Everyone on Tour knew it was only a matter of time before Billy Horschel secured his first PGA Tour victory. Horschel was playing too well. He was swinging too pure. He had made a Tour-leading 23 consecutive cuts. He had finished in the top-10 in his previous three starts — runner-up at the Shell Houston Open, T3 at the Texas Valero Open, and T9 at the RBC Heritage. He was simply due.
Despite two rain delays on Sunday at TPC Louisiana, including one that lasted almost an hour after the 26-year-old from Florida had hit his drive, Horschel kept his nerve and holed a birdie putt from 26 feet to clinch the victory at the Zurich Classic.
That also prevented Horschel from going into extra holes with D.A. Points, who had beat him out in Houston three weeks ago and had just knocked a bunker shot to about four-feet for birdie. Horschel took one practice stroke, stared down the hole and rolled it in with gusto.
“I’m looking at my putt and I read it right away,” he said in his post-victory presser. ”I knew exactly the break on it and everything. I just told myself, I haven’t made one of considerable length this week. And I was like, you know, if it’s my time, this putt needs to go in.”
The celebration was fitting. See, pure joy:
Anyone else get chills? I sure did.
That birdie was just one of nine he made on Sunday, including a stretch where he made six in a row on holes no. 7-12. Impressive!
Horschel’s maiden win in NOLA was meant to be. You see, Horschel’s friend from New Orleans, Thomas Capella texted him after he almost won in San Antonio three weeks ago, saying, “Don’t worry about it. Your first one will be here in New Orleans.”
Horschel, who was greeted on the 18th green by fellow University of Florida alums Chris DiMarco and Matt Every, replied that he wished it was sooner and tried to keep his mind off Capella’s prediction.
“I stepped on these grounds and said he must know something that I don’t know,” said Horschel, following his tournament-clinching eight-under 64 on Sunday. ”So I went ahead and followed through with what he said and just felt comfortable the whole way.
“I tried not to think too much about it. I just felt like I went out and played my game, did my stuff the way I’ve been doing it the last couple of weeks. I felt like, you know, it’s got to be sooner or later and thank God I finally won.”
Hopefully, Horschel will no longer be confused for a rookie going forward. You see, that was kind of a joke on Tour. Horschel has played in the past four PGA Tour Q-School tournaments, and he’s earned his card back three of the times, which, by the way, is a pretty darn good success rate. But then the other side of that is, Billy, just stop losing your card!
Well, good news for Billy is there’s no Q-school anymore, but better yet, the victory in Zurich has earned him a two-year exemption. I’ll keep calling him “rookie,” though.
Okay, here’s a funny story from the very start of the season at the Sony Open in Honolulu in January this year. I was trolling around the putting green on the Wednesday before the tournament. It was my third year on Tour and I was kind of sick of the predictable “rookie” stories. I stopped to chat with Matt Jones and I tried to pick his brain a bit for ideas (and to be honest, I was a tad bored).
Matt had a better idea. He suggested that I play a little prank on Billy, who I hadn’t met up until that day. I’d seen him around, of course, and knew who he was, but never had much reason to chat with him (though I know he’s a chatterbox).
Matt said something along the lines, “You should go up to Billy and say you’re doing a story on Q-school rookies and ask if he can answer some questions. It’ll be hilarious.”
I laughed and mentioned Horschel’s uncanny Q-school record.
Matt replied, “That’s why it’s funny. Everyone thinks he’s a rookie.”
At first, I was reluctant. I didn’t know Billy and it might not be the best way to break the ice. But after Matt chided me a little bit, I thought, actually, why not, there’s not much else to do right now.
So, we came up with a plan. I have to credit Matt for being the main mastermind behind this. Billy was on the either side of the putting green. Matt was going to walk over there and talk to Billy’s caddie Micah and watch him putt. Then, about a minute later, I would approach from the other side and make my move. Yep, we’re so sneaky!
I was still a bit reluctant, but the problem now was trying not to burst out laughing and give myself away. Matt, who was talking with Micah and Billy, gave me the slightest nod, and I took a few deep breaths and put on my game face.
I approached Billy, who was hitting some practice putts. Now, usually I wouldn’t interrupt someone in the middle of their routine, but you can use your best judgement and this was one of those times where it was OK. After all, it was the first full-field event and we were in Hawaii.
“Hey, Billy, I’m Stephanie Wei,” I said, while somehow managing to keep a straight-face. “I’m writing a story on PGA Tour rookies who went through Q-School.”
I paused. Billy, who had stopped to shake my head, nodded.
“So, since that applies to you, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” I asked.
The look on Billy’s face was priceless. He turned his head to the side and tried to hide his irritation. He appeared like he was about to nap, but he bit his tongue. Then, we couldn’t keep it going any longer, and Matt and I, along with Billy ‘s caddie Micah, all started laughing. We let Billy in on the joke and he got a kick out of it.
He said something like, “Did you see my face?? I was about to lose it, but I didn’t want to say anything mean.”
Later in the day, I was catching up with a player in the parking lot near the locker room entrance and you could hear Billy approaching from the walkway. Billy, who has a big personality, walked up somewhat excitedly to me and said, “Oh! You have to see this! I told you. So, this person tweeted at me.”
He showed it to me on his iPhone. Then, he clicked on the link and scrolled down to the pertinent part of the article, where it listed Billy along with the names of several actual rookies as newbies to watch at the Sony.
“See, everyone thinks I’m rookie!” Billy said, with a hint of exasperation.
Well, he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)