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Career full of pressure-packed moments has Max Homa primed for Ryder Cup debut

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Career full of pressure-packed moments has Max Homa primed for Ryder Cup debut

Draws on 2022 Presidents Cup experience after going 4-0-0 at Quail Hollow

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    Max Homa was in awe.

    Behind him was an empty grandstand that could fit 5,000 raucous fans. Even though it stood empty – there were no chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” or Viking claps – it still cast an imposing presence over Marco Simone Golf & Country Club’s first tee. The course’s challenging opening hole, an uphill par-4 with rolling hills intersecting the fairway, was in front of him.

    The start of this Ryder Cup scouting trip was an opportunity to ponder not only the past, but also the future. At 32 years old, after a well-documented decade as a pro that’s featured plenty of peaks and valleys, his long-awaited Ryder Cup debut was quickly approaching. But he knew the scene would be much different when he returned to Rome to face Europe for the first time.

    “With zero people there (it) was insane,” Homa said, his eyes growing wider. “All the stories all the boys were telling me just about what it's like. … It just feels bigger.”

    Homa was the 835th-ranked player in the world the last time a Ryder Cup was held in Europe. That his spot on this year’s team is unquestioned – he was one of six automatic qualifiers for the U.S. side – is testament to his dizzying rise since then.

    Homa is part of a new generation on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, one not scarred by three decades of futility on European soil. He’s watched the U.S. struggle overseas, sure. Some of his best friends have experienced the losses in person. But he’s new – giddy for the experience, eager for the test and unconsumed by the past.

    “If you put me on the spot and asked me if he was a rookie, I might not have been able to answer correctly,” said U.S. Vice Captain Stewart Cink. “He’s handled more pressure situations and difficult circumstances than anyone.”

    Homa remembers watching the end of the 2018 Ryder Cup from his home in Long Beach, California. It was days after he earned his TOUR card for the second time, and he watched intently as Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy were sent off in the first Singles match of the day in France. Thomas eked out the win on the 18th hole, hitting his drive in the fairway while McIlroy found a bunker with his tee shot and the water with his approach. Thomas hit the green and sealed the match, 1 up.

    It was a rare bright spot for a trailing U.S. Team. The Americans won 3.5 points in the first five Singles matches but just one point in the final seven as a European wave swept over Le Golf National.

    Homa was 8 years old when he watched the U.S. Team storm the green after winning the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline (Massachusetts). He remembers watching the U.S. lose in Wales in 2010. He could recite the gory and glorious details of various Ryder Cups since then but didn’t believe he could be a part of that history until the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow. He went 4-0-0 in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was also an essential piece of internal affirmation, his first time representing the United States since the 2013 Walker Cup.

    Max Homa shines in Presidents Cup debut

    “Everything to him was exciting,” said Webb Simpson, an assistant captain for last year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team. “That was really cool to see him come into his own.”

    Teamed with Billy Horschel in Friday’s afternoon Four-ball session, Homa made a pair of birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to win 1 up and thwart any momentum for the International Team. He followed the putt on the 18th with an emphatic fist pump, a signature moment from the week, and the next day would beat burgeoning star Tom Kim, 1 up, to cap an undefeated week.

    “I just learned I could do it,” Homa said. “The two birdies I made with Billy on Friday, that’s what you dream of. When I would watch on TV, I was always amazed at great shots and putts and you are like, ‘Man, I’d be throwing up.’ But then I was in it, and I felt comfy.”

    Maybe that’s not surprising, given his history. Homa is the first player to twice fall back from the PGA TOUR to the Korn Ferry Tour, regain his TOUR card both times and ultimately crack the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In 2017, he made just two cuts and earned $18,008.

    He knows a specific type of pressure better than anyone competing in this Ryder Cup. The pressure where your next paycheck isn’t guaranteed, your dream of playing professional golf is near its end, and in your darkest moments you even find yourself contemplating a life without golf -- the dark side of the sport.

    “Every time I play Rory or Rahm or any of the top guys, I try to use that,” Homa said. “If they are nervous now, they don’t know what real nervous is.”

    That doesn’t mean somewhere in the back of his mind he isn’t a bit terrified of the first tee. There’s just context unique to Homa and his past; the outcome is less important because of the journey he’s forged.

    “He’s been through more on the negative side than anyone on both of the teams in the Ryder Cup,” Cink said. “It’s good to have someone who knows what it is like to experience failure and defeat and to have to rebuild himself from the ashes in a way.”

    That kind of rebuilding effort may be what it takes for the U.S. to finally win on the road.

    “You have to be mentally tough in that environment,” said Simpson, who appeared in two European-hosted Ryder Cups. “And what Max went through, he’s obviously mentally tough.”

    That memory on the first tee of Marco Simone will stick with Homa. It was the most tangible in a slew of “pinch-me” moments since he qualified for the team on points at the BMW Championship.

    There will be no personality clashes, no pairing that Homa can’t handle. Ryder Cup rookies are often brought along slowly to let them adjust, but that’s not a concern with Homa. You can count on him to remain emotional throughout the week. He has never shied away from that side of himself. He cried after winning The Genesis Invitational in 2021 and again after finishing runner-up the next year.

    Max Homa adds to list of accomplishments in 2022

    He called the Presidents Cup “the best week of his life,” and remains every reporter's first choice for a heartfelt answer on any topic. His sincerity is as endearing as his golf, which is saying something.

    He believes his success is a byproduct of his openness.

    “I think it’s completely OK to be emotional, and it maybe gets downplayed by other athletes,” Homa said. “I think it’s a big part of performing well is looking around and saying, 'Damn this is cool,' then you put your game face on. If you just get consumed in what you’re doing without ever appreciating it, it starts to feel like you don’t give yourself a minute to say, 'This is a big deal.'”

    Added Cink: “I think he gave himself the permission to be emotional at the beginning of the experience.”

    Homa won’t fight back the feelings when his name is called on the first tee. He plans to look around, soak up a dream finally realized, and then go to work. There’s a 30-year drought to end.

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