Homa’s Odyssey – how Tiger Woods inspired Max Homa's triumph in the Genesis Invitational

Victory at Riviera Country Club was emotional for Max Homa, coming at the tournament he attended throughout his childhood.

Winning isn't easy.

Max Homa knew it and he'll be spending the next few days recalling that truism.

In one sense, his play on Sunday at the 2021 Genesis Invitational might be described as flawless, if you merely note that he didn't drop a single shot in the 25 holes he played.

In another, fuller, sense, he made two glaring errors when the pressure was at its greatest and yet both times he responded with resilience and, in the second example, with a great deal of skill as well.

In defeating Tony Finau on the second extra hole Homa concluded a dream week for a 30-year-old who walked the fairways of Riviera Country Club with his father when he was a small boy, who has vivid memories of pestering Tiger Woods for autographs there, and who has now stepped the other side of the ropes to complete a very sweet circle.

Let's take a closer look at the ways and means of Homa's triumph.

Final day drama

Returning to the course early Sunday to finish off his third round, Homa carded five pars which left him in a three-way tie for second, just two shots behind the leader Sam Burns.

In the fourth round he made three front nine birdies to maintain his challenge and another two on the back nine at the 10th and 17th to tie the lead.

Up ahead, Finau, the man he shared top spot with, was signing his card and Homa set up a glorious opportunity to seal the tournament when his 129-yard approach to the final green left him just 3-feet 4-inches to the hole.

Advice

Early on Sunday Homa's wife Lacey gave him some advice. "There were a few bullet points," he said. "But one of them was 'forgive quickly'."

He found himself in desperate need of that wisdom when the short birdie putt slipped by the hole, just the second of 57 putts from inside 5-feet he missed all week.

She texted him a reminder of the thought ahead of the playoff, almost as if she knew he'd need it again soon, when his tee shot at the short par-4 10th finished inches from a tree.

Homa was true to her words.

He ensured he found the green, even gave himself a look at birdie, enough to make Finau twitchy enough to not leave his own, simpler, pitch inside gimme range.

Neither man made birdie, the playoff moved to the par-3 14th, and when Finau found sand, Homa made an aggressive play at the hole.

He wouldn't convert the birdie chance, but he had again forced Finau's hand. Par was good enough for the win.

Forgiving quickly, not letting bad breaks or mistakes get to him, had proved to be a very astute memo for the day.

Controlled inspiration

Many recent winners of the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, have been Englishmen who walked the fairways of the course watching their heroes when youngsters.

It was similar for Homa this week.

"Been watching this tournament my whole life," he said. "It's why I fell in love with golf.

"It kind of means everything. This is legitimately my Masters. I don't think there's a place more special to me."

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As giddy as he was, it was vital that Homa not let his dreams become a distraction.

"This morning, after we finished the restart, I let myself dream, just had a moment," he revealed, before adding: "Then kind of let it go."

Experience in the heat of battle

There were two senses in which Homa could call upon the past for know-how.

His joy at playing this event might have got to him when he first had the chance to tee it up seven years ago - he missed the cut in both his first two starts.

But he finished T37th in 2019 and a third round 65 last year helped him land tied fifth, an effort that was to prove a crucial stepping stone.

"Just playing here is a pinch-me moment," he said. "So when I saw my name at the top of the leaderboard, it hit me, but it was helpful that I played well here last year and got to go through those emotions. I felt much calmer this year."

Homa was solid on the final day.
Homa was solid on the final day.

Homa was also blessed by recent experience of leading, when tied for the 54-hole lead in January's American Express tournament.

It didn't go well - his final round 76 left him outside the top 20 - but Homa didn't waste the ordeal.

"It's only failure if you don't learn from it," he said of that day.

"I felt calm. Maybe tried to force things a little bit, but I didn't feel like I really lost it because of nerves or lost it because of the moment. I just had one of those days at a bad time."

He was also observant, reflecting on what playing partner, and winner that day, Si-Woo Kim achieved.

"It was fun, watching how he went about the process, how he played and realized that it wasn't anything special in professional golf standards, he just really played some solid golf."

Course knowledge

Very few golfers win at Riviera without first posting a decent result there; it's a track which suits specialists and Homa proved that again with his strategy.

"My coach and caddie, we've had a mantra this week," he said. "Position over perfection.

"We were trying to leave it in the best spot all week and I thought we did a really good job."

Suited by the tough test

Homa's first win PGA Tour win came in the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

It's not only a solid golf course, with a difficult set-up, it is also a Major Championship venue.

So, too, of course, is Riviera.

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In fact, he now owns ten top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour and no less than six of them have come at courses which have hosted Majors.

"I think I have a game that fits difficult golf courses," he admitted. "I finally started to build a mind that deals with them.

"I'm hoping this is just the beginning. I'm not sure what the next hardest golf course is, but I'll give it a try."

The future

As it stands, Homa is yet to do anything of note in the Majors.

He's played in five of them and made the cut just the once - T64th at the 2019 PGA Championship.

Might he be a golfer to keep an eye on, however?

We've already noted how motivated he is in California and six of those ten top tens on the PGA Tour have also been in his home state.

One of them has even been at Torrey Pines, host of this year's US Open, the toughest set-up tournament of them all.

Homa is currently 80/1 with Bet365 for the year's third Major.

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