‘Worst bounce ever’: Max Homa’s sprinkler incident at TOC ready for Bad Break Hall of Fame
KAPALUA, Hawaii — I was out for an afternoon stroll on Friday at the Tournament of Champions when I came on a strange scene.
I’d huffed and puffed my way up Kapalua’s ski-slope 18th (the one all those 400-yard drives come hurdling down) and then up further still to the 17th green when I heard something, though I wasn’t sure what. By the time I got greenside there were several volunteers searching in the bushes short and left of the green while back in the fairway I could see the figure of Max Homa lining up an approach shot.
Homa was playing by himself; his playing partner Xander Schauffele had withdrawn at the turn with a back injury. The only possible conclusion was that Homa’s first ball had landed in the bushes and he was now playing a provisional approach.
But I didn’t realize just how strange the incident actually was until another volunteer explained with morbid delight that Homa’s ball had actually bounced off a sprinkler head and torpedoed backwards into the penalty area short of the green. Sprinkler heads are golf tournament chaos agents and have wrought havoc on plenty of approaches. But backwards? I’d never seen that.
An unsuccessful search, a rules official, a drop and a nifty up-and-down later, Homa strode off the back of the green, shaking his head.
“You see that?” he asked, just hoping someone had witnessed it.
“As if golf isn’t hard enough,” his caddie Joe Greiner added, shaking his head. “Best bogey ever, though.”
Homa finished the day T27, so he didn’t address the media after his round. But a day later, after he’d finished off a sparkling third round of 10-under 63, he gave a more in-depth recollection.
“I was playing by myself and the ball wasn’t really going in the hole but I was hanging in there,” Homa said. “I was three under [for the round] and I figured okay, if you get to four under on 18, you’re okay.”
Homa had just gap wedge in hand for the fateful shot and was trying to land it one pace onto the green; past the hole location things run away. His shot started directly at the flag before the ball began drifting ever so slightly to the left. That meant he’d miss his target, but not by much — Greiner estimated he would have been left with a 10-15 foot birdie putt, while Homa settled on 22 feet.
Then came the crash of the sprinkler head and a ball going suddenly backwards, arcing into the bushes. There was no chance of retrieval.
“Someone maybe in a thousand years will find a Titleist with a black marking on it, and hopefully they’ll send it to the Bad Break Hall of Fame,” Homa concluded.
To Homa’s credit, everything that happened after the bad bounce was impressive. His up-and-down for bogey kept him at two under for the round, and two good swings at No. 18 set up a two-putt birdie to finish off a three-under 70. On Saturday he went out early and could do no wrong; he birdied 2, 5, 6 and 8 and then really got going on the back nine, running off five consecutive birdies from 12 through 16 before returning to No. 17, where he hit the middle of the green and contendedly two-putted for a ho-hum par. Two more good swings at 18 set up an eagle putt from inside 15 feet; he settled for birdie and a round of 10 under.
“The ball went in the hole today,” Homa said. “I hadn’t really made anything until maybe the back nine yesterday. I don’t know how to really explain it. It didn’t feel like I played four shots better than my last two days combined, but I did.”
The 10-birdie fiesta shot Homa from T27 to the edge of contention; his three-round total of 16 under par had him T7 at day’s end.
“When the wind is like this and the greens are soft you can dumb your way into a lot of birdies,” he explained. “I felt like I just didn’t dumb my way out of them today. So that was nice.”
Homa also credited his good round with a comfy pairing alongside Justin Thomas and his caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.
“Two of my favorite people in the game of golf, so it’s awesome being around them,” he said. “I think JT is my favorite person to watch play golf, which is probably true of a lot of fans of the game. So it’s fun to be around him and watch him play, watch him work.
“Then you add in Bones, and he’s much more serious and quiet when he’s working compared to when we’re at home. Because at home he’s talkative, he has the best stories in the world and has seen literally everything. I think he has a story about Old Tom Morris, he caddied in his group once. But it’s just the best.”
He’ll need another low one on Sunday to have any chance of keeping up with Collin Morikawa, who’d built a five-shot lead with two holes to play in his third round. It’s a lead that could prove insurmountable.
As long as he doesn’t hit any sprinkler heads.