Max Homa has a not-so-secret message written on his glove

Max Homa is in contention at the Open Championship.

Max Homa is in contention at the Open Championship.

Sky Sports

HOYLAKE, England — Max Homa is still trying to find his major magic.

But he’s also trying not to try quite so hard.

The last time we saw the World No. 8 at a major, Homa was missing the cut in heartbreaking fashion at his hometown U.S. Open, bombing out pre-weekend at Los Angeles Country Club with three double bogeys in his second round to miss the weekend by two.

It didn’t feel good.

“Yeah, the U.S. Open hurt me a lot,” he said. “I played awesome. Had a three-hole stretch that was bad and it just didn’t feel like I deserved to miss the cut. Then I went to [the Travelers Championship] the next week in Connecticut and missed that one by one — and played fine.

“It’s just one of those feels like I’m gripping the wheel real tight. Especially everybody knows my major record sucks. I think I’m not myself when I play them.”

Those last three lines were particularly revealing. “Gripping the wheel real tight” is a phrase so expressive I wish I’d thought of it. Acknowledging his major record “sucks” means he’s pre-empting any outside criticism. And the idea that he’s not himself when he plays them is actually pretty empowering, because it suggests that if he was himself in majors, he’d be doing much better.

“I go to regular Tour events and I feel like I free up and I play great. I’m a lot more consistent. Crazy things don’t seem to happen,” he said.

Homa has been working on that, which is tricky given the fact that working on being natural is somewhat counterintuitive. But one strategy he’s employed is a little message he’s written on his golf glove, three letters easily visible when he grips his club and easily visible to TV cameras, too: NFG.

So what does it stand for?

“It’s just kind of a mantra,” Homa said. “It has a bad word in it, so I won’t tell you what it is. It’s just something I started doing in Detroit. Just stop caring so much and let myself just be myself.”

We’ll let you decipher that for yourselves, adding only a personal guess that the phrase might rhyme with “no trucks driven” but, again, who could say?

Homa is something of a mantra man. He has always leaned on the Stonecutter’s Creed, something he got from Kobe Bryant. And other messages, like “forgive quickly,” have peppered his best performances.

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“Sometimes you just need a reminder that it’s going to be all right. Just go play golf,” he explained.

He had a solid week in Detroit, finishing T21 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. And he followed that with a T12 at last week’s Genesis Scottish Open.

As for this week? So far, so good. He’s now playing the 17th major of his career and has just one result better than T40. But the three-under 68 Homa posted in the first round marked his best career round to par in a major. It was particularly impressive given he was playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, battling afternoon wind and chill at Royal Liverpool and holding his own.

“That’s as good as I remember hitting it in a major,” he said. “I felt like I had a lot of control of my golf ball, which was great in that wind.”

Homa faced one particularly funny (though no doubt frustrating) challenge as he finished his first round. As he pulled fairway wood for his second shot at the par-5 18th, he heard some commentary from the nearby TV.

“I don’t know if anybody has mentioned this, but you can hear the commentators on the broadcast from the big TV, and I was over the ball and one of them said, ‘this is too much club,'” he said.

“I did an absolutely awful job of not backing off,” he added with a grin. He yanked his second shot well left of the green and into the grandstand beside it. From there it was just a matter of making par.

“It was just like get the ball on the green and let’s go home.”

Live to fight another day. Just not fight too hard.

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