U.S. Open

U.S. Open 2023: We're missing the point with Max Homa

June 13, 2023

Harry How

LOS ANGELES — He had the air of a man who knows how good he’s got it, and he does. For significant moments are often not appreciated, at least not in the moment. We don’t see them coming or are blind to their arrival. We realize they are fleeting only when they have gone and their gravity is measured in the time spent attempting to recapture what we once felt.

Whatever comes of this week, Max Homa can find solace he will not be chasing this ghost.

“I've just been thinking about how, when you grow up and we all have that cliche joke, putt to win the U.S. Open, putt to win the Masters,” Homa said Tuesday at Los Angeles Country Club. “I've done it with Riviera, a putt to win the L.A. Open. To have a major in my hometown … I think that's a dream come true.”

This is a national championship, but it is Homa’s tournament. He owns the course record at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course and captured the Pac-12 Championship here. His best golf comes on the West Coast, four of his six career tour wins in California. Homa is playing well, up to No. 7 in the world, and already one of the game’s more popular figures his support is expected to be large in voice and number playing less than 20 miles from where he grew up. Homa is not so much a favorite as he is the main attraction.

If that was all, that would be more than enough. Pressure is a privilege, sure … but it is pressure. Except, Homa’s growing star has now reached the echelon where his blessing is a curse, his increasingly-impressive resume not judged in its totality but instead surgically dissected by what he does in the four weeks that matter the most.

In those weeks, the major championships, Homa’s record has been lacking, just one top-20 finish in 15 starts. Homa knows this, and he knows his major record, and he knows why the record is the way it is.

“I really do believe that my golf game is plenty good enough to contend in these things. I think I've shown that in other PGA Tour events,” Homa said. “I've won six times, a lot of them recently. I've done it on some pretty great golf courses, some hard golf courses. I just think I get here and I try too hard.

“Some parts of me that I really like is I'm a perfectionist and it makes me work really, really hard. I'm very diligent. But that same part, it's like a double-edged sword. I get in these things and I can't seem to separate—I can't seem to understand that it's OK to makes bogeys and it's OK to mess up. It's OK, you're going to get on runs and do all these great things if you just let yourself, and I've done a poor job of that.”

It’s worth remembering that Homa, 32, has only been considered one of the game’s best for less than two years, and it can be unfair to distill the entirety of Homa and his story to 16 rounds a year. Alas, professional sports are almost entirely a results-oriented business, and in golf, majors are the barometer and price of stardom. Should Homa not get it done at the course where he owns the course record, in front of fans that will be doing their damndest to carry him to the finish, it’s reasonable to wonder when that day will come.

However, the operative word in the previous paragraph is “almost.” For there are some athletes, some moments, that cannot be defined by results. Maybe more so than any golfer of his generation other than Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth, Homa is that rare bird who transcends results. Yes, Homa’s popularity was spurred by his humor in a game known for being stuffy and stale and too serious for its own good. On that there is no dispute, and his improved play has amplified his personality to the masses. Why Homa has resonated, however, speaks to something deeper.

Golf requires the utmost faith in who you are and what you can do, and make no mistake, Homa’s not short on conviction; you don’t reach the heights he has without it. But Homa is unique in recognizing vulnerability isn’t mutually exclusive to that confidence. He’s given us a window into the depths of a struggle that others try to keep unseen, in the hopes that those facing similar battles feel like they’re not alone and that it’s OK to not be OK. By allowing us in he’s received an embrace reserved for a special few.

That’s why this week’s goal against the struggle is not necessarily the grail waiting for the winner, but in the pursuit of it.

“I think if I start to find the fun in that, that's when it'll start to click,” Homa said. “That's been a goal.”

Homa said after a disappointing finish at the PGA Championship, his coach Mark Blackburn had a come-to-Jesus talk with him. Homa’s joy in the game came from playing good golf, and as he admitted, “that doesn’t happen all the time.” Blackburn challenged Homa to find joy in the work, joy in something in which he had total control. It’s a work in progress, Homa said, although that’s sort of the idea.

“I do believe that once I start to see the joy controlling your own mind, what that can bring you, I think I'm going to start to make that more of a priority or at least be more in tune with it,” Homa said. “It's hard to practice it other than when the bell goes off Thursday, but it's been on the very tip of my mind since the PGA, and I'm really excited that in two days I get to go work that out.”

There will be those that judge Homa’s week by his result, and if he’s honest, Homa’s probably in that camp too. He’s never been weighed with expectations like this. But there’s also something to be said about standing on the cliffs of a significant moment and understanding all the effort and pain and doubt it took to reach this precipice.

And should he contend ...

“To have just, if it was anywhere it would be special, but just an added bit of excitement being here, I think it's all positive,” Homa said. “There's nothing really negative I could say about that. I can't wait for the event to start to hear all the noise, because like I said, at Riviera this year was wild. I can't imagine if something like that were to happen here.”

Whatever comes of this week, Max Homa realizes this U.S. Open in his moment. What he makes of it will be a joy to watch.