The one and only Billy Horschel

By Jason SobelJanuary 7, 2014, 4:40 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Billy Horschel is patient.

I know this because he tells me while we sit by a window in the player lounge at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, his eyes darting from the 18th fairway to a football game on the nearby television to a blister on his left index finger that he picks at in between bites of a sandwich. He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself as much as me, as if the fidgeting doesn’t happen if he simply downplays its existence.

“I think I get better each year,” he suggests. “Or at least I try to get better each year. But it's tough for me.”

So far, Horschel’s increasing patience has paid off in the form of a PGA Tour victory, top-50 classification and status as a budding star. And it continues to pay off. One day after our interview, he’ll three-putt the first hole of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to make double bogey. Three days later, he’ll post 7-under 66 to move from 19th place to a share of sixth, though still fidgeting afterward with nervous energy and fretting over what might have been.

On the golf course, he is a bounding ball of energy, a whirling dervish of fist pumps and club slams. Every player claims he hates slow play, but Horschel abhors it – and has worked hard not to let it serve as his Kryptonite.

Off of it, he’s more subdued, though never quite relaxed, like a guy who should have switched to decaf two cups ago. He’s 27 going on 12, mature yet innocent, with tastes that confirm these mannerisms.

“I'm a big kid,” he admits. “I love drinking chocolate milk. I'm not afraid to watch some cartoons once in a while when I'm with my nieces and actually be attentive.”

Not surprisingly, Horschel wasn’t much different as a child. Growing up in Grant, Fla., he learned to play golf in his family’s large backyard, spending hours hitting balls over a pond. “I really was adamant about golfers not going out on the golf course before they're ready,” says his father, Bill. Nothing wrong with that, until Billy turned around and tried to hit ’em back over the house, breaking nearly every window in the process.

“I remember one time when he finally hit it over the house,” says his mother, Kathy. “When he went to hit it back, he hit it through the front living-room window. We were sitting out back waiting for him to carry the balls around and he didn't come and he didn't come. Then when my husband went around, he was in his bedroom, like, ‘I didn't do that.’”

Consider him a ball-striking Bart Simpson, a troublemaking scamp so charming that nobody can stay mad at him too long. Not that Horschel himself doesn’t hold some grudges.

An accomplished junior player whose talents drew the interest of many college coaches, he signed with his dream school, the University of Florida, but the whole recruiting process ultimately left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I'm a realist and I understand that I didn't deserve to be recruited to all these top schools and get all these offers,” he recalls. “I thought that I was going to get something from them or at least get a little more interest, and it didn't happen. When I played against those teams and those coaches, I wanted to play really well and just pretty much shove it in their face.”

He did, becoming a four-time All-America selection for the Gators and a member of the 2007 Walker Cup team. And junior golf wasn’t a total wash, either. While competing in a tournament at Doral a decade ago, he met Brittany Nelson, herself an incoming freshman on the school’s women’s golf team. They started dating, continued throughout their college years and in 2010, they married – and he still hasn’t beaten her in a putting contest.

“Like, never,” Brittany says with a knowing smile. “He still has yet to beat me in one.”

The 20 or so putting losses don’t get him too upset – hey, he’s patient after all! – but Horschel can’t always maintain such zen-like qualities.

“I try to be very relaxed and easygoing off the course,” he explains. “(But) I'm still intense. When somebody doesn't use common sense, I get frustrated. When I'm driving down the highway and someone is in the left‑hand lane and they're going very slow, sometimes I just go around them and other times I'll be in the mood where I flash my lights and yell at them, like, ‘What the heck are you doing? Get the heck out of my way! You're not passing anybody! You're doing 70 in the left‑hand lane!”

See? He really does hate slow play.

Billy Horschel is confident.

This is the part of the story where I should remind you of Horschel’s interview with Golf Channel after the 2012 edition of Q-School. It was his fourth consecutive year at the qualifying tournament and while he’d found a modicum of success in the big leagues – he missed just two cuts in 17 starts that year – he wasn’t on anybody’s short list of rising stars. But after clinching his card for another year, Horschel was asked about his job prospects and offered up his best Joe Namath:

“I'm going to win next year. No doubt about it.”

Five months later, he fulfilled that prophecy, winning the Zurich Classic on a final-hole birdie that was punctuated by the PGA Tour’s most primal scream of the year. And yet, even his declaration and realization don’t serve as the prime examples of confidence. No, that happened a month later, when Horschel competed in his first career major championship as a professional, getting into contention at the U.S. Open before arriving for the final round wearing octopus-print slacks.

There’s no distinct measuring device for confidence, but know this much: Dudes who show up for the biggest round of their lives to howls of “SpongeBill SquidPants” have plenty of it.

