“I’ve never been asked that before,” Justin Thomas said at his Tuesday-afternoon press conference at the Wells Fargo Championship, in Charlotte. “That’s a great question.”
Other players received the query, too. Two more, to be exact: Xander Schaufelle and Max Homa.
Why do you love golf?
That might sound like a silly thing to ask such an accomplished group of players. But, as Thomas rightly noted, it’s not. For one thing, there’s no easy out. A simple “yes” or “no” won’t do, nor will a canned reply that golf fans have heard dozens of times before. For another thing, the question is not only personal but also so positive in its framing that a player has no choice but to dig in and offer a substantive response. Introspection required!
Schauffele, a seven-time Tour winner and Olympic gold medalist, was up first.
In short, Schauffele said, he loves the variety of the game.
Yes, he acknowledged, there are repetitive elements — “the physios, the range sessions, the coaching, all that stuff feels the same week in and week out; I can see that getting tiresome as you get older,” he said — but on the course every shot is different, every swing or stroke a new challenge.
“Up against a root, you hit a tree, it goes out of bounds, you hit a cart path, you hit it in the bunker, it plugs in the lip,” he said. “You’re playing outside, and there’s so many variables that come into play and it’s an everlasting challenge.”
Thomas, who has 15 Tour wins, including a pair of major titles, was next.
“I love the individual part of it,” he said. “I like that there’s nobody to blame or nobody to pick you up or no one to bring you down other than yourself. I like the fact that you can just go out and get it. It’s finding what you need to get better at, it’s the challenge of trying to get better.
“I just, I love everything about it. There’s nothing better than when you put a lot of hard work in and you start to see it paying off and you get yourself in contention in a big tournament like this or in a major championship and you execute those shots and make those putts and handle that moment like you know you can, and how you’ve been practicing and you pull it off and you’re the one holding the trophy, that’s why I love golf.”
Great stuff, right? As if it were ripped from the pages of a film script.
Thomas’ response was reminiscent of the musings of Phil Mickelson, who at a press conference years ago opened up about his own passion for the game: “I love everything about it. I love the challenge internally of just playing against a course and trying to win against a course like Old Man Par Bobby Jones used to talk about. I love the solitude of playing by myself out in the evening or practicing. I love playing with my family and friends and having that camaraderie. I love the competitiveness and the smack talk, friendly games come in play, and I love the tournament competition. I love everything about it.”
See? Good topic!
Finally, it was Homa’s turn.
If you know only a little something about Homa, it’s likely through social media, where he’s as quick to playfully zing one of his follower’s swings and as he is to take a self-deprecating shot at himself. That jokey persona isn’t really Homa, though. Or at least it’s not all of him. When he’s away from his phone, he’s a thinker, a fierce competitor and an endlessly hard worker. Those six PGA Tour titles of his, the most recent coming at Torrey Pines in January, didn’t just fall into his lap.
Homa grew up in L.A. and learned the game from his father, John, who would take young Max to beat balls at the no-frills double-decker range at Griffith Park. That foundation led Max to a glittering SoCal junior career that would land him on the University of California-Berkley golf team. Today, he lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife Lacey, infant son Cam and dog Scotty. He loves the Lakers and Dodgers and Tiger Woods.
We provide you with this context because when Homa was asked the L-question Tuesday, he went deep. Like, really deep. And the more you know about Homa, the more you’ll appreciate the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of his response.
“I think when I was a kid I truly loved golf,” Homa began. “I’m not so sure I love golf anymore, but I love competing and getting better so much, so golf provides the platform for that. People ask that [question] in a different way a lot, but like golf is a job now. But when I’m home and I think about like last week, like I practiced so much and one of the members at Whisper Rock asked me like on Sunday, he said, you need to take a day off. I told him, I was like it’s not the golf that I miss, but I want to keep getting better at something and this is the thing I’m the best at, so this is what I’m going to work at.”
Homa wasn’t done.
“I love that golf gives me an avenue to be obsessive over something and dedicate myself towards something. I would say now that back when I was a kid I loved golf because it was a way to hang out with my friends and try to make an eagle or a birdie and then wig out for a few weeks. Now we’ve done so much in the game that sadly an amazing 7-iron doesn’t make me as happy as it used to, which is sad. But I don’t know, I would be obsessed with something else if I didn’t have this. And I’m thankful I have this because I have direction, so I do love that about what golf is giving me at the moment.”
What an answer. Wittingly or not, Homa had delivered a snapshot of his life in 255 words. Like a good country song, it had a bit of everything: reflection, honesty, heartbreak. (That 7-iron line got me.) Most important, the question extracted from Homa something golf fans had never heard him say. It helped us better understand him and his relationship with the game.
Later in his presser, Homa was asked whether he still feels “a sense romance” about the game. He does, he said — frequently. As an example, he cited the emotions he felt as he walked up the 18th fairway in the final round of the Wells Fargo in 2019, just moments before he closed out his first Tour victory.
Of course, romance and true love aren’t the same thing.
“Yeah, it’s not that I don’t love golf at all,” Homa said. “But, you know, it’s not an unconditional love.”