy
Max Homa celebrates with the trophy

Max Homa held off a packed leaderboard that included the likes of Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy for his first PGA tour victory in the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

In doing so, Homa became the fifth player to make Quail Hollow the venue of their first PGA Tour victory – joining Anthony Kim (2008), Rory McIlroy (2010), Rickie Fowler (2012) and Derek Ernst (2013).

It hasn’t always been champagne and million-dollar cheques for the Californian, however, and that’s what makes this story so sweet.

Homa left the amateur ranks after playing a key role in USA’s landslide victory at the 2013 Walker Cup in New York. His first event as a professional came after a sponsor’s exemption to the Frys.com Open in October 2013 and, in finishing ninth, he provided a glimpse of the talent on offer.

From there, Homa waltzed through Qualifying School before quickly making his mark on the Web.com Tour, winning the BMW Charity Pro-Am and, more importantly, securing full PGA Tour playing rights for the very first time.

It would seem that Homa had made it to the place everyone knew he belonged.

And yet, things are rarely so straightforward, and after finishing way down the FedEx Cup standings, this can't-miss rookie had, in fact, missed. Still, dropping down a level saw him win again, this time in Illinois, and surely he'd be better prepared for a second taste of life at the top table.

Back in the big time, right? Well, no. Here’s where things went really south.

Of the 17 tournaments he entered in 2017, Homa made just two cuts – missing the 54-hole cut in one and finishing last in the other. He amassed a paltry $18,000 in prize money and collected just three FedEx Cup points. He was returning to the Web.com Tour, but this time with his whole future in doubt.

Homa entered a dark place. Speaking on the No Laying Up podcast, he admitted his negative play resulted in a negative mindset.

"I would come off golf courses in shambles. Just mentally like I’m not supposed to do this.

"I had to lie to myself and say, today’s the day, dude. Today’s the day we go shoot 65 and everything breaks apart and this starts to go in the right direction.

"Then I’d be like, all right, wake up in the morning and practice. I’m very proud of myself for doing that."

Homa did a lot of lying to himself during that spell in the wilderness. Then, somehow, he conjured a performance which changed the course of his career. It came at the final event of the regular season, where an opening 74 left him tied for 125th place and with next to no chance of making the Finals and all the riches they offer.

Not for the first time, he dug deep - he was good at that by now. Remember how McIlroy made the cut on the number to win at Quail Hollow once upon a time? Here, away from the cameras, Homa pulled a similar trick - he came home in 30 on Friday, made the cut, made the Finals, and from there made it back to the promised land.

There was work still to be done, and Homa made the decision to return to his old coach, Les Johnson. It was an inspired one. Homa started making cuts - comfortably, too - and even bagged an important top-10 finish back home in California. Slowly, the wheels began to turn, and while entering Quail Hollow still some way from the public's radar, he knew himself that something was happening.

Fittingly, Homa's victory was built in a similar mould to that career-saving Web.com run. Having started the tournament with a modest 69, Homa stormed into second at halfway with an eight-under 63, and by Saturday night he was in the lead, where he'd remain entering the final round.

Now 28, Homa was nothing if not battle hardened. Success had not come to him; he had gone digging for it, to places beyond the will and the reach of others whose promise disappeared quicker than it had arrived. Perhaps, while we all sat waiting for McIlroy or Fowler or Casey or Dufner to dish out a reality check, Homa managed to tell himself another lie: that this was just another round of golf; that nothing could be tougher than what he'd been through over the previous three years.

Whatever was on his mind, he birdied the fifth, seventh, 10th and 11th and was facing a knee-trembling par save on the 14th when play was suspended - just another hurdle to overcome. After an hour delay, Homa calmly converted the putt to remain three shots clear. A two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th followed, and there would be no alarms and no surprises: away he went, spade cast aside, enjoying a stroll to his long-awaited breakthrough triumph.

The win earned a cool $1,422,000 - almost a million more than his previous PGA Tour starts combined - and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Security for a man who, at his lowest, had to talk himself away from feeling insecure. The places in the field at the PGA Championship and The Masters were somehow secondary.

It's no wonder he couldn't find the words in the moment, but speaking later, he recalled the end of a long, long road. "I could see all the struggles I’ve talked about fall away," he said. "Everything I had been working on came together in that moment."

Homa's triumph can be summed up by one word, a word he has tattooed on his wrist: relentless.

This was a win which did not make worldwide headlines - there was no birth of a superstar, as there had been at this very course when McIlroy announced himself to America. But it was no less significant.

Whatever Homa goes on to achieve, his refusal to give up on a career spiralling out of control earned him that which every young golfer covets: a place at the top table, and a trophy for the locker. That he happens to be a good-spirited member of golf's twitter community is the Masters place to his mountain overcome.

Relentless.

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