BETHESDA, Md. – It’s been 11 days since Billy Horschel finished in a share of fourth place at the U.S. Open, but people can’t stop talking about it.
No, not about him being in title contention in only his second major championship start. Not the 18 greens in regulation he hit in the second round. Not even his ability to hang with the world’s best on the game’s most high-pressure stage.
They’re talking about the pants.
Horschel showed up for the final round at Merion Golf Club in navy slacks with several large white octopi swimming patterns down his pant legs.
“I caught a lot of grief from guys out here,” he said in a not-so-startling revelation.
One thing is clear: He showed some big tentacles, that SpongeBill SquidPants.
With an idea based on octopus socks that were worn by 1934 U.S. Open champion Olin Dutra at Merion, Horschel had history on his side and his wardrobe quickly became an Internet sensation.
“All the fans have been absolutely, unbelievably nice and love them,” he said of the pants that are currently lying unwashed on his bedroom closet floor. “The one guy I’m happy I haven’t seen this week is Tiger, because he’s given me some crap this year a little bit for a couple of things.”
The way things are going, Horschel may see Woods before the weekend is over. That’s because while the AT&T National tournament host is sitting this one out because of an elbow injury, he’ll be on hand to present the trophy Sunday afternoon – and Horschel is already off to a fast start with an opening-round 3-under 68 at a tough-playing Congressional Country Club.
The only disappointing part of the day? He did it wearing plain navy pants.
“Yeah, I know,” Horschel said glumly when questioned about his wardrobe.
There wasn’t much else plain about his game on Thursday, as he started the day by making a 51-foot putt on the 10th hole, then added three more birdies against just a single bogey.
“It’s the first round; there are still three rounds left,” he said. “But it never gets old seeing your name on top of the leaderboard.”
It hasn’t gotten old for Horschel yet this year, as he won the Zurich Classic two months ago and already owns seven top-10 finishes in 16 starts with just one missed cut.
If the PGA Tour offered a Breakthrough Player of the Year award, he would have had it locked up by April.
Instead, he’s content to keep making the natural progression toward elite status. With some obvious variations at times, the progression often goes as follows: Earn PGA Tour card; keep PGA Tour card; contend for PGA Tour title; win PGA Tour title; contend for major championship; win major championship.
Horschel has now reached every level but the last, although somewhere in that mix might be multiple PGA Tour winner, an achievement he’s trying to claim this week.
“I’m not a complacent guy,” he explained. “I don’t say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a win, let’s just go out there and freewheel it.’ Then I’d start getting angry because I’m playing stupid. There is a fine line between me playing free, playing with ease and me being uptight and worrying and too much into what I want to do. I’ve got to find that boundary a little bit and I’ve been pretty good at that so far this year.”
“I think he’s just getting more comfortable out here,” said Micah Fugitt, who has been caddying for Horschel since Aug., 2011. “It’s his third full year out here, pretty much. He's getting comfortable with the golf courses and being in a situation at the top of the leaderboard. It takes a little time to get used to and be comfortable up there. But it’s definitely helped his confidence, for sure.”
Not that a guy who wears octopus pants for the biggest round of his life is lacking in confidence.
Speaking of which, it was suggested after his round that Horschel may outfit himself in squid-like products every Sunday from now on, much like Woods has made red his go-to color.
“No, those were probably just a one-time gig,” he smiled. “But we do have a couple of things in the works. I have some pants that may spice things up on Sundays.”
Maybe he’ll wear them this Sunday. Maybe he’ll wear them in victory. And maybe he’ll be wearing them as Tiger hands over the trophy.
“He’ll have something to say,” Horschel continued, “but I’ll have something to fire right back at him.”
That something may be a little trash talk about winning Woods’ own tournament. After all, Horschel is a confident guy – confident enough to wear octopus pants, even if they won’t make their way out of his closet again.
“They were fun,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of other things up our sleeves.”
Not to mention down his pant legs, too.