Last year at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the uber-mellow Jason Dufner registered his first career win and showed us all just how implacable, stoic and detached a human being can be from his environment.
This year at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the human adrenaline surge that is Billy Horschel registered his first career win, and showed us all how PSYCHED and FIRED UP and WOOOOO!! I JUST WON!!! a player can be in the moment.
Horschel may stop fist-pumping by Wednesday.
If you added up Dufner and Horschel, and divided by two, I think you’d come out with the average of a normal human being’s emotional range.
And how much fun was that to see? In this post-Masters, pre-Players Championship stretch of golf, it helps to see potential stars born, especially ones that pile up birdies as frequently as visceral exhortations. Horschel leads the entire Tour in birdies (his 220 top Jimmy Walker’s 189), and tore off six in a row on Sunday in his sweet final-round 64, looking as on fire raining home putts as Steph Curry draining 3-pointers for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs.
None was finer than Horschel’s 72nd hole work on the par-5 18th at TPC Louisiana, when he was actively engaged in hand-to-hand combat with D.A. Points for the win. Remember, Points clipped Horschel by a stroke in Houston last month. While that stung, it signaled Horschel as a comer, part of three consecutive top-10s for the hot 26-year-old. So Horschel owed Points one. Probably the mere sight of the ‘LEGO’ belt buckle worn by Points had Horschel ready to chew nails.
A couple of things were at work: One, Horschel was in a bit of trouble 27 feet from the hole, while Points was six feet from the hole, and Horschel was barely clinging to a one-stroke lead. Two, the omnipresent PGA Tour weather delay had added to Horschel’s body tension, with the weather siren blowing when the two players were in the 18th fairway (!) for about a 40-minute delay.
(By the way, enough with the weather on the PGA Tour. It’s damn near apocalyptic. The whole scene down in NOLA felt that way, with the gators at TPC Louisiana reportedly crawling around the golf course, and play halted one day for a swarm of bees on the course. It’s like they were filming the sequel to ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ on Tim Finchem’s dime.)
Anyway, back to the 18th green. Horschel needed a big one to fall and when his golf ball traversed 27 feet exactly, expiring in the cup for the birdie that clinched the win, well, his reaction was one of the year’s best – filled with whoops and hollers and happiness, over and over.
It all makes for an easy metaphor, since Horschel has been charging like a thoroughbred all year. He currently holds the longest cuts-made streak on Tour (23) and his 2013 had been filled with everything but a win: tie-10th at the Humana Challenge; tie-11th in Phoenix; the runner-up in Houston to Points; a tie-3rd in Texas; a tie-9th at Harbour Town.
The scarlet letter on Horschel’s game was ‘S’ for Sunday. He toted the Tour’s 108th-ranked Sunday scoring average into the final round in Louisiana, and as if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, had recently wrote down ‘74’ on his card after Sunday’s round at Harbour Town last week, when he had a chance to win. Could this Florida Gator close it out, finally, in front of a bunch of real live gators?
The Sunday 64 spoke as emphatically as one of Horschel’s fist pumps or war whoops. Not a bad weekend, either, considering he shot 66 on Saturday. Horschel has a buzz about him, a Keegan Bradley-like intensity that makes for fun watching. Even his ride in a golf cart is enjoyable, as he opted to go ‘Ben Hur’ on the back of the cart that carried him away during the weather delay on 18, hardly the look of a stressed-out player.
[Related: Watch Horschel's highlights from New Orleans]
After the win, he hugged darn near everyone in sight, got a congratulatory tweet from fellow Gator Tim Tebow and is now a player you should think about when it comes to this fall’s President’s Cup team.
This is who Horschel is. In his days as a decorated amateur, Horschel’s in-your-face emotion spurred a young Rory McIlroy to uncharacteristically woof back in a tense Walker Cup match. McIlroy got him that time, and felt good about it. Years later, Horschel’s battle cries are saying: I’m still here, and this may only be the start of something good.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
67-70-67-67 – 13-under 271, Inbee Park, winner, LPGA North Texas Shootout, Las Colinas Country Club, Irving, Texas.
Remember when Stacy Lewis took over the No. 1 spot in the women’s golf world rankings last month, and American golf fans stood proud for Old Glory here in the U.S. of A.? Lewis was a great story, overcoming scoliosis and a fused spine and was a dynamite player to have atop the world rankings.
