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Is Billy Horschel the Future Face of American Golf?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | For now, let's forget about Dustin Johnson. Put Rickie Fowler somewhere in the back of your mind. Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, too. And for once, let's take a closer look at this Billy Horschel guy, this Octopi-pants wearing, fiery tempered 26-year-old from Grant, Fla. and wonder, if not for just a moment, if this is the next face of American golf.

For so long, it appeared that Johnson would have his breakthrough, Fowler would follow, Mahan and Snedeker would be in perpetual competition -- the future core of the U.S. when Tiger Woods finally relented his claim as the best golfer on the planet.

Johnson competed in majors, even coming down to the final hole at the 2010 PGA Championship before a lousy bunker ruling sent him spiraling out of a playoff between eventual champ Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. Mahan's choke at the Ryder Cup that very same year is far more famous than any of his five Tour wins. Snedeker has bumbled down the stretch, too, and Fowler has just a lone win on his Tour resume.

The wins will come for them all, certainly, as will majors and Ryder Cups, but at the moment, it appears that Horschel, coming off a stretch of four straight top-10 finishes and his first Tour win, might just be the American with the greatest upside. The pants he wore two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, the regrettable pair with octopi swimming down the legs, made Horschel the talk of Sunday, though his play should have sounded off far more alarms.

This is a guy who entered the season ranked 318th -- 318th! -- and finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, the toughest test of golf the planet can offer. This is a guy who made less than $500,000 last season -- peanuts by Tour standards -- and now leads the PGA with seven top 10s this year alone.

"I just think I'm a good ball striker," Horschel said, following his opening 68 at the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club, which landed him at a tie for second heading into Friday. "So I know I'm always going to at least be able to control my golf shots from the tee into the green. I think the courses that reward ball striking and thinking, I'm always going to play well.

"This year, I've worked hard on my short game and my putting, and it pays off. When I do miss one offline, I can get it up and down on a regular basis. The tougher the golf course, the better I like it. I don't like easy ones. I think you should be penalized if you hit a bad shot."

Sound familiar? It should. That's been Tiger Woods' mantra ever since the electrifying teenager made himself a household name before ever even turning pro.

"I would like [the AT&T] to be one of the more difficult PGA Tour events, there's no doubt," Woods said at his press conference on Wednesday. "The course lends itself to that. There's a history of that, and I think that's how it should be played.

"Don't make it where it's -- not the U.S. Open, where even par or over par is going to win the tournament. But allow these guys, if they play well and shoot under par score, they're going to move up. I would like to see, if you shoot 2, 3 under par each and every day, you should be in the lead of the tournament."

Now, I'm not comparing Horschel to Woods, not even a little. That would be comparing Steph Curry to Michael Jordan. But the shared mindset of the two is what stands out. While 2009 U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover gripes and grumbles about Congressional's difficulty, Horschel basks in it. He's enamored with the challenge. Perhaps that's why he fared so well at Merion while the fickle beast brought the majority of the field to its knees. Perhaps that's why he finished tied for fourth in his first career major and won his first career event in a little more than a month prior.

"I've always felt like -- like I said, the tougher the golf course, the better I play," he said. "This course just fits my eye off the tee. Knowing that it's not going to be a low number, you don't have to make a ton of putts. You just got to stay patient. Put the ball on the fairway. Take advantage if you get a pin that's a green-like pin…. My first major as a pro, I finished fourth with a really good field and had a chance to win going into that weekend, you can only build confidence in that."

For a guy that wears octopi-riddled pants, I'd say he's OK in the confidence department.

Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.

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