When Billy Horschel came to Austin for last year’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, he hadn’t won an individual PGA Tour event in nearly four years, his match play record was shaky and he wasn’t even a consideration for the Ryder Cup.
One week at Austin Country Club changed all that, however, as the 2017 FedEx Cup champion sliced through the field with relative ease, dispatching local favorite Scottie Scheffler in the final and ending his drought. He went on to win again on the DP World Tour later in 2021 and although he wasn’t a pick for Steve Stricker’s Ryder Cup team, he’s been a model of consistency this calendar year, finishing in the top 20 at four straight events before a nasty sinus infection forced him to pull out of the Players Championship two weeks ago.
Horschel says he’s kicked the infection and is eager to defend his title in Central Texas.
Before the defense begins, Horschel chatted with Golfweek about how iron play has been the key to his resurgence, how family life has balanced him, how he thinks the Texas Longhorns will “get their asses handed to them” in the SEC and how he longs to play in a Ryder Cup.
Golfweek: You've always been a pretty good putter, but your putting this year has really been probably the best, at least stat-wise of your career (11th in Strokes Gained: Putting). What's different?
Billy Horschel thanks the crowd after putting out on the eighth hole during the first round of the 2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Billy Horschel: The putter is obviously a big key, I mean, I’ve putted well over the last five to seven years on the PGA Tour. And I think over what’s different this year compared to maybe the last couple years is I haven’t really made a lot of what my stats guy and my team would call footage. This year, I’ve been making a lot of putts in the 10- to 20-foot range, you know, thrown in a couple of putts out 20 feet, too. So it’s nothing different. We haven’t changed anything. We haven’t done anything differently. It’s more or less just sticking to what we’ve always done in our putting drills and, and our work on our technical aspect of it. I think it’s sort of just paying off a little bit more this year which has been, been a key.
GW: You've been a guy who's had streaky moments. At Phoenix, you were sixth. Top 20 at Honda. Runner-up at Bay Hill. Does it feel like you're on a burner right now?
Former Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith, left, chats with Billy Horschel during the 2022 WM Phoenix Open Annexus Pro-Am at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)
BH: You know what, I feel like I’m on a really good streak and hopefully this streak is a little longer and it turns into what I believe and my team believes is more regular play. Of being near the top of the leaderboard on a more regular basis. That’s something that’s been a goal the last couple years, something we’ve worked towards as a team. We feel like we have the ability. We feel like we have the talent to be like a Justin Thomas, or a Collin Morikawa or Jon Rahm, who’s up there consistently on the top of the leaderboard.
We’ve made a lot of strides in the game and one of those areas that’s been the biggest, that’s allowed me to be more consistent and be up there near the top of the leaderboard is the iron play. The iron play has not been very good the last couple years. We’ve hit on a few things over the last six months that are starting to finally pay off. And it’s nice to see, you know, the rewards being, being shown out on the golf course. So hopefully this is not just a little, you know, five or six tournament streak. Hopefully, this is more of a new norm for my career.
GW: Let’s go back to your win here in Austin last year. What's the biggest takeaway, now that you've had a whole year to let this sink in?
Billy Horschel during the semifinal match of the 2021 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)
BH: It was a big win. To win a World Golf Championship event that you can show on your resume at the end of your career was a big stepping stone for me. Obviously, I knew I had the ability. I knew I had the belief that I could do it. But it was just sort of, you know, big to come through. Hopefully, I’m able to add more of them in my career. I’m winning events and in contention in some of these big events that I’ve always felt like I could have been able to do.
And yes, I would’ve loved to have been able to do it in my late twenties, early thirties, but you know what, everyone sort of peaks out and figures it out a little bit at a different time. And maybe this is just it, maybe the mid-thirties and beyond — this is where I’m gonna have my golden era of golf going forward.
GW: So, you've played well in San Antonio. You won the Byron Nelson (in Dallas). You nearly won in Houston. You're a Florida guy. What about Texas suits your game?
Billy Horschel on the putting green during a practice round for the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports)
BH: Well, Texas has no income state tax just like Florida. So that’s a really big reason why I like to play well in Texas. (He laughs.) You know, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s just the people here in Texas are unbelievable. The support is great, they have great turnouts to these events and I think when you look at Texas, you just see wholesome people. You could sort of say they’re from the south a little bit in the sense that they’re warm and welcoming.
Obviously, Texas has got that cowboy mentality. I don’t know, the state always has been good to me. I’ve always enjoyed my time here. When we came here and played in college, I finished second at regionals during my senior year over at the University of Texas golf course. Maybe it’s just a little bit of everything. The grasses are very similar. The weather’s very similar, you know, playing in the wind, I’m good at playing in the wind. There’s just a lot to love about Texas. And my game seems to flourish when we do come to Texas.
GW: That sets me up perfectly for this. You're a noted Florida Gator. What happens when Texas comes to the SEC and all these sports play your beloved Florida Gators consistently. How will they fare?
The golf bag of Billy Horschel and the Florida Gators logo. (Photo: Golfweek)
BH: They’re gonna get their asses handed to them. (Laughs again.) You know what, it’s awesome to have a school like Texas join the SEC. They have such a great tradition in all sports and they’ve got a ton of money and a ton of support from their alumni. So it’s gonna be really cool to add a school like Texas to the SEC. And it’s only gonna make the SEC better. It’s only gonna make the other teams in that conference have to step up to match the level that Texas is gonna bring in a sense of the financial support.
