By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer
NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Max Homa arrived long before his plane touched down in the Bahamas to face an elite field of 20 players, all of them the core of the PGA Tour and European tour after defections to Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
This is a charity event Tiger Woods has hosted for 24 years to benefit education and youth, not counted as an official win except that it gets official world ranking points. And the $1 million going to the winner spends just the same.
But it’s effectively an All-Star Game in golf. That includes Homa, and rightly so.
He has four wins over the last two years. He played in the Presidents Cup and won all four of his matches. His profile is such that he shared a tee time with Woods at St. Andrews for two days.
“I don’t feel like this is the thing that’s making me feel like I belong,” Homa said. “I felt like that for quite a while. But it is very cool to be here.”
The leisure week took on a business tone ever so briefly with a players meeting on Tuesday to discuss a PGA Tour schedule that remains a work in progress in response to LIV Golf.
The next time most of these players are together will be at Kapalua on Maui, the first of 16 “elevated events” that average $20 million in prize money. Next year is really a bridge to 2024 when the schedule and criteria to play will look nothing like it ever has.
LIV Golf wrapped up its eight-event inaugural season a month ago and is staying in the news. Woods added to previous comments by Rory McIlroy that LIV leader Greg Norman needs to be out of the picture before anyone can sit down and talk.
— max homa (@maxhoma23) November 30, 2022
LIV Golf, meanwhile, began releasing bits of its 2023 tournaments — Mayakoba in Mexico, Valderrama in Spain, Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore — with the full schedule expected to be announced next week.
Through all this chaos, the focus is increasingly on the needle movers, and that’s particularly true at a tournament hosted by the ultimate needle in golf.
All but Sepp Straka — who replaced Woods when the host had to withdraw with a foot injury — have played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. Fifteen of the 20 players are among the top 20 in the world, and Corey Conners (filling in for Hideki Matsuyama) is the highest-ranked player at No. 33.
And now there’s another ranking — the Player Impact Program, which doles out $100 million in bonus money to the leading players who are deemed to have brought attention to the sport through their performance or popularity.
Homa always had the right touch on Twitter. He got more traction when he began analyzing swings of recreational golfers. And then when his own golf began to soar, so did his profile.
He finished at No. 14 on the PIP, worth $3 million. What’s funny to Homa — he finds humor in everything — is that he is No. 16 in the world ranking.
“I always thought I was significantly more popular than I was good at golf,” Homa said. “So it feels nice that those things are aligning, so that’s a little mini-bonus. But at the end of the day, 14th is pretty good.”
The real measure of moving the needle might be to be included in the rumor mill of who’s going to jump over to LIV Golf. Homa has made it clear where he wants to be, and his name is not part of the gossip.
“I guess it would have been cool to be a part of that so I could live the life of … it felt like a reality TV series for a bit,” he said.
Brooks Koepka changed his Twitter profile to eliminate “PGA Tour/Nike athlete” right before he signed with LIV. As a joke, Homa decided to change his.
“Didn’t realize that my Twitter bio doesn’t get a ton of traction,” he said.
There’s plenty to talk about his game these days — the win at Riviera last year and the Wells Fargo Invitational this year, back-to-back wins in Napa, California, most recently with an insane chip-in for birdie on the final hole.
He also is a new father, and while it will be years before young Cameron can understand what his dad does for a living, Homa wants to pass along the example his parents provided him.
“I would like to show my kid what hard work is and show him what success looks like,” Homa said.
One measure of that is being in the Bahamas with the rest of a world-class field.