Planet Golf — 06 May 2022 by GW staff and news services
Homa follows own advice, cashes in

POTOMAC, Md. – John Maxwell Homa was a student-athlete at Cal-Berkeley when he was asked to answer one of those boilerplate questions that make up a player bio.

What was the best advice he had ever received?

“Take a deep breath,” Homa answered, “and slow down.”

If ever there were a week when that applied, it was at the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, where umbrellas were tested, shoes wrecked, and teeth gnashed. 

Heeding his favorite advice, and a tattoo on his arm inscribed “RELENTLESS,” Homa never flinched in the conditions and shot a final-round 68 for an 8-under total and his fourth PGA TOUR victory, by two over Keegan Bradley (72), Cameron Young (66) and Matt Fitzpatrick (67).

Homa moves to sixth in the FedExCup with his second win this season (Fortinet Championship).

Did he know to pack for a week that was more Iditarod than Ibiza?

“Yeah, I fortunately always pack my rain stuff,” said Homa, who began the day two behind Bradley but took control with a four-shot swing on the first four holes. “I very fortunately packed a good attitude, because I think that was almost more important than what I was wearing. 

“Today, fortunately my wife texted my agent, Matt, that I’m a terrible packer,” he continued, “and he sent me a little care package of a beanie and some gloves and some hand warmers, which I didn’t end up using too much, but it was nice to know I had that in my back pocket.”

The Nor’easter that defined this tournament finally began to break up late Sunday.

Homa made his own weather.

“Historically, when he gets in contention, I always say he’s quite stoic,” said Mark Blackburn, Homa’s coach and the Director of Instruction at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama. “He’s ice-cold; you’d never know what’s going through his mind.”

Homa is admittedly a streaky putter, but with help from Blackburn and putting guru Phil Kenyon, as well as AimPoint green-reading, he was fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting at TPC Potomac. 

The course was a fill-in for Quail Hollow, which will host the Presidents Cup in the fall.

“I care about nothing more than making that Presidents Cup team,” Homa said. “I’m really hoping Captain Davis Love III was watching today or at least somebody messaged him about it.”

If anything, Homa added, TPC Potomac fit his driving game even better than Quail Hollow.

“The golf course was great for him,” added Homa’s caddie Joe Greiner. “I knew it when we got here Monday. The harder it is, the better it is for him, and he played unreal.”

Bradley fought his game but hung tough, staying close until a bogey at the last.

“It was choppy,” he said after falling to 0-for-4 with the 54-hole lead/co-lead, finishing runner-up all four times. “And then I had a couple good stretches, but I had a chance there at the end, so I’m proud of that aspect of it. But I’m pretty bummed. I felt pretty good about this one.”

The winner of this tournament was always going to have a story to tell, given the horrendous conditions in the second and third rounds. Bradley shot 65-67 in those rounds, Homa 66-71.

Said Stewart Cink (65, T9), “It was nonstop rain for two straight days. Every shot. The umbrella was up for 27 of 36 holes, and the other nine it was just because we said, ‘Forget it, who cares? Let’s just get wet.’ It just became such an annoying part of our dance, we got rid of it. 

“It was hard on the caddies,” Cink continued. “Hard on the players, hard on the volunteers, and the staff that kept this course going was just amazing. This thing held up.”

Homa was ready to shine even if the sun wasn’t. He went to Birmingham to see Blackburn last week. They worked on the short game, as well as data collection using 3D motion capture technology. 

“He was swinging so well,” Blackburn said, “it was more giving him affirmation of just how good it was. It’s a situation now of him starting to fully believe in himself. I’ve been saying for a while now that he’s a top-10 player in the world. The tougher the conditions, the better he is.”

The next step for Homa is contending in majors, which he knows will require a new level of self-belief.

“All of a sudden last year I get in the top 50 in the world,” he said, “and you start looking around and it’s a new crop of people and you start thinking to yourself, ‘Am I as good as these guys?’ And then I want to be top-10 in the world, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups. 

“Am I good enough to do that?” he continued. “I’ve always struggled with it, but I have great people around me who bash me over the head telling me that I am that guy. I tried to walk around this week believing that and faking it a little bit until I made it.”

THIRD ROUND

POTOMAC, Md. — Keegan Bradley did nothing special on the only easy scoring day this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, opening with an even-par 70 that left him around the cut line.

Since the conditions got tougher, Bradley has been the best player at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.

Bradley shot the lowest score for the second straight day Saturday, a 3-under 67 that gave him a three-day total of 8-under 202 and a two-shot lead over Max Homa in British Open weather on a U.S. Open-style course.

About 2 inches of rain has fallen since Friday morning, yet the low-lying course near the Potomac River has held up well enough to avoid any delays in play. Temperatures dropped into the low 40s Fahrenheit on Saturday.

“It felt like a Patriots playoff game out there in December,” said Bradley, who grew up in New England. “It was fun, but I’m glad to be done.”