You know, Texas A&M came in and they struggled a little bit, and then they sort of found the footing a little bit in football. Obviously, the Longhorns are gonna have to do that too a little bit, but you know, when you’ve got the support of a lot of boosters and the financial aspect of it — Texas is gonna be just fine. But hopefully, they lose every time they play Florida.
GW: You've been outspoken about Phil and the Saudis. When you look at the Tour and where it sits, what's your take? You know the old phrase that you can criticize your own family, but others can't — when you look at your family, the Tour, and I know you live close to PGA Tour headquarters, what does the Tour need to do to make sure that this isn't something that falters in the future?
Billy Horschel and Jordan Spieth shake hands after completing the second round of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
BH: It’s funny, because from the outside, looking in, people would say that a lot of the things that the Tour’s doing right now is sort of reactive to the Saudi League or the Premier Golf League. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only thing they may have done that’s been reactive is the Player Impact Program. Everything else has always been in the works. We knew we were going to increase purses on the PGA Tour, depending on how well our negotiations go with our media rights — our new TV contracts. We knew if that went really well, our purses were going to substantially increase over the next decade. And that is the plan — we knew we were gonna get an influx of money from many different sources.
Right now I don’t think the Tour needs to do a whole lot. I talked to Jay (Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner) and said, you know, we just need to make sure that the model that we have do we think it is sustainable in 25 years. I think we do need to change some things up because as we go further down the road, we are going to be asking more from our sponsors and our partners, asking for more money that’s the only way we grow. You can’t stay stagnant. I think there are some things that we can do in the PGA Tour as a product, in the sense of changing up the schedule or changing up how many cards we have out on the PGA Tour, where we maybe take a few cards away, but we get more access to the guys coming from the Korn Ferry Tour.
We have such a great foundation and the players are so, so supportive of the PGA Tour, to me, I wouldn’t totally be worried about another organization coming in and trying to challenge us. And at the same time, I don’t fault any other player who wants to go play somewhere else if they think they can gain more financial benefit for themselves. I’ve never been against that at all. If that’s what some other players want to do, then that’s fine. I just don’t like when someone goes out the door or is wanting to go out the door who then wants to take shots at, as you said, the PGA Tour, which is my family.
GW: Shifting gears, let's talk Ryder Cup. I know you were a little bummed that Steve Stricker never called you — at least originally — and that you didn't get the chance to play, even though you said you probably didn't deserve it, numbers-wise. Is your career complete if you don't make a Ryder Cup and how does that still motivate you?
Billy Horschel hits a tee shot during the final round of the 2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
BH: Yeah, I mean, if my career ended right now, there’d be a couple of omissions that would really sort of leave a sour taste. That’s not winning at least one major and not being part of at least one team competition. So yeah, I mean, right now for me to say my career was a success, or a success in my eyes, I have to be a part of either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup team, preferably the Ryder Cup, just because I love that. There’s more, I don’t want to say animosity, but there’s just more energy, more atmosphere around it.
And then I want to win at least one major. I’ve got roughly a 10-year window to be able to accomplish both those things before I can sort of put the clubs away in the closet.
GW: Let’s talk family. I know your wife Brittany has previously been open about some of her struggles. You've been a model — at least from the outside — in handling some of these things. How has family life shaped the player and person that you've become?
Billy Horschel plays with his daughter Skylar as wife Brittany looks on during 2016 Masters Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)
BH: People looking from the outside when they see celebrities and athletes, they think we have it so great. We don’t have to worry about the day-to-day struggles that they deal with. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, maybe the one thing we don’t have to worry about nearly as much is the financial side, but we still have a lot of the same issues as a family who is working 9-to-5 jobs and has kids in school and playing sports. I think for me — for us — when we came out publicly about Brittany’s alcoholism, we just wanted to share, and try to help people and show people that they’re not alone out there. There are other people dealing with it as well.
And with us having three kids, I’ve had to learn to sort of get out of my own mode and my wife knows what that means. I’m so much into taking care of what I need to do well — my golf, my health, my fitness — and sometimes I’m not as present as I need to be. And so having kids and my wife going through what she went through, I had to really sort of step back. When I do come off the golf course, I need to be more present. I need to be more present when my kids are playing games and being involved in that. And when Britney’s asking for help or just wanting me to go somewhere with her and the kids, you know, not say no, because I feel tired.
I’m not afraid to admit I am a selfish person in certain things, especially when it comes to my golf and doing the right things. But I need to get out of that mode when I’m not on the golf course. And it’s been a great thing. I think that’s why I’ve actually played better golf over the last couple years. I’ve actually taken my mind away from the golf course and put it towards my kids. I’m not always thinking about golf 24-7, and that’s been a vital part of my success over the last few years.
GW: Last one. You stop at any of the gazillion Austin barbecue places— what do you go for? What's your preference?
Billy Horschel at the 2021 Tour Championship. (Photo: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports)
BH: I found this place a couple years ago, I was staying at a hotel right around the corner — Iron Works Barbecue. It’s really good. And I probably eat there at least three times during the week. It’s perfect. I love what they have. They have some great chicken and great brisket, which I love. Also, mac and cheese, which, I’m a big mac and cheese guy. Throw in some baked beans and garlic bread, too. I’m a happy guy.