Up and Down: Homa Cookin'

Up and Down: Homa Cookin'

This article is part of our Up and Down series.

While the PGA Tour has been on pause, Len Hochberg has periodically examined two golfers – one who was playing well when play was halted (Up), and one who was playing poorly at the same time (Down). 

He has pinpointed the reasons these players are where they are in the FedExCup Standings and offered some numbers to keep in mind when the season resumes next week. FedExCup points aren't generally used as a guide, but they are a good indicator of where a golfer stands in relation to others on the PGA Tour this season. He also has looked at perhaps the purest stat of all – greens in regulation – as well as birdie or better percentage, an integral component of DFS scoring. 

In this final edition before the PGA Tour resumes: Max Homa and Emiliano Grillo.

PLAYING WELL

Max Homa

FedExCup Standings rank: 47

Homa is developing quite a following on Twitter for "roasting" everyday golfers who have asked him to critique their swings. He also does the popular "Get a Grip" podcast with journalist Shane Bacon. Homa is interesting and engaging, but what also helps his growing brand is becoming a better golfer. As you'll see in a minute, something changed a few months ago.

Homa is not young – he'll turn 30 in November. He won Korn Ferry events in 2014 and 2016. Still, he languished for years on the KF and PGA Tours, climbing inside the top-300 in the world rankings only to slide back into the 500s … and 800s … and even the 1,200s in 2018. Across both Tours from 2014 through 2018, he missed 70 cuts in 127 starts. Sure he had those two wins with occasional other good weeks mixed in, but that is some brutal golf.
 
In 2019, things started to change. A top-10 at Pebble. A top-20 at the Honda. And then suddenly Homa won the Wells Fargo to move to the brink of the top-100 in the world. He was free from the KF Tour for at least two more seasons but even then he did not fully break through. He did not miss a cut the rest of 2019, but he also didn't get so much as another top-25.

So how is Homa now 71st in the world, and actually was as high as 67th earlier this year? He all of a sudden began playing better – but this time, not just one event here and there but a series of sustained quality play: T9 at Torrey Pines, T6 at Phoenix, T14 at Pebble, T5 at Riviera and finally T24 at Bay Hill. Those are all big-boy events. Heading into Torrey Pines he was 159th in the FedExCup standings and 128th in the OWGR. He moved up both lists very quickly.

A Look At The Stats

Some of the numbers are going to look bad, because Homa had a terrible fall season. He's not a long hitter and not especially accurate, ranking 51st in strokes gained: off the tee. He's 80th in SG approach and a horrendous 211th in SG around the green. If you look at just from Torrey Pines onward, those numbers are improving markedly. But where Homa has really turned it around is on the green. He has had positive SG putting numbers in his last five events, some of them significantly positive. He is now 37th in strokes gained: putting. We know more and more that driving and iron play is more important than putting – but if you can putt well, it can mask a lot of trouble spots.

Greens in regulation rank: 151
Birdies or better percentage: 90

SITTING DOWN

Emiliano Grillo

FedExCup Standings rank: 104

While Homa was bouncing around the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours last decade, Grillo burst upon the scene. In 2014 at age 21, he won a Latinoamerica Tour event. A few months later, he was runner-up at the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open. At 22, he won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, fueling his full-fledged arrival on the PGA Tour. Just two weeks later, he won the 2015-16 season-opening Frys.com Open and – boom – the Argentine was No. 36 in the world. And only 23 years old.

Grillo finished top-20 in three majors in 2016 and made it all the way inside the top-25 in the world rankings. He won Rookie of the Year and even received a coveted invitation to Tiger Woods' Hero World Challenge.

Since then, though, the electrifying start to Grillo's career has gone completely in the opposite direction. It's been a slow decline, nothing precipitous. He even had a pretty good 2018, with six top-10s. We'll explain in a minute where that aberration came from. But for now, Grillo is outside the top-100 in the world.

This season, he has played 13 events, missing the cut in six and being DQed from his final tournament before the break at Bay Hill. According to the Tour, Grillo signed an incorrect scorecard after the second round (but he would've missed the cut anyway). In five full-field events since Torrey Pines, when the fields started to improve, Grillo has the DQ and four missed cuts. He also tied for third in the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open. All in all, a horrible stretch of golf.

A Look At The Stats

Grillo is not a long driver, ranked 123rd on Tour by averaging just over 296 yards. But he is an elite eighth in greens in regulation. So what's the problem? Grillo has mostly been a poor putter throughout his PGA Tour, but nothing like he is now – ranked 220th out of 231. In his rookie season, he ranked 107th, which was clearly more than enough based on the rest of his game. He then fell to 142nd the following season. In 2018, when he had those half-dozen top-10s, Grillo was an out-of-nowhere 10th in SG putting. But last season he was 185th, leading to this season's off-the-charts bad. As you see, Grillo is still middle of the pack with BOB – a testament to his superior iron play. Until this season, he didn't miss many cuts – again, his irons. But now his putting his so bad he has trouble even making it to the weekend.

Greens in regulation: 8
Birdie or better percentage: 100

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.
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