Homa wins individual crown
Cal senior wins top individual honors, fights on for team title
MILTON, Ga. -- Most of the drama involving Max Homa’s drive to individual medalist honors at the 75th NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship occurred after Homa finished his final hole.
Homa came off No. 18 of the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club with a 54-hole score of 9-under, seemingly a comfortable three shots clear of the rest of the field. But as he emerged from the scorer’s tent and hugged his parents, he told everyone to hold off on the congratulations.
“I’m in detention again,” he said.
For the second day in a row, Homa was called to the clubhouse to discuss a possible slow-play violation with rules officials. And for the second day in a row, he was cleared without being assessed a penalty (other players in the field were not so fortunate).
Homa returned to the interview area near the scorer’s tent to give an impromptu news conference, where he was asked and answered several questions about winning the NCAA individual championship.
Meanwhile, back on the course, Daniel Berger of Florida State, the only player left in the field with enough holes remaining to have an outside shot of catching Homa and forcing a playoff, was going on a birdie binge. When Berger birdied back-to-back on his 14th and 15th holes, he suddenly was only two shots back of Homa with three to play.
It wasn’t until Berger made par at the next two holes and bogeyed his final hole that Homa finally could relax and officially celebrate his monumental victory, forged by a final round, 4-under 66 after opening the first two days with scores of 70 and 65. Berger ended up in a six-way tie for second at 6-under for the tournament.
“I’m as excited as I can be,” Homa said. “This is the biggest accomplishment of my life, and it’s not even close. Obviously winning the team [championship] would be much better, but this feels really, really good.”
Among the players Homa bested was his Cal teammate Brandon Hagy, who was only one stroke off the lead going into No. 15, but struggled down the stretch to finish in a tie for eighth at 5-under for the tournament.
“I’m so proud of Max [Homa]. He’s such a great player and he works so hard,” Hagy said. “It’s pretty cool.
“He’s our lone senior. He’s the oldest guy on the team. I came in with Max … and he’s definitely one of our anchor guys. Whenever you have a Max Homa on your team, you know he’s going to put up a good score and it takes a lot of pressure off you.”
Hagy said he was doubly pleased that Homa won the individual crown and the Cal team defeated the rest of the field to claim the No. 1 seed for the match-play portion of the tournament that will begin Friday and determine which of the remaining eight teams claims the top team NCAA honors.
Cal registered a 5-under team total of 275 Thursday to catch and pass Georgia Tech, which had led after the second round. Cal finished at 16-under for the three days of stroke play, with Georgia Tech at 10-under finishing second.
So now it’s on to match play for the top-seeded Golden Bears, who already have set a NCAA modern-day record by winning 11 of the 13 matches and tournaments they’ve competed in this year. Hagy said he and his teammates obviously are ready.
“Well, we’re all really good match-play players,” Hagy said. “[Michael] Weaver made it to the finals of the [U.S. Amateur], I made it to the semis of the Am, Max has made it to the quarters of the Am. Joel [Stalter] is a gritty European player and Michael Kim is a good match-play player.
“I think you definitely switch your focus a little bit in terms of strategy. You’re playing a player. You’re not playing the course anymore. There isn’t a huge change in strategy, I wouldn’t say. You don’t want to be going at every pin – but you definitely have to play your opponent and take it from there.”
Homa played the course and every opponent during the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the tournament and blew them all away.
“Personally, coming in as a freshman, I couldn’t even imagine being at a national championship – let alone winning one,” Homa said.
“This is just about the top. Maybe winning the U.S. Amateur might be a little higher on the list. But we work all year for this. It’s a seven-month grind and this is where it culminates. It’s not just one week. It’s a lot of work and a lot of grinding. To win a national championship really means a ton.”
Yet as he tapped in for his par after narrowly missing yet another birdie on No. 18 Thursday, Homa was all business. He barely even cracked a smile. And that was even before he knew about being sent to detention again, or that Berger was still out on the course, stalking his lead.
It’s because Homa was thinking about the Cal team and its unfinished business after losing in a semifinal match to Alabama at last year’s NCAA championship.
“The job is not done,” Homa said. “This is just part one.”