“Trust me, I got plenty of comments from guys on Twitter saying, ‘I hope you shoot 100, you're a freaking fool for wearing these.’ I could care less,” he says. “I'm happy I played halfway decent and finished well. They probably would not have been that big of a thing if I would have faltered on Sunday, but I didn't because I knew I wouldn't.”

There it is again. Confidence.

Or is it actually Confidence’s ugly cousin? Is it the dreaded Cockiness? Even Horschel thinks the lines are blurred.

“I’m confident; I try not to go cocky …”

“… the confident, cocky Billy thinks I can be the best player out here …”

“… sure, I’ve said comments in the past that have been on the cocky side …”

“… but I just feel like I’m on the perfect borderline of being confident and cocky.”

That’s a commendable sentiment, though even his mother believes he might have crossed over that borderline.

“I call him cocky,” she says, “and it’s not cocky in a bad way. He just always knew what he wanted. A lot of his friends drifted from one thing to the other, but he always knew what he wanted. If that’s what you call cocky, then OK.”

Four years ago, Horschel received an exemption into the AT&T National. He’d never met tournament host Tiger Woods, but sought him out in the player dining room to say thanks.

“I talked to him for a couple minutes, and he rattled off some of the stats I did in college, which was shocking to me,” he remembers. “He was the No. 1 player in the world, has so many other things on his plate and has to remember so many other things, and he remembers a couple of my stats that I had in college.”

Since then, Horschel has forged a friendship with the player who, along with Fred Couples and Greg Norman, he most looked up to as a kid. Prior to competing with Woods for two rounds at Torrey Pines last year, he told reporters, “I’m going to be myself, I’m going to talk. You know what? If he wants to listen, he’s more than welcome to listen. If not, I’m still going to keep talking. He doesn’t have to respond back, I’ll just keep yapping away.”

Two months later, Horschel was featured during a segment on “Inside the PGA Tour” showing his workout regimen, which includes 42-inch box jumps. Woods couldn’t resist the opportunity to give him some needling the next morning at Bay Hill.

“I’m out there warming up and Tiger is on the range, and he comes over and he’s got this big, goofy‑ass grin on his face,” he recalls. “I said, ‘What are you effing smiling at? What do you got that effing grin for?’ He’s like, ‘It’s true.’ I said, ‘What’s true?’ He said, ‘White men can’t jump.’ 

“I pretty much told him to go eff off, and we had a little talk, and a couple days later he’s on the range before the second round. He sees me and he’s saying ‘credit card.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, give me a little more credit than that.’ I walk by him, walk around the cameras, and there was a cooler. I say, ‘Hey, look at this.’ I wanted to jump and make it look like it was really hard for me to jump up on the cooler. Well, as I jumped I didn’t realize the cooler lid was broken in, and I busted my ass in front of him. So it was funny. He got a good joke out of that.

“That’s not me trying to impress him, that’s just me being me and being a dumbass once in a while and trying to be too goofy and show off too much.”

It isn’t often that a young player, especially a young player who at that point hadn’t won anything, can feel so comfortable around Woods. Likewise, it isn’t often that Woods takes to a young player who hasn’t won anything.

“Billy’s a great guy and someone I enjoy playing golf with,” Woods says. “He had a really solid season last year, and it was good to see him get a win.”

I asked Horschel what it’s like to not only play alongside a guy he idolized, but also earn his respect. He responded by shrugging off any notion of hero worship.

You’re not intimidated by him, are you?


Are you intimidated by anybody?


That doesn’t mean, though, that he isn’t a little more excited by some pairings than others, his confidence quickly giving way to cockiness.

“When I’m on the golf course in front of certain players, I want to show them, hey, I’m the s---,” he explains. “I want to show them that I’m not just this kid who won one time and talks a big game. I want to show them that I’m a really good player.”

Billy Horschel is emotional.

Sometimes too emotional. It’s fun to watch him celebrate birdies with the enthusiasm of a wide receiver who catches the game-winning touchdown, but just as uncomfortable to see him pouting when things aren’t going his way.

Consider the second round of last year’s Greenbrier Classic a tipping point. This was after the Zurich win, after the U.S. Open contention, after he’d reached top 50 in the world and clinched his card for two more years and secured an invitation to the next Masters. Even with these accolades, he still hadn’t mellowed.

“I was hitting good shots and felt like I wasn’t getting rewarded,” he recalls. “I was just being a little too loud and a little too vocal and complaining a little too much after shots. The guys in my group are great guys, and I appreciate that they said something to me.”

Horschel doesn’t name names, but a check of that day’s tee sheet shows Boo Weekley was one of them.

