Max Homa, the U.S. Open and the Last Decent Golf Story
LOS ANGELES — The cheers following Max Homa on Thursday did not seem to care about the bigger picture.
As Homa blasted his way around Los Angeles Country Club in the opening round at the U.S. Open, the noise followed suit, cascading over him in polite ovation after polite ovation. They chanted his name. They celebrated.
The cheers did not seem to know about the PGA Tour’s pending merger with the Saudi Public Investment Fund. They didn’t seem to realize there was a gray cloud cast over the event (both metaphorical and, in the case of the marine layer, literal). They didn’t seem to understand that the sanctity of pro golf’s future had been cast in doubt.
And for a few hours on Thursday, that was nice. It was very nice indeed.
This week has been called, mostly unofficially, the Homacoming. LA’s chosen golf son grew up just miles from the grounds of this year’s national championship and spent a chunk of his teenage and college years competing here. He knows the layout here. He knows the course here. He owns the course record here (a 61 in 2013 that was briefly challenged on Thursday). After an emotional victory at the Genesis Invitational sparked a breakout 2022, LA seemed almost too fitting a location for Homa’s first-career major championship.
But the Homacoming felt like an afterthought heading into tournament week. There were too many questions to answer about the future of professional golf, which had just days earlier been broadsided by an agreement to flood the sport with Saudi money.
Homa, it turned out, was the perfect candidate to answer some of them. A member of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Committee, Homa has turned into an unlikely messenger for Tour changes and tweaks during the first part of this strange 2023 season. On Tuesday, though, he had as many questions as we did.
“I was on the phone quite a bit that Tuesday with players in a couple meetings, PAC meeting, whatever, and felt like I learned a ton,” Homa said. “And then it was in every article in the world, so I don’t think I am any more knowledgeable about this.”
But at the beginning of such an important week, there was something beautiful about ignorance.
“It’s actually nice to be as confused as I am here because I’m not really thinking about it anymore,” he said. “I’m ready to just go play golf.”
That turned out to be a wonderful edict, considering the circus that would soon arrive.
On Thursday, Homa welcomed two separate fan clubs. The first being his family, which made the drive just 18 miles down the 101 from his native Valencia to LACC. The second being, in the words of his wife, Lacey, “just about everyone he knows” — a group of friends who came in from all over the area to celebrate Max’s big week.
They stuck close to him during the first part of the tournament week. Homa walked with his dad, John, during his practice rounds. He reminisced with his mom, Bonnie, on their trip to the course for the 2017 Walker Cup. His friends organized tickets months in advance through his agent, Matt, and packed tightly together at a few viewing spots throughout the golf course.
He teed off on the first hole at LACC shortly after 8 a.m. local time and was surprised to find the environment tame. Then he found the fairway, and the noise began.
“Right when we started walking down that fairway, it started to feel like, I guess, it’s supposed to,” Home said. “It was quite cool hearing all the ‘Go Bears!‘ and yelling out my hometown. It was awesome.”
Homa shot a two-under 68 on Thursday, an effort that placed him in 7th place at the end of the morning wave, but will likely settle further down the leaderboard by the time the sun sets. But then again, score wasn’t very relevant on Thursday for those following Max Homa. It often isn’t when there’s a chance to root on the hometown kid.
“The advantage I have is that I’m very, very comfortable in this city,” Homa said. “I’m with friends and family and it just is a short trip and all that.”
Ultimately, the most striking piece of Homa’s Thursday was that it wasn’t striking at all. It felt like a Thursday at a major championship for one of the tournament favorites. Life, for the moment, had gone on.
The situation in pro golf is not going anywhere anytime soon. But there are only three days left in Max Homa’s homecoming, and for the moment, a good chunk of those at LACC feel that takes precedence.
Maybe it’s foolish to forget about what happened so quickly. But then again, maybe there’s something to be said about forgetting. Often, as Homa knows, the troubles of the future are best worried about in the future.
“I guess just looking back, 10 years ago, as much as I probably saw the expectation and hopes, it was just so much less important than a U.S. Open. At the time the PAC-12 Championship felt like the biggest thing in the world and this is quite a bit bigger,” he said. “But we’re golfers and we treat every event like it’s a major, especially in college, so I guess not too much has changed.”
Not too much. Well, except for one thing.
“A few more people following our group.”