Scott Fowler

Homa’s startling Wells Fargo win caps a somber, soggy weekend at Quail Hollow

What did Max Homa learn during his championship round Sunday?

Max Homa won the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, May 5, 2019 but during the round did he learn anything about himself?
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Max Homa won the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, May 5, 2019 but during the round did he learn anything about himself?

Max Who-ma?

Max Homa. He won the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club by three shots Sunday – a no-name who thoroughly outplayed the big names on a rainy golf weekend in Charlotte.

It was a startling victory by Homa, who was ranked No. 417 in the world entering the week and had never come close to winning before on the PGA Tour. If you had never heard of him — or of second-place finisher Joel Dahmen, either — join the majority of the somewhat perplexed gallery at Quail Hollow. Homa understands his obscurity.

“Nobody knew who I was,” Homa said of his previous struggles on the tour. “No one cared. They shouldn’t have cared ... It was embarrassing at times. But it ain’t embarrassing anymore. It’s a cool story now.”

Homa, 28, grew up in California and turned pro in 2013 after a starry amateur career that included him winning the 2013 NCAA individual championship for Cal-Berkeley. But his results since then have been, to put it kindly, uneven.

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In 2017, Homa entered 17 PGA tournaments and missed the cut in 15 of them. He couldn’t drive the ball straight and ended up losing both his confidence and his PGA Tour card.

“I used to say when I hit rock bottom I found a shovel and kept digging,” Homa said. “I went to some low places and there would be times when I would wallow and honestly just hate my golf game ... I’m very proud I finally found a ladder and started climbing upwards because it was getting dark down there.”

Homa earned his Tour card back by playing well on the Web.com tour in 2018. Still, he had had 43 missed cuts and only three top-10 finishes in 68 career PGA tournaments coming to Charlotte. The winner’s check of $1.422 million that he made in one week at the Wells Fargo is about 50 percent more than he’s earned in the rest of his career combined.

Two male mallard ducks waddled to the edge of the 18th green and then just kept walking as Homa struck his final putt, which rolled in from 9 feet to complete a final-round 67.

‘Recorded earlier today’

Homa’s win fit the odd vibe at Wells Fargo this week.

It was a rain-spattered weekend — there were three weather delays in the final two rounds. The last one started at 5:09 p.m. Sunday, with Homa leading by three shots and only five holes away from his first PGA win.

That one led to some fans scurrying away from the storm, never to return, and Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo filling time for an hour on CBS with lots of “recorded earlier today” footage. The 62-minute delay literally dampened the tournament’s momentum.

It was a somber weekend, too, because the tournament began less than 48 hours after a gunman walked into an anthropology class at UNC Charlotte on Tuesday. The gunman killed two students – Riley Howell and Ellis “Reed” Parlier — and wounded four.

That tragedy meant the flag was lowered to half-staff at Quail Hollow Club, “Charlotte Strong” memorial boards dotted the course, and the action all weekend felt inconsequential. The memorial service for Howell — whose heroic action led to the suspected shooter being taken off his feet and ultimately into custody – was occurring at roughly the same time elsewhere in North Carolina as the final round at Quail Hollow.

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Homa’s strong finish

The star power at this Wells Fargo Championship was dimmer than usual. Coming off his win at the 2019 Masters, Tiger Woods didn’t play — despite high hopes from organizers and fans that he would.

Phil Mickelson did play as usual but missed the weekend by missing the cut for the first time in the 16 years he has played the tournament.

There were still some big names in the field and on the leaderboard Sunday, like world No. 2 Justin Rose, as well as Sergio Garcia, previous tournament champion Rickie Fowler and two-time Wells Fargo champ Rory McIlroy.

CLT_WELLSFARGO_SUNDAY_02
Max Homa watches his drive from the third tee during the final round Sunday at Quail Hollow. Homa’s errant driving was his primary problem during a 2017 season when he missed the cut in 15 of the 17 PGA Tour events he played. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

But none of them could keep up with Homa, a “Game of Thrones” fan who tweeted he would be “naming my firstborn son Arya” after last week’s episode.

After the hourlong rain delay Sunday, Homa made a tricky 6-foot par putt on No. 14 — the putt he later thought ensured that he would win the tournament. Then he added a birdie on 15, which gave him a four-shot lead heading into Quail Hollow’s three-hole “Green Mile” finishing stretch.

Homa bogeyed 16, got up-and-down on 17 and went into 18 with a three-shot cushion. Anything less than a triple bogey would get it done, and Homa parred the hole with his two-putt from 71 feet.

“You picture it a lot,” Homa said. “You dream of it. And then you get in the moment and you’re not quite sure how you’re going to react.”

When his last putt dropped, Homa shot a fist skyward and let out a Tiger-like roar of satisfaction and relief. The relatively small but hardy crowd that had remained through the rain roared with him.

That startled the two waddling ducks, who quickly changed direction — much like Homa’s career did on a stormy Sunday in Charlotte.

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Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”

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