Billy Horschel didn’t sugarcoat it when asked to assess his play ahead of 2023 Memorial

Billy Horschel didn’t sugarcoat it when asked to assess his play ahead of 2023 Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio – Swing instructor Sean Foley likes to say that the relationship between PGA Tour pros and their coaches should be measured in dog years.

That’s because when Tour pros hit a slump they typically point fingers at either their caddie or their coach.

“You can’t change your wife,” Foley joked.

Billy Horschel returns to Muirfield Village Golf Club this week as the defending champion, but his game has soured since he claimed his seventh PGA Tour at the Memorial last June. Horschel didn’t try to sugarcoat it when asked to assess his play during a pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday.

“The season’s been pretty bad, pretty abysmal, to tell you the truth,” said Horschel, who entered the week No. 108 in the FedEx Cup standings, with only the top 70 advancing to the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and reconnected with caddie Micah Fugitt earlier this month.

2023 Memorial Tournament

Billy Horschel walks the ninth fairway with his caddie Micah Fugitt during a practice round ahead of the 2023 Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. (Photo: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

But it has only sent the 36-year-old Horschel, who played on his first U.S. Presidents Cup team last fall, back to the drawing board with his longtime coach, Todd Anderson. The duo is approaching 15 years of working together, which is a lot of dog years.

In the fall of 2008, Horschel was on the verge of graduating from the University of Florida, where coach Buddy Alexander had helped turn him into an All-American talent. But Alexander also knew that Horschel would need someone to look after him on a full-time basis once Horschel turned pro. He recommended three potential coaches for Horschel to visit.

“I was the first one that he came to see, and he didn’t go see the other two, and we’ve been working ever since,” Anderson said.

In addition to the Memorial last year, Horschel has won a World Golf Championship, a Tour Championship and FedEx Cup (2014), and the BMW Championship, the flagship event of the DP World Tour. Horschel demands a lot of himself and those on his team, and he and Anderson, who he calls one of his best friends and a mentor, have developed a trust and confidence that have made their relationship thrive.

“He takes care of me like I’m a family member,” Anderson said. “He’ll pick you up on the way to the course, whatever it is. If he hears I have to take a shuttle to the course, he’ll say, ‘No, I’ll just come by and get you.’ It might be a mile or two out of his way, but he’s going to drive by and pick you up so you don’t have to take the shuttle in.

“If he goes to a major and rents a house, I’m always going to have a room there if I want it. If we’re going to the British Open, we’re flying together, I’m flying first class with him, and I’ve worked with I don’t know how many Tour players over the years, they’re not all like that. In fact, most of them aren’t like that.

“The other thing is, I don’t know if you want to print this or not – we have an agreement at the end of the year, he’s always given me a bonus every year I’ve worked with him, and I can’t say that for hardly any other Tour player I’ve worked with.”

But the relationship has been put to the test of late. This off-season, Horschel and Anderson attempted to make some changes to his swing that backfired. After missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Horschel and Anderson and the rest of his team engaged in a lively 45-minute discussion about the state of his game in the parking lot. When he got back to his hotel, Horschel’s frustration boiled over.

“I’m not a sappy guy,” Horschel said. “But I broke down and I cried a little bit.”

He and Anderson have diagnosed the problem and they’ve seen some encouraging signs.

“It’s getting closer, but it’s still a little bit of a challenge and it’s just some bad habits I’ve gotten into that we’re just trying to work out of,” Horschel said.

During the course of their 15-year relationship, Anderson conceded there have been rough patches for Horschel before, but they’ve always worked through them. He’s a big believer in staying the course.

“I think where a lot of players make mistakes is that they jump around from coach to coach. You look at the best players in the world, they don’t change coaches,” Anderson said, noting World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler has worked with the same coach (Randy Smith) since childhood as has Rory McIlroy (Michael Bannon) while Justin Thomas has had his dad as his coach his entire career.

“I think there’s a certain trust and chemistry that has to be established.  I think that’s where a lot of these young players that jump around to different coaches, they lose that continuity,” Anderson said. “If you start jumping around to a bunch of different coaches and they start messing up the foundation that’s made you great, that’s when you really get lost, when you lose the foundation of who you are as a player. Billy’s always stuck with me and always kind of believed in the process that we would go through to try to get him back on track.”

And they’ll search for that track together with dogged determination.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek