A hometown champion
It’s a Hollywood script in the making. Local kid wins hometown tournament. The story is so perfect it’s hard to believe it happened. Just ask Max Homa. If he hadn’t been the local kid, he might not have believed it happened either.
“I feel like my first golf memory that I can’t remember is here [at Riv,]” Homa said. “My dad has been taking me to this tournament since I was a little, little kid. I’ve hung out on the 18th hill behind the green, I’ve literally fallen asleep there.”
Growing up about an hour from Riviera in Valencia, CA, Homa took to golf and found inspiration in a familiar figure. Like most kids in the early 2000s, it was another Southern California golfer who caught the attention of a young Homa.
“[Tiger] is the reason I feel in love with golf. I think that’s true for a ton of people,” Homa said. “I’ve watched Tiger up close; I’ve watched all the best players in the world putt on these putting greens [at Riviera].”
It wouldn’t be long for Homa to go from fan outside the ropes to competitor inside the ropes. Homa first played at Riviera during the 2012 NCAA Championship as a member of the University of California at Berkley golf team. A year later, Homa won the 2013 NCAA Individual Championship thus qualifying for the U.S. Open, ultimately sharing the driving range with Woods, his golf idol. In the years that followed, Homa would compete at Riviera when the PGA TOUR made its annual stop in Los Angeles.
In 2018, Homa found himself on the Korn Ferry Tour facing a dauting task to make the tour finals. Needing four birdies on his final four holes, Homa delivered. He would go on to secure his PGA TOUR card for the 2018-19 season finishing in the top-25 of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. Only months after the pressure of needing four birdies over four holes to keep his qualification alive, Homa would experience winning on the PGA TOUR for the first time. With the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and good friend Joel Dahmen on his heels, Homa earned a three-shot victory to win the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship. That win helped build his confidence inside the ropes and after three solid rounds of golf at Riviera in 2020, Homa started to see his dream in lights.
“All of a sudden I’m on the 15th green on Sunday [in 2020 at Riviera] and the leaderboard says Adam Scott and then Max Homa and it was a really cool moment,” Homa said. “I felt it had kind of come full circle and I wish I could have gotten the job done.”
Seeing his name atop the leaderboard of his hometown tournament was a life-changing movement for Homa in 2020. While Adam Scott eventually won the 2020 tournament, the moment proved to be a steppingstone for Homa as he wouldn’t let those emotions get the best of him again.
“I truly think last year helped, seeing my name up second place with Adam Scott on 15, I had that seared into my memory,” Homa said before the start of the 2021 tournament at Riviera. “And coming down the stretch I made one bad swing on 16 and got kind of a bad break on 18 and I kind of came into this event or especially today and yesterday knowing that I handled myself really well last year, I just needed to clean up one, two mistakes.”
In 2021, Homa did clean up those mistakes. Four nearly flawless rounds of golf in difficult and windy conditions helped Homa elevate himself from the pack. Tied with Tony Finau on the 72nd hole, Homa stuck his approach shot into 18 green to within three feet.
A miss. A playoff would be needed.
Homa headed to a playoff having to regain his emotions. Focused on not what had happened but on the next shot, Homa pushed his drive on the first playoff hole a little too long finding the trunk of a tree around the 10th green. An improbable par-save extended the playoff to a second hole, the par-3 14th. In the shadow of the iconic clubhouse, Homa’s aggressive tee shot left him with an easy two putt and what would be an emotional moment on the green. Max Homa had won the 2021 Genesis Invitational.
“I felt much calmer this year,” Homa said. “It’s truly a dream come true. My dad’s been bringing me here since I was basically a baby. Yeah, I think eight-year-old Max would be pretty darn proud.”
Heading into the week, Homa joked it would be great to bring another win to the city of Los Angeles as a life-long fan of the L.A. sports teams.
“City of Champions. Dodgers, Lakers, and me now. It’s a weird feeling,” Homa said on the green following his victory.
As the victory at Riviera sunk in, Homa reflected on what his eight-year-old self would think about the win.
“I used to like the soft pretzels here a lot so he probably would have hoped that I’d buy a lot of them and eat a lot of them,” Homa jokes.” I don’t know, I think young me would have had a hard time dreaming this one. It was so fun to watch from the other side of the ropes. Even just playing every day I come here is kind of a pinch me moment.”
GAME CHANGING MOMENTS
The Genesis Invitational continues a longstanding tradition of professional golf in Los Angeles. Debuting in 1926 at Los Angeles Country Club as the Los Angeles Open, the tournament was staged at various courses throughout the Los Angeles area before permanently settling at The Riviera Country Club in 1973. The tournament and Riviera have seen many major moments in golf history over the years. In a new series, we look back at Game Changing Moments in the event’s history.