ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Matt Fitzpatrick, one of the game’s best ball-strikers, caught his opening tee shot fat on Thursday at the Old Course. It was the best thing that could have happened to Max Homa.
Both of them had to follow in the shadow of Tiger Woods, who brought a huge crowd and, for his playing partners, nervous energy to the first tee. So when Woods found the fairway and Fitzpatrick chunked one out there, the pressure was off, Homa thought. He needled a stinger 230 yards down the chute.
“As long as I moved it forward, I was going to feel good,” Homa said. “I told Matt I was really happy he chunked his, so I had a lot of freedom to just do whatever I wanted.”
Homa shot 73 on Thursday at The Open, a stroke worse than Fitzpatrick (72) and five better than Woods (78). But he called it an unbelievable day, one he said felt like a fantasy. Why, you ask? Because he played golf with Tiger Woods.
If you are new here, let’s get you caught up. Homa, 31, is well-known for his witty and sometimes self-deprecating humor on social media. And he hasn’t been shy about his admiration for Woods. He’s tweeted at him or about him dozens of times over the last decade (slightly less than triple digits) and has even jokingly asked him to be his partner at the Zurich Classic.
He’s his hero. It’s like that for lots of guys here; they grew up watching Tiger, now some get a chance to play with him. For Homa, his first time came on Thursday — and in a major at the most iconic course in golf to boot.
So when tee times were announced on Monday, when it was official that Homa would play his first every tournament round with Woods, Homa took to his favorite social media platform again.
But Homa showing up in this marquee grouping was hardly a fluke.
He turned pro in 2013 after a successful college career at Cal, where he was First Team All-American his senior year and the program’s first-ever NCAA individual champion.
He secured his PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season, lost it the next year but regained it again, and he won his first PGA Tour event, the Wells Fargo Championship, in May 2019. He had four top 10s the next year before making a major leap in 2020, winning the Genesis Invitational — Tiger’s event at Riviera — and cashing in $3,448,578 for the year.
He’s already won twice this season — and earned over $5 million — and he entered this week ranked 19th in the world. He’ll likely make his Presidents Cup debut this fall.
Homa admitted he was nervous but said it’s good to have nerves. He wasn’t scared — he was excited. He said the entire first hole was an out-of-body experience.
“I know that I’m a very, very good player,” he said. “I’m ranked 19th in the world. Like, I was telling myself [Thursday] morning, that I’d always wanted to play with Tiger in a practice round or something, and that would be something that was given to me. I feel like I earned this tee time in a way, and it just happens to be at the coolest golf course at the coolest tournament. So that was a lot, but I just kind of tried to remind myself that there was a reason I was in this group. … I think just reminding yourself this isn’t like a fluke.”
Homa’s play wasn’t as stellar as he hoped. He turned in even par and added bogeys on 15 and 17, the latter on the Road Hole 17th, where he was stuck in its treacherous bunker and needed two shots to get out — one to get away from the wall and another to blast out. He called it a good 5.
“I’ve never really played a bunker shot like that 7-iron and lob wedge,” he said. “I guess that’s something to tell my grandkids about.”
It’s a different experience playing with Woods. Homa said he was impressed with how Woods stays within himself when he walks and moves, and how he’s able to block out all the fans, media and noise around him.
“There’s just so many frickin’ people,” Homa said. “It’s cool — I’m not sure if it feels cool to him anymore, but it’s just cool to watch. Matt and I were talking about how whenever Tiger is hitting off the tee especially, there’s just so many phones and so many peoples’ hands just in the air. They don’t even know if they’re getting a shot. It’s just impressive he can do what he does and has done with all that attention.”
More than six hours after he started his round — and 17 holes after his out-of-body experience on the first — Homa two-putted the par-4 18th for birdie.
“It was the coolest frickin’ day I’ve ever had on a golf course,” Homa said.
He smiled walking off the green as he headed for the scoring area. At least one more round with Woods, and the Old Course, awaited him on Friday.