'Today [Tiger] handed me a trophy': Hometown kid Max Homa takes Genesis Invitational

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Sam Farmer
·5 min read
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PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 21, 2021: Max Homa reacts with his caddy.
Max Homa celebrates with his caddie after beating Tony Finau on the second playoff hole to win the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on Sunday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

If Max Homa looked at home at Riviera Country Club on Sunday, it’s because he essentially was.

The Santa Clarita Valencia High graduate who coolly navigated the final round of the Genesis Invitational, beating Tony Finau on the second playoff hole, regularly attended the PGA Tour event here since he was a 2-year-old perched on the shoulders of his dad.

But winning it? Even he didn’t envision that.

“I think young me would have had a hard time dreaming this one,” said Homa, 30, the former University of California standout who collected his second tour victory. “It was so fun to watch from the other side of the ropes. Even just playing, every day I come here is kind of a pinch-me moment. So when I saw my name up at the top of the leaderboard, it hit me.”

Sunday started with 23 players finishing their third round because high winds caused a four-hour suspension of play Saturday. At the end of 72 holes, Homa and Finau were tied at 12 under.

The decisive hole was the 188-yard 14th, where Homa hit a beautiful tee shot to the bottom left corner of the green, 12 feet 1 inch from the pin. He would two-putt from there.

Finau, also looking for his second tour win, hit into a greenside bunker to the left, blasted out to 12 1/2 feet, but — even though he had been deadly with his putter all weekend — missed his do-or-die putt and took second.

The ending almost felt anticlimactic, perhaps because there were no spectators, and there was so much drama on No. 10, the first playoff hole. That’s when Finau hit a 288-yard tee shot pin-high to the left, leaving him with a short chip up a slope to the hole. He was in good position to make birdie.

Homa’s tee shot was farther to the left, almost resting against the trunk of a Bottlebrush tree. He had to chop at the ball with a hooded 50-degree wedge to get it out, and put a little extra on it to get it up the slope through the sticky Kikuyu grass and onto the green. From there, both players two-putted for par.

That was a cleansing moment for Homa, who needed to wash away the disappointment of missing a four-foot putt on 18 that would have won him the tournament. He and Finau hit for a few minutes on the range before the playoff, giving Homa some time to check his text messages.

Max Homa watches his approach shot to the 12th green during the final round of the Genesis Invitational.
Max Homa watches his approach shot to the 12th green during the final round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on Sunday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“This morning, my wife gave me a piece of advice,” he said. “There were a few bullet points, [but] one of them was `forgive quickly.’ She called me after, told me to do that, and it was kind of perfect because I had played a pretty perfect round of golf, very flawless. So what was there to be too mad about? I was about to be in a playoff at the place I first fell in love with golf.”

It turned out to be yet another disappointment for Finau, who has had more than 30 top-10 finishes since winning his first and only tour event, the Puerto Rico Open in 2016. He shot a 64 on Sunday with eight birdies and one bogey, and at one point had made 23 consecutive putts inside of 10 feet for the weekend.

Tony Finau hits out of a bunker during a second playoff hole against Max Homa.
Tony Finau hits out of a bunker during a second playoff hole against Max Homa at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on Sunday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“Right now I'm disappointed,” Finau said. “I didn't execute the shot I was trying to hit here on the [14th] hole and it bit me in the butt. But man, I shot 64 today on a day where I needed to just to get into the playoff. I think as I look back on the week in the next couple days there's going to be a lot to grow from.”

Likely more disappointed was Sam Burns, who was atop the leaderboard since the first round but stumbled on the back nine Sunday with three bogeys and surrendered the lead. He finished third at 11 under.

“I didn’t drive it well enough to really score the last seven holes,” said Burns, still seeking his first win on tour.

Asked where this victory ranks among his career achievements, Homa didn’t leave room for much else at the top.

“1-A, 1-B, 1-C,” he said. “I don't know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this. Just for me, for my caddie Joe [Greiner], we were raised 25 miles north of here. I mean, Tiger Woods is handing us a trophy, that's a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolizing him, idolizing Riviera Country Club, idolizing the golf tournament. To get it done, it's almost shocking, but it just feels — it feels like it just can't be topped just for me.”

In keeping with his wife’s advice, he can forgive, but he’ll happily never forget.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.