Jon Rahm, Max Homa ride hot streaks into Sunday showdown at Riviera
LOS ANGELES – Form tends to be fleeting, even for the world’s best. The goal is to stretch those hot streaks for as long as possible, piling up trophies and hauling in boatloads of cash … and then anxiously await the inevitable downturn.
Jon Rahm and Max Homa have extended their torrid runs longer than most, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the early FedExCup race. They’ll go head-to-head Sunday at the Genesis Invitational, with Rahm staked to a three-shot advantage.
May the hottest player win.
“I’m aware,” Rahm said, “that I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing until now.”
Full-field scores from The Genesis Invitational
What Rahm has been doing lately is playing the best golf on the planet. He has competed 12 times worldwide since Aug. 12. During that span he has four victories and 11 top-8 finishes, clearing more than $8 million in earnings; his worst showing is 16th. He is indefatigable, inevitable – every time he shows up, he has a chance to win.
His peers have taken notice. On Thursday, when Rahm’s opening 65 at Riviera flashed onto the leaderboard, Rory McIlroy rolled his eyes.
“Like, again?!” he said.
On cruise control himself – he has a single finish outside the top 8 since August – McIlroy said there’s always an inner battle to manage expectations during these lights-out runs. “It’s not getting too far ahead of yourself. It’s not putting too much pressure on yourself,” he said. “It’s knowing that if you do your thing and do it well, more likely than not you’re going to have a decent chance to win a tournament.”
Professional golfers, deep down, can be wildly insecure – paranoid that, one morning, they’ll wake up and the sublime form they’ve enjoyed will have somehow disappeared. One notable exception recently was Brooks Koepka, who famously claimed that he never practiced between regular-season events. When asked why, he always shrugged: I’ve been playing golf my whole life. Why would I lose it now?
That, of course, was in Koepka’s bulletproof era. The Netflix docuseries, released this week, portrayed him in a different light – his confidence shaken, his swing in disarray, his future murky. “Golf’s so crazy because when you have it, you feel like you’re never gonna lose it,” he said in his episode, recorded in spring 2022. “And when you don’t have it, you feel like you’re never gonna get it.”
That’s the feeling Rahm has been trying to stave off.
“Momentum is a big thing in sports,” he said this week, “but if you put in the effort that needs to be put in throughout the year and weeks off and at home, and you do the little things right, you give yourself a better chance of never really feeling that.”
During golf’s abbreviated offseason, Rahm always vows to take a break – a few weeks, a few days, whatever. “I go through the withdrawals the first day,” he said. “The first two days I’m home, and Kelley knows I’m going absolutely nuts, I’m not a pleasure to be around.” The clubs might be shelved, but his mind is running on overdrive. He’s still trying to work out, to watch what he’s eating.
“To make sure that when I come back,” he said, “things are as easy as possible.”
Not because he’s afraid of losing it.
Not because he’s superstitious.
“I do it out of joy and being able to get questions like this, where basically anytime I tee it up I’m in contention to win a tournament,” he said. “I do it for the love of the game, the love of competing, and the love of bettering myself every single day. I’ve never thought making decisions out of fear is a proper way to do it, and I haven’t really made many of them in my life that way.”
Homa, though, has been down that path before. Right now, he’s playing the best golf of his life, at age 32, but he hasn’t enjoyed a linear path to success. He’s seen the depths. Lost his card. Got kicked around in the minors. Been embarrassed by his play.
That doesn’t fully explain his relentless work ethic … but it does somewhat.
“That fear of losing it is also why I get so excited when I get to the golf course every day,” he said. “I hit my first iron shot, and I’ve still got it.
“I’ve already lost it. I think I’ve got it for a little while. I don’t need to hit every shot well to know that I have it in there, and that’s a fun spot to be mentally.”
The longest Homa has gone without touching a club recently was two weeks – and only because he and his wife had welcomed their first child. He’s admittedly gotten better at keeping those mental monsters at bay, the ones telling him that he’s one swing, or one night, one poor finish from spiraling.
Last weekend in Phoenix, Homa could only muster rounds of 71-72 and tied for 39th, his worst finish on Tour since last August. For a few moments, at least, he felt that familiar doubt resurface – that something was amiss, that something needed to be fixed. But a day later, Homa cleared his head during a promotional shoot. “Everything feels good,” he told himself. “We don’t have to freak out here.”
“Sometimes you need to collect yourself,” he continued, “and almost take a shower and get that stink off you because it is inappropriate and it’s irrational.”
And so on Tuesday, when he arrived at Riviera with his caddie and coach, it was Homa who served as the voice of reason: “I feel fine,” he told them. “I don’t want to rebuild something right now. I had a couple bad days. It wasn’t that far off.”
It was further proof that Homa knows himself better now than ever before. In his old hometown, in his favorite Tour event, on one of his favorite courses in the world, Homa opened with 64-68 to lead at the halfway point.
His faith in himself was rewarded.
Even after he couldn’t keep pace with Rahm’s 65 on Saturday, Homa wasn’t about to panic. He’d still managed a third-round 69 in tricky conditions. He’d still played his way into the final group. And he’d still given himself an opportunity to test himself against the best player in the world.
“I’m trusting in everything I’m doing right now,” Homa said, “which I think is the key.”
It’s the only way to extend these hot streaks just a little bit longer.