While you were busy enjoying his swing roasts on Twitter and listening to his self-psychoanalysis on myriad podcasts in the golf world, Max Homa was busy becoming one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately, because labels are sticky and enduring, the extremely online Homa will find that his perception will struggle to evolve at the same rate as the quality of his performance. While he will continue to primarily be known by the broader golf audience for his Twitter caricature, the numbers don't lie, and you should believe them for what they disclose: there are few golfers on the planet right now better than Max Homa.
Though Homa has nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter, the figures that matter to this specific discussion are actually much smaller than that. The first is 3 and the second is 1.2, and while those totals fall well short of his social media count, I would imagine Homa would trade the former big one for the latter small ones in an instant.
Homa's three wins since the start of 2021 represent both a 10% winning rate -- which is preposterous -- and are also more than the worldwide totals of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka. Homa has normalized winning on the PGA Tour -- which is what happens when you win three of 30 events in which you play -- to the point that it is no longer surprising when he gets into contention. Nor is it surprising that over the last year and a half he has more worldwide trophies than that collection of six major winners above (which has 15 total major wins throughout their careers).
While there has undoubtedly been a bit of luck to winning so much while not posting a statistical profile that is among the very elite in the game, Homa has also made a leap this season that is both curious and foreshadows a massive next few years. Since the first week of the season (in which Homa won) back in September at the Fortinet Championship, Homa has averaged 1.2 strokes gained ball-striking per round. This is extraordinary and nearly double his next best season, which came last year when that number was 0.65 strokes gained per round.
What does this mean to the average golf fan? According to Data Golf, this is a clip that only the best players in the game maintain for a season at a time. In the previous PGA Tour season, which was elongated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were only 15 players who gained at least 1.2 strokes per round when you combined their off-the-tee numbers with their approach numbers (i.e. ball-striking). These are the numbers that are the best harbinger of great players, and the 15 names are golfers you have likely heard of a time or two.
- Jon Rahm
- Viktor Hovland
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Collin Morikawa
- Corey Conners
- Paul Casey
- Daniel Berger
- Xander Schauffele
- Justin Thomas
- Brooks Koepka
- Patrick Cantlay
- Sergio Garcia
- Keegan Bradley
- Will Zalatoris
- Rory McIlroy
This season's numbers have not been updated since Homa's win at the Wells Fargo Championship, but when they are, Homa will be among the 10 best ball-strikers in the world since that win at the Fortinet in September. The 10 best hitters of the golf ball on the planet, and Homa is right there in the mix.
The only thing more compelling than his year-over-year leap is his historical trajectory. In the post-Tiger Woods era of "OK, who's next?!" we are unaccustomed to players making a slow, simmering eight-year run at becoming a top-10 ball-striker in the world. Because there are so many Scottie Schefflers and Justin Thomases -- ball-striking virtuosos on the PGA Tour from a young age -- there is much less room for players like Homa who develop over time to upend that very top tier of player. And yet ... he has. His ball-striking this season is better than Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka and Scheffler. Here are his ball-striking numbers over time.
Max Homa strokes gained ball-striking per round
- 2022: 1.20 (not officially updated yet)
- 2021: 0.65
- 2020: 0.52
- 2019: 0.48
- 2018: N/A
- 2017: -1.77
- 2016: N/A
- 2015: -0.51
Homa has clearly put the work in, but as so many (including him) have pointed out, it's been less a matter of physical talent and more a self-belief that the very best in any sport possess and that Homa has often struggled with. He talked about that on Sunday after his win at TPC Potomac, and one of the golfers he beat -- Rory McIlroy, who finished solo 5th at the Wells Faro -- echoed his sentiments.
"As I started to establish myself on this tour when I won this event in 2019, I definitely knew I was capable of being a regular PGA Tour player," said Homa. "But all of a sudden last year I get in the top 50 in the world and you start looking around and it's a new crop of people and you start thinking to myself, 'Am I as good as these guys?' And then I want to be top 10 in the world, play Presidents Cup, play Ryder Cups. 'Am I good enough to do that?' So I've always struggled with it, but I have great people around me who bash me over the head telling me that I am that guy. I tried to walk around this week believing that and faking it a little bit until I made it."
"He's a really good player," said McIlroy. "Yeah, honestly, when you look at him play, you think he should have done better than he has. I think that's sort of how he looks, how he swings it, his whole demeanor. Sometimes it just takes guys a little bit longer to sort of figure their games out and I guess live up to their potential, but he definitely seems to have come into his own over the last couple years."
Failure is part of the success story for Homa. And while there are a thousand paths to becoming one of the best in the game, his is unique to him and perhaps couldn't have happened any other way.
"For my story, yeah. It would be cool if I was Rory McIlroy and didn't [bounce back and forth from having my PGA Tour card to losing it]," he said. "For me it's something I carry with me that I think is powerful. I feel like other guys don't have that and that's good for them, I'm glad they don't. But I saw $18,000 in a year out here. I saw feeling very, very small, having literally no hope [of] getting a top 10 let alone making a cut that season.
"I carry that because I've seen it and ... you come out in the lead and I'm three strokes up and I'm one stroke up. I mean, it just doesn't phase me as much as I feel like it could because I know what bad is and my bad today was going to be making a boatload of money and moving along to the PGA Championship in two weeks with a good chance to win if I keep playing like this. I think that's something I carry close to my chest because I think it's something that, as much as nobody will want to have it, it's nice to have if you get through that tough time."
Max Homa played 17 events on the PGA Tour in 2017.— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 8, 2022
He made 2 cuts.
He finished 85th and 71st in the two cuts he made.
He earned $18,008.
3 FedExCup points.
This is win number 4. Unbelievable.
Even in an age of myriad likable stars, Homa is easy to root for. Is that what he is now? A star? A superstar. Perhaps, although the next step for him is proving it at a major championship (where his best finish is a T40 at the 2021 Open Championship). Perhaps there, too, it's a matter of faking it until he makes it, of believing it even when he doesn't feel it, of shedding the imposter syndrome that plagues so many in their professions.
Whether that happens in the future remains to be seen, of course, but a transformation seemed to take place in the wake of his fourth victory on Sunday over McIlroy and Co. at TPC Potomac. Homa is not the most popular player as in the most known by the most people. Not even close, really. However, he might be the most liked by the people that do know about him. And in the years in which that has been the case, a curious thing has happened.
Max Homa is no longer only (arguably) the most beloved golfer in the world. He's also now one of the best.