At the Presidents Cup, Max Homa earned something he’s always wanted

Max Homa has been a popular PGA Tour player for years. But he's been chasing something else: validation.

Max Homa has been a popular PGA Tour player for years. But he's been chasing something else: validation.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There’s a framed quote that used to hang beside Kobe Bryant’s locker.

“Look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Max Homa, a lifelong fan of Bryant’s Lakers, came across the credo — originally the words of Jacob Riis — in 2017. He was at a low moment in his professional golf career; he missed 15 of 17 cuts that season, earned just $18,008 on the course, lost his PGA Tour card and fell outside the top 800 in the world. But he tried to think of himself as the stonecutter.

“I was like, this is me, right now,” Homa remembered on the No Laying Up podcast some two years later, after his first PGA Tour win. “This is how I’m going to leave my mark on this game. This is how I’m getting back.”

He didn’t just get back. Homa transformed his entire game. He transformed his mind. And on Thursday, when he donned the blue shirt and white slacks of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, the transformation was complete. The hard work validated. Homa had made it.

“As Tony said on 16, this is what makes us feel alive. I felt very alive today,” he said after earning his first point alongside Tony Finau in the final match of the day. But it wasn’t winning the point that was the validation, nor the bunker shot he’d hit at 16, setting up a crucial birdie, nor the tee shot he’d striped down the 18th fairway, putting them in position to win. It was the fact that he was there at all.

Back to 2017.

It’s funny to think that a self-aware, self-deprecating athlete like Homa would be so fundamentally affected by running across a motivational quote. But to hear him tell it, finding the words felt like a turning point. Homa’s golf game didn’t turn around — not right away, at least — but his attitude did.

“I realized that if you’re playing that bad and you’re also thinking negatively, they don’t go together,” Homa said on that same podcast. “So I had to lie to myself. To be like, ‘today’s the day, dude! Today’s the day we go shoot 65 and everything kind of breaks apart and this starts to go the right direction.'”

Today’s the day. One swing at the stone at a time. Homa set a resolution. “I just wanted to leave a mark of resiliency. I thought that would be who I am. Some people are great at hitting a 7-iron. Some people are great at putting. I’m gonna be the toughest guy you’ve ever met.”

Homa played his way back onto the PGA Tour. It wasn’t a smooth transition — he missed six of his first seven cuts upon reentry — but he kept going. And going. He logged a T26. Then a T10. And finally, in May 2019, the stone broke: Max Homa, No. 413 in the world, won the Wells Fargo Championship. It changed his career forever.

There’s a good chance that’s not why you know Homa. He’s best known for what came after: The viral swing roasts on Twitter. The jokes he’d make at his own expense. The animus towards Fiji water, no matter how much he’d earned, because it just seemed out of reach. Homa’s fame grew quickly. His game grew quietly. Still, he wanted more.

There were further moments of validation, namely his playoff victory at the 2021 Genesis Invitational. The win came at his hometown tournament, one of the biggest events of the season, hosted by his idol, Tiger Woods. The win boosted him to World No. 38, by far his career best.

But in golf, how do you ever really know you’ve made it? The sheer number of events make it a sport of the moment. To belong with the top dogs, you have to keep winning, contending, and winning some more. Homa was a part of the conversation for the 2021 Ryder Cup team, but he ended up on the outside looking in. The week after the team was announced, he won again, this time at the Fortinet Championship.

“I feel like the game is catching up,” he said post-win. “I think the misconception about me is because of the social media thing, people think I am kind of goofy and aloof a little bit. For people who know me, I work really, really, really hard.”

He added something else: He’d been working on self-belief, on walking around with his chest out, reminding himself that he belongs with the very best.

“I could go practice all day long, but if I don’t start believing in myself and believing that I belong with all the guys at the Ryder Cup this next week, then I’m doing myself a disservice,” he said.

Part of the reason we love the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup is because it gives us the chance to crystalize golf’s hierarchy. The teams are golf’s answer to an all-star game. To an All-NBA team. It’s our opportunity to contextualize success, to say who belongs in that top tier and who doesn’t.

And this year, Homa proved where he belongs.

There was his improved consistency: Homa made 21 cuts in 24 starts, logging 15 top-25 finishes. His meticulous labor had paid off, too: He ranked inside the top third on Tour in every major statistical category, cementing himself as a complete player. Then came the wins, first at the Fortinet and then again at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he held off a chasing pack that included Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Cameron Young. He capped off the season with a fifth-place finish at the Tour Championship, securing riches and something even more elusive: his first U.S. team.

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This was always going to be a week of validation. This is his first all-star game, after all. But Homa put his stamp on it by defending his title at the Fortinet over the weekend, chipping in on the final hole and then watching Danny Willett three-putt his chances away. Max Homa, five-time PGA Tour winner, landed in Charlotte in the wee hours of Monday morning. His captain was there to greet him.

“We went and met Max and his entourage about two in the morning to get him to the hotel,” Davis Love III said. “So that was really cool.”

Homa’s the same guy this week that he was last week, or last year, or the year before that. His pre-tournament press conference served as reminder of that.

There was the reveal of his childhood screen name: “Oh, man, that’s not a good one. So embarrassing. [Sigh] It was — I think it was ‘NextTigerWoods59.’ So sick, dude. Met so many girls off that.”

There was his admission about fist pumps: “I don’t know if I’ll ever have the swag and the cool factor to run around on the green like Tiger and do fist pumps. I think about it and never do it and just wave.”

And then there was this, on his advanced age: “People are always associating me with Will [Zalatoris] and Cam [Young]. I’m considerably older than them. I’m like a touchdown older than them. So I’m happy to be out here and do my best to be the average guy’s golfer, I think.”

Homa is 31, while Zalatoris is 26 and Young is 25. So he’s right: He’s up touchdown, at least without the extra point. If anything, that makes him enjoy the moment more.

“This is the most validating, I think by a decent amount,” he said. “These team things are really hard to get on.”

He’s hammered through some rock to get here.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.