When Max Homa won the Wells Fargo Championship in 2019 -- the last time the tournament was played -- the reaction felt a bit like what I imagine it was when Francis Ouimet took the 1913 U.S. Open. Homa was not exactly that kind of underdog going into that Wells Fargo two years ago, but he was no thriving PGA Tour success story either. At least not like he is now.
Leading into that magical week at Quail Hollow Club, Homa had more missed cuts that year (3) than he had top-20 finishes (2). He was ranked No. 417 in the world and memorably said this to open his post-round press conference: "I guess my whole world's a little bit different now."
Two years later, and his whole game is a little bit different. Since he last teed it up at this tournament, he's moved inside the top 40 in the world, has nine more top 10s, is a legit threat to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team and, oh yeah, he won his dream event at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club earlier this year.
Nobody in 2021 has shifted my view of them more than Homa has. He's gone from the "great story, solid Tour pro, great personality, easy to root for" to "wait, he might be a star" over the last four months in the lead-up to his return to Quail Hollow. His west coast swing -- four top-21 finishes, including a win -- was eye-opening. It's a reminder of how easy it is to forget that most of these guys were stars in another life, when they played amateur and college golf.
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Homa was an All-Pac 12 player at Cal. He played on a Walker Cup team. He won the 2013 NCAAs. He was a stud before turning pro in 2013. Then he was just another stud who turned pro.
"It's funny, it's 10 or so years ago, but I used to [contend to win] a decent amount in college, and when I first turned pro, I was comfortable in these positions," said Homa over the weekend at the Valspar Championship, where he racked up one of those nine top 10s. "So I had kind of a dry spell for a while, but when I get back here now and I've kind of been in this position a few more times more recently, I feel like kind of like the old me's back a little bit, mentally.
"Obviously the golf game can fluctuate, but I just feel like my head's in a good spot week-to-week and when I put myself in a spot like I have this week I just feel ready and comfortable and just kind of accepting what happens."
The head is in a good spot, but so is his swing. Consider this: since Homa's first full year as a pro in 2014, he's improved his year-over-year strokes-gained numbers five times in seven tries. Consider this: Since Jan. 1 of this year, Homa is No. 18 in the world in strokes gained overall and a plus in every category. He's ahead of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Brooks Koepka. In 2019, from Jan. 1 until the week before the Wells Fargo, he was not even in the top 40 in any single strokes-gained category. His game has improved month over month, year over year. Contention used to feel accidental. Now it feels expected.
This is how it normally goes on the PGA Tour, if you can wait. Not everyone is Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa. In fact, nobody is. That's why you know the names Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa. But Homa has carved out a sweet niche for himself -- the funny guy on Twitter who is one of the better thinkers and commentators about golf broadly has become a success on the course as well.
To take the next step into stardom, of course, you have to do it at the major championships. Homa has only made one of five cuts at majors since turning pro. If he can mix it up over the last three of this season -- the PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship -- a Ryder Cup bid may be in play. Homa currently ranks No. 16 there (the top six are automatic qualifiers), but you can make up a lot of ground with a little success at the majors.
Regardless, Homa's story -- on the two-year anniversary of his win and the Tour's first trip back to Quail Hollow since he lifted the trophy -- is one to be celebrated. Homa is a grinder; an absolute golf maniac who worked his way onto the fringes of being one of the top 25 players in the world. That's awesome, and it's also a reminder of just how far he's come over the last 24 months.