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Riviera feels like home for Max Homa, Jason Gore

Posted: February 12, 2014 11:03 p.m.
Updated: February 12, 2014 11:03 p.m.

Valencia graduate Max Homa hits balls at the driving range at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on Wednesday ahead of this week's Northern Trust Open tournament.

 

PACIFIC PALISADES — An aspiring golfer growing up in Southern California may see the Northern Trust Open in the same light as a young baseball player watching a game in Dodger Stadium for the first time.

There’s no doubt that this week is a big deal for Valencia High graduate and first-year professional Max Homa, who is playing in his first Northern Trust Open (formerly the Los Angeles Open) at Riviera Country Club.

It’s the same place where he got his first glimpse at the pros when he was a little kid.

“I’ve been to this event at least 18 times,” Homa said on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s opening round. “It’s really a big honor for me to play. I was joking around the last few minutes about being inside the ropes instead of outside. It’s pretty weird, but I’m really happy to play here.”

Lucky for Homa, 23, he has a mentor and friend close by this week with pro veteran and Hart High graduate Jason Gore making his way into the field on Monday via a qualifying event at Industry Hills Eisenhower.

Homa earned his spot in the tournament this week through a sponsor’s exemption.

“I’ve known him probably almost since birth,” Gore said of Homa on Wednesday.

Gore had all good things to say about the fellow Santa Clarita Valley-bred player.

“He’s a super good kid. He’s a great golfer and probably a better guy. Because at the end of the day, that’s really what matters,” Gore said. “But the future is super bright for him.”

This week brings the two golfers with similar backgrounds but at very different points in their careers.

Homa is the young up-and-coming star fresh off an impressive four-year career at the University of California, Berkeley and an individual NCAA championship last year.

The 39-year-old Gore is making his eighth start at this tournament and is making somewhat of a comeback to the big leagues after not playing a PGA Tour event since last August.

Gore admitted he lost focus of his game last year and even went as far as pursuing a coaching career at Pepperdine University, his alma mater, recently.

But newfound inspiration and an impressive medalist score of 7-under on Monday put him back at one of his favorite golf venues in the world.

“I kind of figured out that I’m still pretty good at this game, and I can provide a heck of a life for my family,” Gore said. “And what better way to do it than that, doing something that I love.”

In his previous seven starts at the Northern Trust, Gore has made the cut three times and finished as high as a tie for 14th in 2008.

His last attempt was 2012, when he missed the 36-hole cut.

As for Homa, this week will be his fifth career start on the PGA Tour after he turned pro last October.

He’s coming off back-to-back missed cuts at the Farmers Insurance Open last month and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week.

In the previous two events, Homa came in as a first-timer on those courses. This week, Homa comes in having played Riviera roughly 10 previous times, he said.

His last bout with the tricky par-71, 7,349-yard track came at the 2012 NCAA Championship when Homa was a junior at Cal.

“I think it sets up really well,” Homa said. “You have to hit it well out here. I usually hit my irons pretty well and there’s a lot of kind of mid- to long-iron shots out here.”

Both Homa and Gore say they feel at home playing at Riviera. But playing among a 144-player field that features 16 of the top 30 ranked golfers in the world is a different story.

That challenge will begin for Homa at hole No. 1 at 8:35 a.m. Thursday, and Gore will follow on the first tee at 12:54 p.m.

TV coverage begins at 2 p.m. on The Golf Channel.

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