Bradley was one of four players to shoot in the 60s. The scoring average was 73.7, the highest relative to par on the PGA Tour since the final round of the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Although he has only one win in the past nine years, the 35-year-old Bradley has been solid recently, with top-10 finishes in three of his last five events, including fifth at the Players Championship during another week of bad weather.

The eye-popping number for a player whose putter has held him back: Bradley ranks second in the field this week in putting by the PGA Tour’s “strokes gained” metric. His key makes on Saturday: 14 feet for birdie on the par-3 ninth hole, 21 feet for birdie on the tough par-4 11th, 9 feet for birdie on the 16th and, finally, 8 feet to save par after going bunker-to-bunker on the closing hole.

“Today and yesterday were just really good ball-striking and really good putting. It’s rare that we match those up and I’ve matched that up these last two days,” Bradley said. “If I can just keep that going a little bit, I’ll like my chances.”

A win by Bradley would move him into the top 60 in the world, making him exempt for the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

“It’s on my mind,” he said. “I know what’s at stake.”

Jason Day’s retooled swing couldn’t hold up for a third straight day. The leader after 18 and 36 holes, Day began struggling with his driver before it spilled over to the rest of the bag. He found the same pond on consecutive holes — a driver that never crossed dry land on the par-4 fourth, leading to triple bogey, and a 3-wood that hooked violently on the fifth.

Day appeared to lose his grip on the club when he hit another hook into a water hazard with his second shot on the par-5 10th, even though he had half a dozen gloves hanging from the ribs of his umbrella. He shot 79 to fall seven shots off the lead.

“Unfortunately I just didn’t have my stuff today,” Day said. “I made a lot of errors out there and hitting into penalty areas. It’s OK. I’ve just got to get back to it tomorrow and try and find some positives.”

Homa shot a steady 71 while playing partners Day and Luke List struggled, finding fairways and hitting conservative approach shots for routine pars. He went from trailing Day by two to leading by two in a span of two holes that he played in even par. But consecutive bogeys on the back nine allowed Bradley to pass him.

The day’s second-best score belonged to Rory McIlroy, who made the cut on the number and played on the opposite side of the course from the leaders. The highest-ranked player in the field at No. 7, McIlroy bogeyed his first two holes, made four birdies before the turn and closed with nine straight pars for a 68 that moved him into a tie for sixth at 2 under.

“I think when you see conditions like this, you have to have a pretty upbeat attitude towards it and for me it was just grateful to be here,” McIlroy said.

Anirban Lahiri shot 70 and was four shots back alongside James Hahn (72), a former champion of this event at its regular home, Quail Hollow, which is taking this year off because it’s hosting the Presidents Cup in September. Matt Fitzpatrick was 3 under after a 71.

“It feels like I’ve just gone 12 rounds in a pro boxing match,” Lahiri said. “You’re fighting everything. You’re fighting your body, the elements, the water, the cold, the conditions. Yeah, it’s tough work and you just have to grit your teeth and kind of grind it out.”


SECOND ROUND

POTOMAC, Md. — Jason Day shook his head vigorously after holing an 11-footer for birdie on his ninth hole at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm — not out of disgust, but to whip the excess water off his cap. For the rest of the round, Day shed the hat entirely.

Whatever it took to get through a wet blanket of a day in the Wells Fargo Championship.

Day expected a grind and got one, shooting a 3-under 67 in steady rain Friday to expand his lead to three shots. Going for his first victory in four years, the former No. 1 player was at 10-under 130 through two rounds and relishing the chance to relax and watch the rest of the field try to stay dry.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice to be back in the mix, nice to be leading. It’s still two more days left, so I can’t get too far ahead of myself,” Day said.

The rain didn’t stop for long in the afternoon as the scoring average at par-70 TPC Potomac ballooned to 72.6, three shots higher than Thursday. More rain, unseasonable cold and stronger wind were expected Saturday, followed by even colder temperatures Sunday.

Day got a tip from playing partner Max Homa, who was his closest pursuer after a 66. Homa told Day he flinched because water dripped from the bill of his cap onto his putter, causing him to ram his birdie attempt 6 feet by on the par-4 18th. Homa tossed the hat to caddie Joe Greiner before making the comebacker.

Day played his second nine holes hatless, a rare sight on the PGA TOUR.

“I mean, not many times you see this hair, but hopefully this weather can kind of go away and we can have hats on for the weekend,” he said.

Day and Homa were grouped with Rickie Fowler, all past Wells Fargo champions at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tournament is making a one-and-done appearance at TPC Potomac because its usual venue is hosting the Presidents Cup in September.

The course is just fine by TOUR standards, but the weather couldn’t be much worse for early May in the mid-Atlantic. Shots from the first cut of rough sent water splashing off the clubface, and dollar bill-sized divots landed in the fairway with a loud thud.

Nobody spent much time fussing over the ball in the group of Day, Homa and Fowler, who shot 72 and was eight shots back. Day didn’t bother to take down the gallery ropes before hitting a flop shot from well left of the 17th green, and Homa efficiently took relief from an embedded lie without waiting for a rules official.

Day was pleased his retooled swing held up even when he felt out of rhythm.

