ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Amid the cheers immediately following his three-stroke victory on Sunday at the Tour Championship, Billy Horschel turned the partisan Georgia Bulldog crowd on a dime with his signature Florida Gator “chomp.”
“You know what, I love interacting with fans, and I love just having a fun little back and forth with fans,” said Horschel, who also collected the FedEx Cup with his victory at East Lake and the $10 million season-long bonus.
“Listen, I love doing the Gator ‘chomp.’ I'm proud of being a University of Florida Gator. If people got turned off from me by doing the Gator ‘chomp,’ they've got their own issues.”
In short, it was Billy being Billy.
Horschel’s torrid playoff run is sure to thrust him into the spotlight as the 2014-15 season gets underway in the next few weeks and with that newfound attention will come a startling revelation that the energetic 27-year-old is not like other FedEx Cup champions.
Where Vijay Singh, the 2008 champion, is aloof, Horschel is infinitely accessible. Where Bill Haas, who hoisted the silver chalice in ’11, is reserved, Horschel can be downright raucous at times. Where Tiger Woods, the ’07 and ’09 champion, can be less than forthcoming with the media, Horschel is outspoken and emotional.
His impromptu “chomp” was the natural response to a life-changing moment and above all it was heartfelt. It’s a trait he’s come by honestly.
The son of two hardworking, blue-collar parents, Horschel has an instinctive chip on his shoulder that is all at once edgy and endearing.
“He wasn’t a country club kid,” said Todd Anderson, Horschel’s Sea Island (Ga.)-based swing coach. “He’s always been a guy fighting from behind. He’s always had to prove himself.”
Horschel said all the right things after U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson bypassed him as pick for this year’s matches. “I didn’t deserve to be on that team,” he said.
But those who know him know that it was not a coincidence that less than a week after Captain Tom “went another way” with his picks, Horschel won the BMW Championship and closed out the season-ending walk-off with his East Lake performance.
What Horschel may have lacked in pedigree he’s more than made up for in grit and an almost surreal amount of confidence.
Consider that at the Deutsche Bank Championship, which he would lose after woefully miss-hitting his second shot into the par-5 closing hole on Monday, he told reporters that he might not be able to play this year’s matches because his wife, Brittany, was due with the couple’s first child the Saturday of the Ryder Cup.
He told reporters this on Saturday when he was tied for third and vying for just his third top-10 finish of the season and 35th on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list.
It is the Horschel way, always has been.
A few years ago, when Horschel was in the early stages of his PGA Tour career, he was playing the Arnold Palmer invitational when he stopped Tiger Woods on the practice range. He explained to this generation’s most accomplished player that he could jump over a water cooler without a running start.
Horschel didn’t clear the cooler, catching a spike and falling to the ground, but it is a telling example of what drives your FedEx Cup champion.
“Someone once said that Rory (McIlroy) can run a 4.5 (second) 40 (yard dash) and Billy immediately said that he could run a 4.6 40,” Anderson laughed.
Even after his ill-timed miscue at TPC Boston, Horschel refused – or was unable –to fully accept failure.
“There's some inner belief in me that when I need to do something, I can do it,” he said at the time. “Unfortunately I hit a really bad 6-iron in there. But I honestly had a feeling that I was going to hit a good shot and I was going to make the putt for eagle.”
It’s an inner belief that at least partly explains how he was able to climb from 82nd on the FedEx Cup point list after missing the cut at the post-season opener in New Jersey to the $10 million golden ticket at East Lake.
Even after his seminal victory at the Tour Championship, Horschel was less concerned with his dramatic change in his financial fortunes or his dramatic climb in the World Golf Ranking (23rd) than he was fixing weaknesses in his game, either real or perceived.
“We talked last night,” Anderson said on Monday. “For the first 10 minutes he talked about his day and everything that (the victory) would mean and then the next 20 minutes was about what he needs to do to get ready for next year. About all the things he can improve.”
All you need to know about Billy Ho is that while he climbed the steep hill to the par-3 18th green on Sunday afternoon at East Lake, secure in the notion that his tee ball found the putting surface and he was three strokes clear of the field, he turned to his caddie Micah Fugitt and went off topic.
“He starts telling me about this dream he had when he was 10 about getting hit in the eye with a baseball bat and that a little while later he got hit in the eye with a bat,” Fugitt smiled. “Then he says he had a dream earlier this year that he won the FedEx Cup . . .”
It was signature Horschel – determined and maybe a little different.