Flying solo, Homa enjoys U.S. Open spotlight

Max Homa stops to sign autographs after finishing his 13th hole in a practice round on Wednesday at the U.S. Open.

— Fans lined the ropes that stopped road traffic on Ardmore Avenue, many of whom were carrying U.S. Open hats, big rubber golf balls or flags to be signed by golf's biggest stars.

As Bo Van Pelt began his trek from the 12th green to the 13th tee box – you have to cross the road – fans jockeyed for position, calling out "Bo! Bo! Bo!" He stopped, pulled out his Sharpie and began to sign.

An elderly fan turned and asked, "Who is that other kid?"

"That'd be Max Homa. The NCAA individual champ."

The man turned around and hollered ahead, "Hey, get that kid's autograph. He's good!"

As a member of Cal men's team, Homa was one of a five-headed monster that won an NCAA-record 11 tournaments.

Consider the U.S. Open as Homa's coming-out party.

"(Signing autographs) is fun for me. I went to the (PGA Tour's) Riviera tournament for the first 17 to 18 years of my life. I was one of those kids (asking for autographs)," said Homa, Cal's only senior this past season. "I promised myself I'd do that. I understand Tiger getting tired of it. I really do, because it's tough for him. But, as long as I enjoy it, I am going to give back as much as I can. Obviously there are some limitations.

"But, that for me, that beat getting to play with Bo Van Pelt today."

Homa wasn't an unknown among his colleagues, with Sony Open winner Russell Henley reaching out to set up time to hang out and to play a practice round together Tuesday. Van Pelt sent him a text that led to Wednesday's outing.

Homa did take to Twitter to try and make another tee time happen the night he earned a spot in the U.S. Open via a sectional playoff:

"@TigerWoods just won PAC 12s, NCAA championship, and qualified for the us open. Any chance I can get a practice round with u?? #hero"

Before he knew it, his phone was ringing and it was a Florida number.

"Hi, this is blah, blah, blah from Tiger's office, I hope I didn't catch you off-guard."

Homa returned, "Excuse me, sir, but you say 'Tiger Woods' office' on my phone and you are going to throw me off guard."

Woods' people explained that the World No. 1 had played Merion only once before, so his schedule was too full, but that he felt bad and wanted to make sure to meet up with him at Merion at some point. Homa says he is still working up the courage to approach Woods on the range.

Surreal, no?

"It wasn't real," Homa said. "I don't know if it actually happened."

Homa has had his fair share of reality over the past two weeks, winning the NCAA individual title during stroke play, only to suffer a heartbreaking, 20-hole loss to Illinois' Thomas Pieters in match play that eliminated Cal and ended its storybook season.

The missed 12-footer to send the match to the 21st hole caused Homa to get no sleep en route to his sectional in California, replaying that missed putt over and over in his head.

"It was hard. I couldn't sleep on the flight," said Homa, who will wait to turn pro in hopes of earning a spot on the Walker Cup team in September. "But I told myself that I just wanted another 12-footer to redeem myself. It might be another year, but I was going to get that 12-footer."

The golf gods can answer instant prayers, it seems, as Homa would get that 12-footer he wanted so badly in a playoff at that sectional. A change in attitude gave him a different outcome.

"When I got over that putt, I wasn't nervous," he said. "I was more, 'Look at how lucky you are.' And then said, 'You are going to bury it this time.' And I did."

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification