Against a backdrop of obscene gobs of cash for an inferior product (we’re looking at you, LIV), overtures from boorish lads who suggest their patriotic pride is for sale (ungrateful Ryder Cuppers), and a PGA Tour hierarchy that thinks the way forward is to separate the elite from the riffraff (Signature Events, for shame), there is a golfer whose last few months have played out in contrast to the madness.
We offer you Billy Horschel, who didn’t perform up to his standards in 2023 but is quick to take ownership. “By far my toughest season,” says the 36-year-old, accepting the key indicators:
- Horschel failed to make the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time since his second year on tour in 2012
- It was his lowest prize money total ($1,810,825) since 2016
- With just three, it was the fewest number of top-10 finishes since 2015
“There wasn’t a lot of momentum going. Just a very strange year,” says Horschel. “My career had been building and building, and I thought 2023 was the year to take it to another level.”
He’s got a good point about the “building and building” thing when you consider the two playoff wins and a FedExCup crown in 2014; a win, two seconds, two thirds, and fifth-place standing in the FEC standings in 2018; a WGC Match Play Championship in 2021; and in 2022 there was a victory at Jack’s Place (aka The Memorial Tournament) just a few months before Horschel made his debut in the Presidents Cup.
Progress, folks, and while Horschel may not have reached the sort of silly-good consistency of Max Homa, he was safely tucked into the rock-solid, count-on-him category.
Then 2023 happened, some of it played out with irons determined to have been 2-degrees too upright. Heck, it was only at the midway point when Todd Anderson sensed that “things have bottomed out.”
On June 1, Horschel’s swing coach of 16 years heard these words: “Listen, my confidence is the lowest it’s been in my entire career.”
Horschel’s admission had come after an opening 84 at the Memorial and Anderson had one thought. “I was as proud of him as I’ve ever been. He was up there taking ownership. It was 100 percent Billy.”
Horschel knows no other way.
“We live in a society where people want to blame other people for us not getting the job done. But that’s not me,” says Horschel, who grew up in blue-collar Grant, Fla., the son of a construction foreman who often would bring his son along on drywall jobs.
Now ask a kid to list 1,000 things he’d like to do on a summer day, and “hanging drywall” isn’t going to make the cut. But Little Billy takes after Big Billy. “I grew up old-school,” he says. “You tie your bootstraps on and get to work. You figure it out.”
What Horschel figured would help re-ignite his game in September was intriguing. But we’ll table that for the moment and jump ahead to discussion points about the humanness that defines Horschel.
In mid-October, he played host to the third annual Billy Horschel Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour Invitational. The APGA provides an avenue for black golfers who dream of succeeding in professional golf, and Horschel is all in.
“The word ‘never’ was not in our family vocabulary growing up,” says Horschel. “If people asked for help, we gave. It’s in my blood, it’s my nature.”
“It goes to show you the person he is,” says Kamaiu Johnson, a leading player on the APGA. “He never forgets where he came from.”
A few days later, Billy was by his wife Brittany’s side as they made a series of media stops to announce the formation of the Horschel Family Foundation.
“Billy and I find more joy in helping and watching others succeed than we do ourselves, and we have always dreamed and spoken at length about having our own foundation,” says Brittany, who went public with her struggle with alcoholism seven years ago and continues to be a role model to those in recovery.
“Brittany has a strong connection to the community,” says Billy. “We just can’t be satisfied with what we have. We always take on more. If we don’t have the time, we’ll find the time.”
Returning to Horschel’s strategy to jump-start his game. It was refreshing and vintage Horschel. “I called it my Griswold European Vacation,” he says.
Why Europe? To get back to his roots in arenas that remind you how blessed you are. “I enjoy the atmosphere (in Europe). It’s relaxing. People are more present in their daily lives.”
He traveled alone to the Irish Open (T-45), BMW PGA Championship in England (T-18), then the French Open (T-20). A week later, he was joined in St. Andrews, Scotland, by Brittany and by Big Billy, who would be his son’s partner in the iconic Alfred Dunhill Links Pro-Am. (Little Billy was T-14 in the individual, father and son were 47th in the pro-am.)
“The bad season made me appreciate the opportunity I have. I still want to be great,” says Horschel. “I still have the ability to be great.”
When 2023 began, Horschel sat 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking. By late August he was 48th. Encouraging as Europe was, by Nov. 12 Horschel had slipped to 54th. He’s not currently in line for the PGA Tour’s Signature Events, nor the majors.
The wrong direction, all of that, but guess what? Billy Horschel is oozing with confidence, taking ownership, and applying a bearhug around perspective.
At a time when very little else in the game is making sense. Good on him.