“When you have conditions like this, it’s really hard to commit to a shot because you’re going in there and you’re doing it kind of a lot quicker than your normal pre-shot routine,” Day said. “You have to force yourself to hit the shot and trust that.”

Homa opened with an eagle and made five more birdies in a round he wasn’t sure he’d finish.

“I told Joe this morning I thought we might get to 8. The greens have held up really well,” Homa said. “We did just play 18 full holes in the rain, so it’s hard to say we got hooked up, but maybe, who knows. I’m just happy to be done.”

Denny McCarthy, from nearby Rockville, was the only player in the afternoon to challenge the top of the leaderboard. He had six straight one-putt greens around the turn, four of them to save par, and shot 69 to finish at 6 under, joining Luke List (66), James Hahn (68) and Kurt Kitayama (67). Keegan Bradley had the low round of the day, a 65 that left him five shots back.

Rory McIlroy, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 7, shot 73 to finish at even par. Matthew Wolff, who shot an out-of-nowhere 65 on Thursday, fell back with a 73.

Morgan Hoffmann, making a long-shot bid to keep his TOUR card after two years away from golf because of muscular dystrophy, missed the cut with rounds of 73 and 80. He has one start remaining on a major medical extension and needs a tie for second to earn full status for the rest of the season.

FIRST ROUND

POTOMAC, Md. — Three years and 364 days since his last victory, Jason Day describes himself as “obsessed” with honing his new swing and improving his results, even if he never gets back to No. 1 in the world.

There wasn’t much room for improvement Thursday as Day shot a 7-under 63 to take the first-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship. Joel Dahmen was a shot back on what could be the best day for scoring at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, with rain, wind and unseasonably cool temperatures in the forecast through Sunday.

“Obviously, we’ve got some weather coming in, so I feel like we’re going to go into grind mode over the next few days, which I typically like,” Day said. “It’s going to be difficult.”

The 34-year-old Day has been working with instructor Chris Como on a swing that will protect his chronically balky back, and he says it feels solid with every club except the driver. His renewed dedication and relative good health are encouraging signs from a player who won eight times in a 15-month span in 2015-16, including the PGA Championship and the Players Championship.

“I think about the golf swing in the morning, I think about the golf swing during the day and I think about the golf swing at night,” Day said. “There’s been conversations at 12 at night with Chris just because I have an idea in my head and a certain sensation and a feel.”

Day’s last win came in this tournament at Quail Hollow. The Wells Fargo moved to the Maryland suburbs of Washington this year because its usual venue is hosting the Presidents Cup in September.

The International team at that event would surely welcome a resurgent Day, who made five of his eight birdies from inside 10 feet on Thursday. The Australian took the lead with a chip-in on the par-4 15th hole.

“The thing that’s different between now and when I was No. 1 in the world, even though the technique might not have been as crisp as it is right now, I had all the confidence in the world, especially on the greens. So that’s always the goal,” Day said.

Matthew Wolff, local favorite Denny McCarthy and PGA Tour rookies Aaron Rai, Callum Tarren and Paul Barjon were two shots back. Rory McIlroy, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 7, had an up-and-down 67.

Wolff’s previous two competitive rounds were an 81 and a 78 at the Masters, where the 23-year-old long-hitter finished behind every 60-something past champion in the field. He played a casual round at his home club a few days ago and lost every ball in his bag.

Beware the player with nonexistent expectations.

“I can go out and shoot 90 tomorrow and as long as I have a good attitude, I can put a check mark on this week and say that I’ve grown as a person and as a player and that’s just all I really care about right now,” Wolff said. “To be honest, it’s funny, but I’m not here to win a golf tournament, I’m here to have a good time.”

Dahmen enjoyed his quick surge to the top of the leaderboard. After a 7-iron from 173 yards to 7 feet on the par-4 eighth hole, he stared at the scoreboard behind the green while waiting for playing partners Patrick Reed and Jason Dufner. Then he holed the putt to reach 6 under.

“I like seeing my name up there. It’s something that, you know, that’s what we work for, right? To have a little bit of pressure in the first round I think is great,” Dahmen said.

Dahmen’s putter cooled on the back nine, but he finally made another birdie when he missed an ace by inches at the par-3 17th.

McIlroy’s only big mistake was a tee shot that started too far left and drew into the water on the par-4 fourth, his 13th of the day. A penalty drop and a sloppy chip led to double bogey, but he rebounded with birdies on the next two holes.

“I said to myself walking off the green, if I could just get back to 3 under for the day by the end of the day after that, I would be pretty happy, and obviously I did that,” McIlroy said.

Rickie Fowler hit two shots into the right-side wetlands on the par-4 sixth, then holed out from 134 yards to save bogey. He hit driver to 11 feet for eagle on the 305-yard, par-4 13th in a round of 66 that he summed up as “interesting.”

“There was a couple that were a little offline and cost me a little bit early in the round, but other than that, a lot of good stuff,” said Fowler, who is working through swing changes and has dropped to 146th in the world. “Definitely happy with today.”

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