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Masters 2024

Masters 2024: It's time to take Max Homa, golf's funny boy, seriously

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Max Homa hits his drive on the 15th tee during the second round of the Masters.

Ben Walton

April 12, 2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — For the unacquainted, his solemn, intense energy can be unnerving, uncomfortable even. Most tour pros carry themselves in a similar manner, but it’s not what you expect from Max Homa. He’s the funny guy, the goofy guy, the guy who can give as much as he can take. That’s not this guy, who’s tearing his glove off with his teeth, ignoring the calls of his name by the many who surround his group. Who’s staring a hole through the ground as he walks with a hurried soberness. Homa has the seriousness of a substitute teacher, anticipating the nonsense his presence seemingly welcomes but having none of it.

Eventually, the realization comes that who he is online is merely a persona, and the player standing before you is a man at work. Through two days of the Masters, the work has been good and then some, as Homa’s near the top of the board with a two-day six-under total.

“Obviously been quite difficult out there,” Homa said. “I struck the ball really well. I've really done everything quite well on the golf course, but most proud of what's gone on with our course management and just controlling thoughts and expectation and all that.

“So it's been fun, and I feel like ... these conditions have helped almost lean into the patience and all the things you hear, the clichés. So I feel like I've done a great job of that and then hit some good shots alongside that.”

We suppose it’s not a total shock to see Homa near the top. He’s won six times on the PGA Tour in the last three years, and despite a so-so start to this season he’s still 11th in the world. In that same breath, in four previous Masters starts Homa has failed to crack to the top 40. Despite his improved play over the past few years, he’s still mostly known as the tour’s comic relief who turns into a supporting character on the biggest stages.

Homa also seemingly had the misfortune to be paired with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of this Masters. Rory McIlroy once said the crowd that engulfs Woods' every move costs Woods' opponents two shots a tournament and that number might be three when it comes to this tournament. Despite its spacious confines Augusta is not the most conducive for spectating. Fans jostle for prime real estate hoping to catch a glimpse of Woods, a process for Woods’ playing partners that means dealing with noise and moving scenery and a general indifference to what you’re trying to do. Homa should know; he missed the cut in his other major start with Woods at the 2022 Open at St. Andrews.

However, it appeared Homa learned his lesson, for while Woods continues to be the center of the Augusta universe, it was Homa emitting solar radiation. He came out on the tough side of the Round 1 draw, the afternoon wave almost two shots higher in score. Not that you would know by Homa’s card. He finished his first 13 holes in four under when play was called to darkness on Thursday, and picked up where he left on Friday morning, birdieing the 16th and nearly holing out for eagle at the 17th.

Following a brief intersession between Rounds 1 and 2, Homa continued his red-figure surge with birdies at the second and fourth. The fourth deserves special mention. Only the 11th played tougher on Friday, with a strong, constant gust coming off the left of the 240-yard par 3. Homa went with a 7-wood and carved it to 35 feet. He converted what was left for one of five birdies at the fourth on the day. “That hole was impossible,” Homa said, “and somehow we made it 2. I like that one.”

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Max Homa pulls a club during the second round of the 2024 Masters.

J.D. Cuban

The rest of the afternoon, he did his damndest to hold on as Augusta did its best to throw him off. The wind was strong and the putting surfaces firmed up. This was not a day for highlights; the only goal was to make it to the clubhouse without a sequence the highlight shows will later show to illustrate the day’s difficulty. On that front, mission accomplished: Homa played the final 14 in one over.

“That was about as happy as you could be to be off of a golf course,” Homa said. “That was so hard. We got the sand shower to end our day. So it was kind of even the golf course saying get the hell out of here. It was nice. It was hard.”

What comes next is harder. Homa’s growing star has now reached the echelon where his blessing is a curse, his increasingly impressive résumé not judged in its totality but instead surgically dissected by what he does in the four weeks that matter the most. His major record has been lacking, just two top-20 finishes in 17 starts.

Homa hasn’t done particularly well with heightened expectations, most notably last summer at Los Angeles Country Club. He was a hometown favorite at a track where he owned the course record and didn’t even make the weekend. It’s worth remembering that Homa, 33, has been considered one of the game’s better players for less than three years, and it can be unfair to distill the entirety of Homa and his story to 16 rounds a year. But professional sports are a results-oriented business and in golf majors are the barometer and price of stardom.

He is trending in the right direction, notching his first major top-10 last summer at the Open. He was undefeated in his Presidents Cup debut in 2022 and was one of the lone bright spots for the American Ryder Cup team last fall. This rodeo is only halfway through, yet that Homa hasn’t been thrown off while Augusta’s been at her meanest is proof what we saw at Hoylake was not a fluke.

“He's got all the talent in the world,” Woods said of Homa afterward. “I got a chance to play with him at [the Old Course], and his ball flight, as solid as he hits it, it's just a matter of time before he starts winning in bunches. I saw it up front; he doesn't really mis-hit shots. That's something you just have to do around this golf course.”

It’s also easy to be excited about what may lay ahead. Golf requires the utmost faith in who you are and what you can do, and make no mistake, Homa’s not short on confidence; you don’t reach the heights he has without it. Yet Homa is unique in recognizing vulnerability isn’t mutually exclusive to conviction. His popularity is correlated to his Twitter jabs, many of which are funny and sharp. However, that does not define him. What makes Homa special is his relatability, for that online persona allows a window into the depths of a struggle others try to keep unseen. He hasn’t hid from his mental battles, or that he’s a work in progress. It’s an openness that might not be for everyone. It’s also a rarity from athletes and shows a character this game desperately lacks from its marquee attractions.

Of course, there’s a difference between telling and showing, and this is a tournament where showing is required. Homa was asked what he hoped to show himself this week.

“I think regardless of outcome, I'd like to maintain this outlook I have on how I'm playing golf,” Homa said. “Good shot, bad shot, doesn't really matter. Did I go through my process? Did I commit to my shot? And once it takes off, I might as well close my eyes. I'd like to see if I can continue to do that this weekend. I think that's something I would like to take with me going forward.

“And yeah, just having a bit of moxie, I guess. I feel like I showed it the last couple days, especially yesterday the first few holes playing with Tiger in front of a lot of people at the Masters, and played some great golf. So I know I have that one in me. I'd like to see if I have the mental discipline for a whole week. I'm going to hope for that one."

So no, Homa isn’t the comic relief. He’s a contender for the green jacket, and a serious one at that.

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