Yeah. Not so much anymore.
It’s not Lewis’ fault. She’s still good. She just has to live in Inbee Park’s world.
Inbee Park is a baller, and backed up her Kraft Nabisco major from three weeks ago with a birdie on the 72nd hole in Texas for a one-stroke victory – her third win of the year, and fifth in her last 18 starts.
She’s No. 1, and with that many wins in that few starts, who does this 24-year-old think she is, Tiger Woods? Oh, wait. She has a major in the last five years. Never mind.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
“He’s either being chased by an alligator, or he’s taking the slow play warnings to extremes.” – Nick Faldo on CBS, commenting on TV shot of 14-year-old Guan Tianlang running to catch up with his playing group on Sunday.
There’s that 14-year-old kid from China again! And you thought he was just a one-trick pony: show up at the Masters, make a cut and disappear from your lives forever.
Not so fast. Haven’t you heard about kids today, doing everything faster than we used to?
Good news is, despite Faldo’s riff, Guan was not assessed a slow-play penalty this week. Even better news is, the kid made another cut. He’s 2-for-2 on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t had a 15th birthday party yet.
A 77-74 weekend slowed his roll a little bit, and he finished 71st of the 71 players to make the cut. Then again, he was one of 71 players to make the cut. Half a world away from home. In a place with different food, language, beds and TV shows. Wait, what am I saying? The kid is 14, and no 14-year-old kid watches TV; they stream whatever they want on their phone. If I could figure out how to do that, I would. Maybe I’ll ask Guan Tianlang.
There are, of course, skeptics who wonder what the rush is, why a 14-year-old kid from China needs to spend all this time in the States chasing what, exactly. He’s playing as an amateur, so it’s not money. Glory? Greatness? Resume builders for his freshman year ‘What I Did With My Summer’ essay back home in high school?
And how long he can continue to thread the needle of competing on this level while playing with an enormous distance disadvantage is yet to be seen. Guan was hitting 3-woods into holes when his playing partners were hitting mid-irons. Mike Weir ranks 185th of 185 players on Tour in driving distance at 269.5 yards, and he’s Dustin Johnson compared to this kid.
Guan will play in a U.S. Open qualifier, and we shall see what the kid has up his sleeve for us next.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
D.A. Points wasn’t kidding around when he won Houston last month. It was the first D.A. Points sighting in over a year, and after he received all the necessary plaudits and praise – remember how he used his mother’s putter to win? – we all moved on to the Masters and Adam Scott and 14-year-old Chinese kids.
But since hooking up with new swing coach Gary Gilchrist, Points is fired up, and ready to wear the ‘LEGO’ belt buckle for the foreseeable future on a TV near you.
A 66-68-70 start in New Orleans landed Points alongside Horschel in the penultimate grouping, two shots behind third-round leader Lucas Glover. By the time Points and Horschel reached the 71st hole, it was theirs for the taking. Horschel had a one-shot lead and hit a strong tee shot, leaving him 20 feet for bird. He’d make par.
But Points’ tee shot? Ouch. He fanned it, and never had a chance at birdie. He missed the green entirely to the right, and actually had to pull of a delicate and luscious chip shot to save par.
Point is, the drama was set up for Points to stick it close on 17, inside of Horschel and ramp up the adrenaline. His missed green sort of killed his momentum, and he couldn’t have been happy with the swing he made.
So, in an effort to make an already-entertaining Zurich Classic even more so, let’s go back to the 17th tee box, remind Points to take dead aim and . . . give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It’s on to Quail Hollow, and for those of us obsessed with Rory McIlroy’s golf game (raising hand), we’re all excited. Rors is lined up to play the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, and there’s history here. He won in 2010 with that final-round 62, and lost in a playoff last year to Rickie Fowler (with D.A. Points in that playoff, too.)
So for a kid who’s scuffling along in 2013, looking to gorilla dunk on all the haters who have wondered what happened to his game (raising hand), here’s a perfect chance for McIlroy to turn the ignition on his golf season.
He’ll have company – 10 of the world’s top 25 are playing, including Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson. No Tiger Woods, though. Rumor is, he doesn’t like the greens at Quail Hollow. Also, he was photographed attending Michael Jordan’s wedding this past weekend, so he’s got other things going on.
After all, partying with M.J. is not exactly the ‘Breakfast of Champions’ when playing tournament golf within the next week.
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