(Reuters) – The days of Max Homa feeling an impostor on the PGA Tour are history after he held his nerve during an hour-long rain delay before closing out an emphatic three-stroke victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday.
Long-shot Homa silenced a battalion of big guns, proving remarkably steady under pressure as he shot a four-under-par 67 at Quail Hollow to clinch his first victory on the PGA Tour in his 69th career start.
Hitting a trusty fade with his driver and putting with remarkable precision in a display that suggested he will be no one-hit wonder, the 28-year-old Californian finished at 15-under 269.
He capped off his display by sinking a 10-foot putt at the last as two ducks waddled nearby on the fringe of the green, oblivious to Homa’s life-changing moment.
“It’s wild. I guess my whole world’s a little bit different now,” he told reporters after a performance that earned him a two-year PGA Tour exemption, along with invitations to this month’s PGA Championship and next year’s Masters.
He also vaulted in one fell swoop from 417th to 102nd in the world rankings.
“You dream of (having a chance to win) and then you get in the moment and you’re not sure how you’re going to react to that,” Homa said.
“One of the holes today I felt I was going to throw up but my hands felt unbelievable on the club, felt as solid as a rock and golf swing and putting stroke were as good as I could have imagined.
“It means a lot to me to do this under pressure and job security’s great. I haven’t had that before. I had some serious scar tissue.”
Fellow American Joel Dahmen, who started the day tied for the lead with Homa and Jason Dufner, shot 70 to claim second on 12-under.
Englishman Justin Rose (68) was another shot back in third, while Spaniard Sergio Garcia tied for fourth on nine-under.
Dahmen, who was also seeking his first tour victory, and Rose kept Homa honest, but the champion was not to be denied.
Homa said the experience of playing with two-times Quail Hollow champion Rory McIlroy on Saturday had held him in good stead.
“Playing with Rory (I was thinking) — ‘Who the heck am I? it’s his (30th) birthday, he’s probably going to lap me,’” Homa said. “I’m freaking out.”
After a stellar amateur career that included winning the 2013 American collegiate individual championship, Homa took a while to adjust to the professional ranks.
He failed to keep his card in his first two years on the PGA Tour and wondered if he would ever make it at the highest level.
“When I hit rock bottom I found a shovel and kept digging,” he said. “I went to some low, low places.
“Very glad I found a ladder and started climbing upwards because it was dark down there.
“Nobody knew who I was. I felt like I was on an island and it was borderline embarrassing at times, but it’s not anymore.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Pritha Sarkar/Nick Mulvenney/Ian Ransom)