Over the years it has become a familiar narrative, one favored by generations of leading American golfers soon after their initial introduction to the game as played adjacent to the Scottish shoreline. Pressed to elucidate their enthusiasm for the variety and virtues of links golf, most take refuge in a small cluster of clichés.
“Loved that the bounce and roll of the ball after landing is part of almost every shot.”
“It’s just so different.”
“I wish we played more of this on tour.”
All have merit, of course, but not often are such comments accompanied by a genuine delight in what traditionalists view as “proper golf.” Too often points are missed, the player stuck when asked to elaborate beyond the obvious.
Then there is Max Homa.
Speaking to the press via zoom two months before the 32-year-old makes what will be his second appearance in the Genesis Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in East Lothian, Homa, not for the first time, revealed himself as the rare example of someone who truly “gets” the intricacies and pleasures of golf by the seaside.
Not a huge surprise. Last year, fighting jetlag, Homa first walked the Renaissance with only a putter and a few balls for company. He also took time to watch other players and how they handled shots unfamiliar to his Californian instincts.
“The type of golf you have to play, encompasses a ton,” he said. “You obviously have to hit the ball well and putt the ball well, but you need to have a creative mind and creative short game. You need to be patient. It brings out a lot in the golfer who finishes on top. I appreciate that a lot. You have to be a complete golfer to get it done for four days. Especially when the weather comes in. Then you have to be gritty and tough and able to adjust to the conditions. It’s an all-encompassing test.”
Anyway, after opening with a brace of 71s, the World No. 6 took himself off to nearby North Berwick for some extra-curricular play. Playing through the lengthy gloaming that is an annual feature in the Home of Golf, Homa finished in near total darkness around 11 p.m. And it did him no harm. The following day he nipped round Renaissance in 66 en route to an eventual T-16 finish.
All of which added up to an experience Homa clearly regards as one of the most memorable, if not spiritual, of his golf life. Ten months on, the smile that immediately followed a reminder of that week was clear evidence of that fact.
“Living in Arizona, it’s not so easy to get a tee-time and make it out to North Berwick,” he said. “So when I was there I had to take advantage. It was on my bucket list for a long time. I’d always wanted to play, and so I had to make the most of it. This year, I’ll try to do something similar just because there’s just so much great golf in that area.”
On that score, Homa is also correct. Quite apart from the fact that Muirfield is next door, the Renaissance is all but surrounded by high-quality links. It’s a lengthy list that includes the likes of Gullane (Nos. 1, 2 and 3), Luffness, Longniddry, Kilspindie and, only a few miles distant, Dunbar.
“Last year, I was obviously trying to play and win a golf tournament,” continued Homa, returning to his theme. “But I’m also human. I want to have some human golf dork experiences. And it worked out. I played great the next day after playing North Berwick. Sometimes when you get that joy of doing something you wanted to do since you were a kid, that can make you find that love for golf, the invigoration that it gives you. So last year was a blast. It was really, really great golf course. And just a really fun day.”
His general impressions over with, Homa was asked for more specific examples of the pleasure he gained during his short, unscheduled expedition off campus. He didn’t hesitate.
“I do remember little things, like just how heavy and strong the wind is mixed with some of that cold,” he said. “One shot that blew my mind. The 16th, a short par 4, has a crazy green.”
For those unfamiliar, the putting surface sits at an angle to the fairway, is raised in front, has a dip in the middle and is high again at the back.
“I happened to hit a good drive and it was in the most boring easy spot,” Homa said. “If it was in a golf tournament I would’ve been happy. But I was frustrated that day because my caddie Joe hit it short left and from 30 yards hit a 5-iron that bounced like four times went up and over, down and up again. It looked awesome. My coach had to hit like a hooking 8-iron from the right. I was very jealous of them getting to try something like that. But there’s so many different shots than what we normally hit. I just find that a lot of fun.”
Far from done, Homa’s active mind moved across the Firth of Forth to St. Andrews and last year’s Open Championship. Over an Old Course he was seeing for the first time, the Los Angeles-area native played the first two rounds alongside Tiger Woods and U.S. Open champion, Matt Fitzpatrick.
“The first day our round took six hours and 15 minutes,” said Homa. “We waited on every hole. All the crossing and everything slowed us down. We were on the 14th hole for like 50 minutes. I was talking to Matt, saying how weird of a day it was. I just never played a round longer. But we both agreed that it would have been a lot more frustrating if we weren’t playing with Tiger at St. Andrews.
“Tiger didn’t play great but he had a few shots that, I don’t know how to explain them I guess, but you could just tell how much talent is in his hands,” continued Homa, diving into a description every golfer who has seen Woods on a course that calls for strategic nous more than just power can relate to. “It was so impressive. And his grind. The story we usually tell is on 17 on Friday. He couldn’t make the cut, and he had like an eight footer for par. To anybody in the world that meant nothing, but he called Joe LaCava to help read it and buried it. Right there it was just all those stories you hear about grinding and how much he cares about each and every shot.”
Oh, but he wasn’t done there.
“Watching Tiger walk up the last hole Friday with the heroes welcome was amazing,” Homa went on. “We obviously play to compete and win and it was a bummer of a week for me, but that memory is pretty awesome. I’ll tell my kid about that, and anybody who will listen, how fun that was. Every once in a while you get really lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I felt like I was that week. It was so cool to see that up close.”
It surely was. As is listening to Max Homa talk golf and golfers. He is a man who paints vivid pictures.