I didn’t think much of Billy Horschel the first time I saw him.
It was back in September 2007 and the then 20-year-old was a contemporary of, amongst others, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson in the obscenely-talented US side which contested the Walker Cup at Royal County Down.
Paired with Fowler, Horschel was in the first match out on the opening morning, taking on Scotland’s Lloyd Saltman and Rhys Davies of Wales – and he was hard to warm to. Striding purposefully onto the tee with his shirt collar turned up à la Eric Cantona in his pomp, he might as well have daubed ‘I AM THE ALPHA MALE’ on his forehead.
He upset a lot of people that week, not least Rory McIlroy. Taking place almost literally on his backyard, the 2007 Walker Cup was Rory’s amateur golf swansong. He was the big star, the poster boy for the contest – but Horschel was having none of it.
Recalling their clash in a 2013 interview with Golf Digest, McIlroy said that Horschel’s “antics were really pissing me off”.
“For example,” said Rory, “he had hit a bunker shot at the 14th in our [Sunday] morning foursome. It was a great shot and finished inches from the cup. But he came running down the hill hollering at the top of his voice. He was so loud and so obnoxious.”
That seems to be a prevailing opinion. Horschel is a divisive character in much the same way as Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed and so on.
Me? Well, I’ve really warmed to him.
He doesn’t help himself, I get that. His antics during the second round of the Players’ Championship last week were widely, and rightly, condemned. Never mind the petulant manner in which he tossed his club towards his caddie after holing from off the back of the par-3 13th to salvage an improbably bogey, the fact that he marched straight to the next tee, without retrieving his ball, whilst his playing partners had yet to complete the hole was poor. Very, very poor.
But here’s the thing. Horschel is an animated, emotional kind of guy. Excuse the horrible cliché but he wears his heart on his sleeve. When things go well, he whoops and hollers; when they don’t, he shows his frustration. He’s not exactly a portrait in measured, contemplative behaviour. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people accuse golf of being a boring sport populated by equally boring professionals, devoid of personality.
It’s complete nonsense, of course, but that’s the perception some people have. Guys like Horschel? They help challenge that viewpoint through the sheer force of their passion. Sure, it can be misdirected and misguided from time to time – but it (a) makes for fantastic entertainment and (b) demonstrates that these guys, as talented as they are, are mortals like the rest of us.
Not everybody is going to like Billy Horschel. I’m pretty sure he’s well aware of that and won’t ‘change his ways’. But why should he? He’s climbed to the top rung of his profession by being true to himself and not changing to satisfy the fickle, unreasonable demands of those who demand he be accountable to them. I respect that.
He makes himself available to both fans and haters alike on Twitter. Crucially, he can also admit when he’s overstepped the mark, as he did with a video post that acknowledged his poor behaviour at Sawgrass last week, below.
Plenty others wouldn't have bothered.
In short? He’s both genuine and human. Perfectly imperfect, just like the rest of us. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. In this vacuous, will-do-anything-for-a-dollar culture, that’s something that should be appreciated rather than condemned.
Golf, I’m quite sure, would be a considerably duller place without him.
How about Rafa Cabrera-Bello’s albatross during the final round of last week’s Players Championship? That’s albatross – not double-eagle, as some folk are prone to saying. They appear legitimately confused as to why an albatross is not the same as a double-eagle, so let me make it as plain as I can.
Eagle = -2
Albatross = -3
Double-Eagle = Eagle x 2 = -4 (which is actually a Condor)
This week, I have been… wondering what the hell has happened to Hunter Mahan. Here’s a guy who has won six times on the PGA Tour, played on three Ryder Cup teams and is one of only ten players to have won multiple World Golf Championships – and yet he currently languishes in 739th place on the Official World Golf Rankings.
A glance at his recent PGA Tour record shows that he has missed the cut in 19 of his last 26 starts dating back to the 2016 Valero Texas Open. He is a combined 67-over-par for that stretch.
Still, he’s got almost $30m in the bank, gets to play golf for a living and is married to a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. I’m sure he’ll be fine.
It appears that we’ll get a decision on the PGA Championship moving to a new permanent May date sometime before the end of the year. Should it go ahead, golf’s already condensed major schedule will contract even further, with nine months separating the last of the year and the first of the next.
That, to me, is too long a gap. Might the powers-that-be look to plug it slightly by introducing a fifth major, perhaps in Asia or the southern hemisphere? I wouldn’t rule it out.
And finally… Vijay Singh’s drawn-out legal action against the PGA Tour looks like it is finally going to court.
A US judge this week granted the former world No.1 the right to ‘proceed to trial’ over his claims that the tour was negligent in its handling of Singh’s anti-doping violation in 2013. The big Fijian is hardly one of golf’s more endearing characters but I can’t help siding with him on this one.
To refresh, the tour issued Singh with a three-month ban based not on a failed test – there’s no evidence that he ever took a test, far less failed one – but on his admission to Sports Illustrated that he had taken a deer antler spray which, unbeknownst to him, contained traces of a banned substance (IGF-1).
The tour subsequently rescinded that ban after being informed by the World Anti-Doping Association that the spray contained so small a trace of IGF-1 as to have zero performance-enhancing benefits.
As I’ve said previously, golf has handled the issue of drug-taking quite abysmally. It has duffed and whiffed its way around it for long and weary. If the embarrassment of being taken to trial by a high-profile player is what it needs to finally take the matter seriously and manage it more robustly, then so be it.