CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If it’s important enough to get a tattoo – because a tattoo is nothing short of a commitment – then it must be some kind of meaningful. Max Homa has the word “relentless” inked on his right arm. It’s his favorite word.
Tim Grover wrote a book called, “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable.” Grover is a sports performance and mental coach and made a name for himself working with NBA legends and superstars, including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Homa got the book from a basketball trainer at the University of California, where he was an All-American golfer.
After 5½ long years as a can’t-miss PGA Tour player gone sideways, Homa relentlessly fulfilled his promise by winning the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow Club for his first Tour victory. He beat a leaderboard that included Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Paul Casey. Homa did it with a final-round 67 for a 15-under 269, three shots better than Joel Dahmen (scores).
Homa graduated from Cal in 2013 as the NCAA champion and played on the winning Walker Cup team that fall. He was thought to be a player for whom the next level would come quickly and easily.
It was anything but. He won on the Web.com Tour in 2014 and finished No. 163 on the FedEx Cup points list the next year on the PGA Tour. He won again on the Web.com Tour in 2016 and made it back to the big Tour in 2017.
That’s when the bottom dropped out. In 2017, he missed 15 cuts in 17 events and made $18,000. He joked that he made more money playing in Monday pro-ams. After returning to the Web.com Tour in 2018, he made it back to the PGA Tour only by finishing T-15 in the Web.com Finals.
This season, Homa missed six straight cuts around the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Before the Wells Fargo, he had made only seven cuts in 15 events. His best finish this year had been a T-10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. No one in his right mind, not even Homa, saw anything like this coming.
“Just kind of being tougher than everybody, not giving up,” said the 28-year-old Homa. “When I played very, very bad two years ago, I just kept thinking about that word. I knew I was going to be back out here and I was going to make myself get back out here, and that's kind of when my attitude changed.
“You've kind of got to love yourself a little bit more, so I started to love the process of what I'm doing a bit, and I took it day by day. To me, that's just kind of what a relentless attitude is: tough as nails. I don't think a lot of people have gone through what I did out there and then put together something like this today. When you do, it makes you feel great, so that's kind of always been my goal for the last couple years.”
Homa put together this victory with a lot of hard work and a putting stroke to die for. He went back to a coach whom he had in college, Les Johnson, and together they put in a fade with his driver at the Desert Classic. Driving had been a huge problem, especially in the wasteland of 2017. And last Monday, Homa got a chipping lesson from Josh Gregory.
The rest came through his own fortitude and non-stop self-belief.
“Yeah, it was bad, so there's obviously a lot of scar tissue,” Homa said. “But finally, honestly, since I've been driving it better, since probably that Pebble tournament I played well, that scar tissue's gone away. I feel like me again. I've played with a lot of players that are doing pretty well out here, and I used to hang around them a little bit, so I know I'm good at this. It's just kind of been a steady climb of getting my game back and also the confidence and the comfortability out here. That was the hardest part, and I'm actually starting to feel that a little bit.
“You feel a little inadequate because you think to yourself, Why am I not doing that? but it's not I can't. Justin Thomas is still one of my best buddies out here. I never envied it. I envy that he was able to just keep being who he is; he's very good. I thought I had to be someone more, and I didn't. I'm still the same dude I was in college. I thought I had to get better. I thought I had to get a lot better, which is crazy.”
Grover, in “Relentless,” has his own nomenclature: “Coolers are good. Closers are great. Cleaners – people such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade – are unstoppable.”
Homa’s not a cleaner. He’s not a closer. But winning a first PGA Tour title after looking into the abyss and back, well, he can’t get any cooler than that.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf