Fresh off of a distinguished run as a Cal Bear, during which he won Pac-12 golf titles with his team and became the first Cal golfer to win an NCAA individual championship, and just weeks away from representing the United States as a member of the victorious 2013 United States Walker Cup squad, Valencia, CA’s Max Homa has shown that he has the right stuff to play on the PGA Tour. Playing the Frys.com Open at CordeValle in San Martin, CA on a sponsor’s exemption, the newly-graduated Cal Bear played his way into a Top 10 finish his first time out teeing it up with the big boys.
No small fry himself, the 6' 2", 175-pound, 22-year-old carded four rounds in the 60s, was as high as 7th on the leaderboard (at the end of the third round), and finished in a 3-way tie for 9th place in his first PGA Tour event, carding rounds of 69, 68, 66, and 69.
A handful of putts that slid by, and an approach shot or two gone slightly awry were all that stood between Homa and a finish even closer to the top of the leaderboard.
One shot in particular that the young man from Valencia, CA, probably wishes he had back was his second shot at the 9th hole today. He split the fairway off the tee with a 327-yard drive that ran a yard or two long, ending in low rough just before the water crossing that cuts the fairway 195 yards from the center of the green. With 210 yards to the tucked-back flag and water left short, his approach shot landed a yard or two shy of the green, on the slope above the water.
Homa’s gallery of friends, family, and present and former Cal golfers were willing the the ball to stay up, but his potential “Freddie-at-the Masters” moment didn’t happen, and the ball rolled backwards, into the water. A drop, a chip, and two putts later and he was in with a bogey six on a hole that had eagle opportunity written all over it just a few minutes before. The bogey at the ninth was his third of the front nine, balancing off his three birdies, at #1, #6, and #8, for an even-par 35 front side.
The unfortunate bogey finish to the front side didn’t seem to faze Homa, who moved on to a run of pars on the back nine, though he missed birdie opportunities at 13 and 15 when putts slid past the hole by inches. At the 16th hole, a downhill par-3 that played just over par for the tournament, Homa stiffed his tee shot to 4-1/2 feet despite a fitful, knuckle-ball tailwind, rolling in the birdie putt for a jump back up to T-11 from T-12, and a much-needed confidence boost.
At the par-4 seventeenth hole, where players were teeing off from a forward tee box that made the hole a drivable proposition, Homa’s tee ball landed high and left on the bowl-shaped green, rolling down to a position 38 feet left of, and slightly above, the hole. Narrowly missing the eagle putt, he tapped in a 7-inch birdie putt, picking up two very important strokes that spelled the difference between his eventual T-9 finish and T-16.
The T-9 finish netted Homa a cool $135,000 – not a bad payday for his first time out – as well as an entry into next week’s Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas, where he will have another chance to prove his mettle against some of the best in the business. The field in Las Vegas will look very familiar to Max, with many of the same players as were in the field at the Frys.com Open this week, but the stakes will be raised a bit by the presence of Zach Johnson, #11 in the Official World Golf Rankings and a 10-time PGA tour winner, in the field.
Homa’s rookie effort best of NorCal this week
Max Homa’s T-9 finish this weekend at the Frys.com Open was not only a landmark rookie effort for him, but the best finish by any of the Northern California-connected players in the field.
Fellow Cal Bear alum Charlie Wi finished T-12, one stroke back of Homa and the two other players at T-9, as did Sacramento’s Spencer Levin, back for the first time since early 2013 after sitting out most of the year recovering from surgery on his left thumb. Stockton native Ricky Barnes fell back in the standings with a final round of 73, after carding a 64 in Saturday’s third round, sliding 21 spots to a T-33 finish, while Fresno’s Kevin Chappell closed out his tournament with final-round 75 and a T-46.
Former San Jose State golfer Mark Hubbard, who tied for first in the Frys.com Monday qualification tournament at Bayonet-Blackhorse in Seaside, finished solo 69th in his first PGA Tour appearance. Hubbard has one PGA Tour Canada win to his credit and finished third on the Canadian tour’s money list in 2013.