Max Homa claimed his maiden PGA Tour title at the Wells Fargo Championship by three shots, and it was the ultimate lesson in perseverance
With some of the world’s best players chasing him, Max Homa remained composed as he claimed his maiden PGA Tour title by three shots at Quail Hollow with a final round four-under 67 to finish on 15-under-par.
His victory was impressive, but it was more than just a breakthrough to become the eighth first-time winner this season: it was a lesson in perseverance.
"It feels like I'm in a dream!" Homa said after his win, having finished three shots clear of nearest challenger Joel Dahmen. "I didn't know whether this day would ever come."
That sentiment is signifcant, because less than two years ago Homa's career trajectory was on a very different path.
In 2017, Homa played 17 events on the PGA Tour, missing 15 cuts and recording a best-finish of 71st at the Barbasol Championship, and he admitted he wondered at one point if he should be out there. But he kept going, and last August fired four birdies in a row to make the cut on the number at the Web.com Tour finals, regained his card, and found a quote that left him inspired.
“After I got my card I found this quote that Kobe had in his locker – it was about this stone cutter,” Homa told No Laying Up's podcast. “It says this stone cutter is chopping away at this boulder and he swings at it one time, two times, three times, one hundred times without a dent being made on it and on the 101st time it completely breaks apart and it says: ‘a wise man knows it was not the 101st blow that did it, it was the 100 that came before it’ and I was like this is me, right now. This is how I’m going to leave my mark on this game”
Yet when he came back to the PGA Tour, he struggled once more, adding six consecutive missed cuts to a T60 at the Safeway Open. But then something suddenly changed, and a T26 at the Phoenix Open was followed by a top 10 at Pebble Beach - his first on Tour since the 2013 Frys Open.
Then on Sunday, ranked 417th in the world, he finally delivered on his promise: Although unlike the stone cutter, Homa didn't need 101 attempts for his breakthrough -he only needed 69. And for the 28-year-old, it felt like validation.
“I didn’t know if this day would ever come let alone just keep my card, but it’s been very validating,” Homa added. “I have some scar tissue out here. I’ve been working my tail off and I’ve been seeing a lot of great results, and my gosh, it’s cool to do it here because I love this place as much as anyone.
“It’s great for my family, my fiancé. I’m getting married in a few months. It’s just, everything’s good now. It’s a little job security and it’s fun. I’m usually good with words, but I don’t think I have any.”
Having carded rounds of 69,63 and 70 Homa found himself tied at the top of the leaderboard after 54-holes with Dahmen and Jason Dufner, setting up a final-day pairing with the latter.
As Dufner dropped two shots on the opening three holes Homa and Dahmen remained locked at the top: Homa made his first birdie on the 5th while Dahmen holed from 12 feet for a two on the par-three sixth up ahead, and both players made the most of the par-five 7th to move three shots clear at 13-under.
Homa then earned his spot at the top after a mistake from Dahmen on nine, and with birdie putts from 14 feet on 10, 13 feet on 11 and another dropped shot from Dahmen, his lead suddenly stretched to four.
That would be cut to one as Dahmen found a birdie on the 14th after hitting his approach to five feet, and Homa looked to be in a testing position as he was left with a five footer to come back to for par when weather stopped play.
During the delay, Homa spoke about being more focused on his mental game than his actual game as he played his final round - and it was a strategy that paid off. But it wasn't the only contributor to his victory this week: He entered the tournament ranked 96thin SG: Putting on the PGA Tour this season. This week? He was 1st.
He excelled as play resumed, making that putt and two others of the same distance on the next two holes, before reaching 16-under-par thanks to a two-putt birdie from long range on 15.
“I knew in the back of my mind that if I make that putt, I win this golf tournament,” Homa said of the putt on 13. “When I made that putt, I knew I was in a good spot both in the tournament but also mentally to be able to do that.”
His first and only dropped shot of the day would come at the next to drop back to a three shot lead, but an impressive par-save from 11 feet on the 17th left Homa with a comfortable cushion heading to the least.
The eventual champion let his 3-wood twirl in his hands as he found the middle of the fairway, hit his approach to the front of the green, and roared as he holed from 9 feet for par.
“I putted awesome this whole week,” Homa said, “and I stood up on that putt and we had a great read, and it was great to see it go in because I think I knew my golf game was good enough to do this, (but) there's a lot of doubts because when you haven't been here.”
Dahmen fired a one-under 70 to finish in second, while World No.2 Justin Rose posted a final-round 68 for solo third.
Homa's playing partner Dufner battled back with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15, but would end up finding the water twice on the 72nd hole to finish in a tie for fourth with Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia.
Behind them in eighth was a group of five players that included two time champion Rory McIlroy, who failed to deliver the challenge expected from him as he struggled on the greens and carded a 73 to end up on nine-under. Also in that group were Kyle Stanley, Pat Perez, Keith Mitchell and Jhonattan Vegas.
Defending champion Jason Day finished in a tie for 24th.