Max Homa’s proven he can win. His next challenge? Defending those titles

Max Homa watches his shot into the 18th hole during the final round of the 2021 Fortinet Championship. Homa won by one.

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Max Homa was scrolling through Instagram when he saw a highlight of his hole-out in the final round of the 2021 Fortinet Championship.

It was a huge shot, no doubt. He was three back at the time, but that eagle got him to within one of the lead with just six holes to play. You might remember what happened next. Homa played the final six holes in three under to become the first winner of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season. The victory vaulted him to first-ever two-win season and a Presidents Cup berth later this month.

In hindsight, that hole-out on 12 wasn’t perfect, though. The celebration, Homa admits, needed work.

“I never really know what to do. I did like the umpire home-run-type thing,” said Homa, speaking to GOLF.com in a recent interview to discuss his season, the Presidents Cup and his upcoming title defense at the Fortinet. “It wasn’t like I was thinking about it prior. Any time you watch your own self celebrate it sucks. … I probably couldn’t do any fist pump where I wouldn’t think it’s sightly corny. I guess I’ll give myself a zero out of 10.”

Homa’s grade was harsh. But there’s no way he’d be so critical of the success he had in 2021-22. It all started at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., the same event that kicks off the PGA Tour’s new season next week. Homa was in the penultimate group on Sunday and was 14 under after 11 holes. He glanced at a leaderboard off the 11th green and created a plan. Marc Leishman had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, and Homa said his goal was to just pass Leishman so it could be a one-on-one battle vs. Maverick McNealy, who was leading in the pairing behind him. Mission accomplished. Homa holed out a few minutes later to leapfrog Leishman.

“To make the wedge and immedatiely jump in front of Marc, it was like fantasyland,” Homa said. “It took me all of, like, 10 minutes; I thought it was more of, like, hopefully by the 16th hole [I’d pass him]. So it was a really cool week and cool day.”

Homa’s Sunday 65 tied for the low round of the day and allowed him to beat McNealy by one. His World Ranking jumped from 44th to 31st and helped him make major progress in the Presidents Cup standings — a crucial move given just a week earlier he’d missed out on a Ryder Cup captain’s pick.

His strong play continued. Homa finished top 20 in four straight events in February and March and won the Wells Fargo Championship for the second time in his career in May.

“I always thought if you win once a year every year, that’s pretty incredible, so kicking off the season with a win, everything else almost seems like gravy,” said Homa, who is now ranked 20th in the world. “To get a second win in a season, I hadn’t done that in my professional career yet. Golf is weird. Prior to that, being in college, I would have thought winning twice in a season was, not normal, but of course you are going to go win two or three times. But playing 10 or so years of professional golf it starts to be so foreign, winning in general, so it was cool to get two.”

Homa finished the season with five top 10s and 15 top 25s. He missed just three cuts in 24 starts. He wasn’t an auto-qualifier for the Presidents Cup, but he staked his place high enough on the standings that there was no way captain Davis Love III was going to bypass him. Plus, the event will be played at Quail Hollow, where Homa won his first Wells Fargo Championship back in 2019.

Now, Homa’s learning how to play as a defending champion, which he’s done twice and will have to do two more times this coming season, the first instance starting on Thursday. There are more tournament, sponsor and media obligations required. His photo might be plastered on a wall or on a ticket. (“Pinch-me stuff,” he said.) It takes a little more effort to manage time, but he’s learning.

“Fortunately, doing it twice now I’ll be a little more prepared for the stuff that it entails,” he said.

Now, he just has to focus on nailing those celebrations.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.