“Yeah, it was me,” Weekley admits. “He’d already won New Orleans and he was playing well. I’m struggling to make the cut and he just kept on whining, like, ‘I can’t get a break, I can’t get a break.’ There wasn’t really nothing to it; he just needed to grow up a little bit. His playing partners don’t want to hear him saying all that.

“When we got done playing, I sat down with him. Every now and then, you need to be put back in your place. That’s kind of what I did. It wasn’t anything derogatory toward him. He just needed to calm down a little bit, because there’s other people trying to play.”

Lesson learned.

Says Horschel, “When someone comes and tells me, it makes me aware of it, and I appreciate it. You know, not every guy is like me where someone can tell them the truth and be fine with it.”

A search on Google images turns up a photo of Horschel with a golf club between his gritted teeth. Another with a club flying out of his hands. More than a few with big smiles or big scowls; plenty with his head in his hands or his hat flipped around backward.

For those who complain that professional golfers are too staid and stoic, too robotic and reserved, Horschel serves as the antithesis. He doesn’t fit the profile, all of which is part of his appeal.

“Everyone says they don’t feel [their] age, but I still feel like a kid,” he says. “I just feel like a kid that has some money now, that can take care of my family. … I think I’ll always be a kid. I’m always messing around, always running around, always trying to have a good time.”

“I’m OK with his emotion,” declares fellow player Bill Haas. “I can relate to it, I’ve got a little bit of that in me. I think it’s the reason he’s good. As long as he does it in a positive manner, it’s good for our game.”

It is golf’s ultimate Catch-22: You can’t have a good time without playing great golf, but in many respects you can’t play great golf without first having a good time doing so.

Horschel has learned that the hard way. He’s learned to channel the emotion into positive vibes, not that he’s always successful.

“Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad,” he says. “When I’m playing well, that emotion keeps me playing even better and keeps me pushing even harder. And when I’m making a couple bad mistakes and I’m sort of just lollygagging out there, really not focused, I’ll get on myself.

“But also there’s a bad side where I get on myself when I don’t need to, when I get too angry at myself for hitting a bad shot or things that happen that way. That’s what I’m trying to limit.”

Billy Horschel

Billy Horschel is talented.

Not every player can be Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth, turning professional and finding instant stardom. For most, even those with proverbially “all the tools,” there is a certain metamorphosis that occurs. These players might spend two or three or even four years trapped in the developmental cocoon, but when they do emerge, they emerge as fully blossomed talents.

Horschel broke free from his cocoon on March 31 of last year. Entering that week’s Shell Houston Open, he owned exactly three top-10 results in 57 starts as a pro. But on that day, he followed a third-round 67 with a closing 66. When he finished, he anxiously stood next to the scoring trailer, a camera lens affixed upon him intently watching D.A. Points play the final hole. Points holed a 13-foot par putt to nip him by a stroke, but Horschel was clearly on the verge of emerging.

One week later, he finished in a share of third place at the Valero Texas Open. In his next start, he was T-9 at the RBC Heritage. And in the next one, he finally broke through for that first career win at the Zurich.

The metamorphosis was complete.

Now the player who took years to blossom is talking big things, like major championships and Ryder Cup teams.

“I want to be the best player in the world one day,” he says. “I want to win X amount of majors, X amount of PGA Tour events. But I think for all that to happen, I've just got to try and become the best player I possibly can. That leads to winning more and winning majors and playing on Ryder Cups and Presidents Cup teams and maybe one day being No. 1 player in the world.”

For a guy who is emotional and confident and possibly even patient, staying focused on that goal is a main priority.

“I can't control what Tiger does or Phil or Jordan or Rickie (Fowler) or anybody else out here does. I've learned over the years that those distractions have affected me, and I've learned to deal with that.”

As Brittany maintains, “One thing you learn about Billy, he'll say some crazy things, but he usually lives up to most of the things he says.”

He’s got plenty to live up to now. Horschel’s own expectations have been joined by the expectations of others who have taken notice of his talent.

“He’s a young stud who’s going to be out here a long time,” Haas says. “He’s a top-50 player for the rest of his career, if he wants to be.”

Horschel’s game is one that was learned and practiced and honed in that big backyard, hitting balls over the pond and over the house and, yes, through more than a few windows. It was there that he developed his confidence – or cockiness – even knowing the end goal from an early age.

“He kept telling people, ‘I'm going to be a professional golfer,’ his father says. “Guys would say, ‘This sounds kind of crazy,’ and I would say, ‘No, it's not.’”

Now he’s living the dream. Horschel takes another bite of his sandwich, then averts his eyes from the 18th fairway and the football game on the nearby television and the blister on his index finger. He stops fidgeting and looks me in the eye.

“I always wanted to be a professional athlete,” he says. “I love my life.”

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.