Horschel's hard work, attitude pay off in Atlanta

By Rex HoggardSeptember 15, 2014, 10:00 pm

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.

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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.

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Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated” while taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor, he made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).

Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.

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Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.

The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.

Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”

Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.

“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”