Major tournaments and Max Homa have not been the fondest of friends before Hoylake.
Prior to the 2023 Open Championship, he had missed nine cuts of the 16 Majors he’s played in. Of those where he did make the cut, Max Homa had finished no better than T13 before Sunday’s T10 result at Royal Liverpool.
No one was more aware of this history leading into The Open than Homa himself, who has been consistently candid about his struggles with Majors.
His vulnerability and willingness to dissect the issue with media is maybe more than might be expected from a top player whose Achilles heel is one of the highest levels of success in their sport. Going into a Major with one of the top storylines at your media availability being your poor track record in past events wouldn’t motivate most to be open, and surely can’t be an exact confidence booster.
But Max Homa was open with reporters Thursday about his new mindset.
A new outlook that he displayed clearly in an acronym on his Foot Joy glove.
“NFG” was scribbled on the Californian golfer’s glove throughout the weekend and noticed by curious reporters who asked after round one what he had written.
“It’s just kind of a mantra. It has a bad word in it, so I won’t tell you what it is.” Homa said. “It’s just something I started doing in Detroit. Just stop caring so much and let myself just be myself… Sometimes you just need a reminder that it’s going to be all right. Just go play golf.”
The three-letter phrase may not be the most family appropriate, but it was a needed shift for the 32-year-old, whose last Major appearance was a missed cut in his hometown. It was another let-down in a Major for a golfer who has been sitting in the top 10 of the OWGR and has six PGA Tour wins (two this year) but can’t seem to crack the code on contending in Major Championships.
“The U.S. Open hurt me a lot. I played awesome. Had a three-hole stretch that was bad, and it just didn’t feel like I deserved to miss that cut. Then I went to the next week in Connecticut and missed that one by one and played fine.”
“It’s just one of those feels like I’m gripping the wheel real tight. Especially everybody knows my major record sucks. I think I’m not myself when I play them. Then I go to regular tour events and I feel like I free up and I play great. I’m a lot more consistent. Crazy things don’t seem to happen.” – Max Homa
His first-round 68 at the Open Championship was the lowest he has ever shot in a Major, and he noted that Thursday felt more like how he plays at a standard tournament.
While he set a new personal record for himself on Thursday and seemed to be indulging in a positive mindset, the tournament still proved to be an uphill battle similar to past Majors with added pressure outside of where he found his ball lie. This time, however, Max Homa would display a much grander fight.
Homa shook off a second-round 73 and stayed 1-under par Saturday for his weekend at The Open, but not without his fair share of distractions from being paired with local favorite Rory McIlroy; a noisy fan affair he described as a “test”.
“I think you’ve just got to believe in yourself more in a way. I obviously didn’t think of myself as like the antagonist, but he was clearly the protagonist today. That’s kind of fun, I guess. I was kind of thinking if I could make this Ryder Cup team, would have obviously a very similar feel to it, so I thought this would be good practice for that if and when I can make that team. I guess I just looked at it as a test.”
The Californian golfer found himself in a bit better company Sunday as he was paired with fellow American Jordan Spieth, and while he nor anyone else could catch Champion Golfer of the Year Brian Harman, Max Homa found personal victory.
Homa was 2-under for the day after recording only one bogey and he finished 4-under for the tournament; nine back of Harman but only three back of being tied for second place. His T10 finish was the best he has ever placed in a Major.
“Finally played well in a major. Feels good. Then today was a battle. I thought 2-under was great, so I’m very proud of the week,” Max Homa said after the final round.
When asked what he learned at this Major, Max Homa chose to reflect back to Friday’s round at L.A.C.C., a round and missed cut that clearly still holds weight in his mind.
“I think kind of everything I took from the Friday at LA to basically this whole week. Just lack of commitment issues and trying too hard, I guess, and kind of caring about the outcome instead of just trusting that over the course of 72 holes I’m a very good golfer and I will show that if I let myself,” he said.
In shorter terms, and in his own words, “NFG”.