By Jelah Anderson
LOS ANGELES — With a few big wins under his belt, Max Homa, the guy from “up the road” and 2021 champion of the Genesis Invitational, does not feel like much has changed about his life. He has a few more dollars in his pockets and his spot on Sunday was different from three years ago, but he said his grind to get better is the same. However, Homa fell short this year of defending his title, tying for 10th place by the end of the weekend.
Homa bogeyed on the 18th hole in the final round, finishing 10 under par for the tournament and nine strokes back from this year’s champion, Joaquin Niemann.
Homa said the biggest difference he noticed after winning the championship last year was his rank on the leaderboards and not being shocked about when he places high in a tournament.
“Where I am in the World Golf ranking and the FedExCup and on the leaderboard is changing, but it’s like, at least for me, I prepared to be there,” Homa said. “So just now it’s like, ‘OK, it’s becoming more routine’ is probably the biggest difference.
“Last week in the crazy setting I got to third place, and I felt really, really calm,” Homa said. “I would say the difference it would have been in 2019, I would have been a lot like, ‘Holy cow, this is foreign,’ if that part feels the least foreign now.”
Homa was known as being the funny Twitter guy who liked to joke around with his friends and other golfmates. His game has put him at a different level than where he was a few years ago. Last year at the Genesis Invitational, he defeated Tony Finau in a two-hole playoff to seal his third win on tour. The evidence of his victory remains at Riviera Country Club.
“Yeah, it’s bizarre,” Homa said. “You know, having a framed picture and glove and ball signed in the locker rooms weird. All of it’s very surreal. I would have loved coming back here no matter what the year, what the day, even if it was just a Wednesday in the middle of the summer. I feel lucky to come to Riviera, but coming back as defending champion knowing what happened last year feels very fake, but I’m very appreciative and it’s cool to be back.”
Homa said he has not placed high expectations on his game this year, but the goal is to win. He said his game feels a little bit better since last year even though he believed everything was clicking. He has been working on his game with Mark Blackburn, director of instruction at the Blackburn Golf Academy at Greystone Golf and Country Club, who helps golfers on all levels improve their game through his teachings.
“I’ve been working with Mark Blackburn for a little over a year now, and it’s been so interesting because last year this time, we were three months in and it felt like it was really clicking,” Homa said. “You add another year to that, and it starts to become like part of your DNA a little bit.”
Homa grew up playing at Riviera Country Club, the same course where he won the title last year. Riviera is a golf course with not many tricks to it. With no water and minimal out of bounds, it is Homa’s favorite course to play.
“Yeah, the golf course, it’s amazing,” Homa said. “I think it’s the best golf course we play all year. It’s my favorite golf course in the world, and I think a lot of people feel similarly. There’s not any tricks to it, there’s no water, there’s even very little out of bounds and it points you where you need to go, and you’ve just got to figure out if you can be ready for that test. I think people really appreciate that.”
“This is a place I’ve always, since I started coming here, I’ve loved it,” said Rory McIlroy, who is ranked No. 5 in the world. “Loved the golf course. Loved the area. Love the vibe. Feel like it’s a course that suits me really well, and it’s sort of turned into a can’t-miss event on the PGA Tour.”
The moment of peace and quiet with Joe Greiner, Homa’s caddie, after the crowd was gone and it was just the two of them, was a favorite moment for Homa last year after his win.
“We hung around, did some pictures, got to talk to Tiger Woods, which was cool, and then my favorite memory for whatever reason is everyone kind of left,” Homa said. “Obviously there was no fans, so it was just like empty in general. But everyone had left, and Joe and I were grabbing my last couple things from the locker room walking out to the parking lot to leave, and it was just us two and for whatever reason that felt very cool. You know, two kids from up the road, it kind of felt like the last people leaving the golf tournament.”
Homa faced all of the top 10 golfers, according to the world ranking and Finau, who placed second in the invitational last year. The chaos of not knowing all the ins and outs of the course is the fun part for Homa.
“That’s the fun part of golf, not everything needs to be perfect, you should have a little chaos,” Homa said. “So I hit it at the trees and just see what happens. It’s very bizarre, I love it.”
Jelah Anderson is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @jelahmichelle.