It was a tough day on a tough course at the Valero Texas Open on the TPC San Antonio. The co-leaders, Matt Bettencourt and Peter Tomasulo stayed within reach at 5-under.
The consensus among the players seemed to be that last year’s course idiosyncrasies (although they didn’t use that word) have been ironed out and what they were left with was a solid, Greg Norman-designed course, conceived as all of his courses are, as a strong test for Tour players. They softened some edges of greens and otherwise made it more fair.
And they needed that Thursday morning: it was cold and blowing and difficult. Padraig Harrington, who elected to play here because he wanted a competitive test of his game for Augusta, summed up the conditions for his 4-under round (T3) pretty well:
It was cold out there and it was windy, and that combination it’s not a day for ball striking. Really, most of the time you’re hitting knock‑down shots and swinging three‑quarter swings. You don’t want to get a ball in the air for any length of time. I’m not walking away from this round thinking, “Wow, I hit a number of pure golf shots” or anything like that. As I said, it was more of mental fortitude than ball striking today.
What made his round all the more impressive was that this was the first competitive round he played on the course:
I have a pretty decent record on first outings out on golf courses, especially tough golf courses, because I don’t have expectations. I’m not under pressure to go out there and shoot 8‑under par. Like going out there this morning, especially early on, it was a little bit of a battle of survival. It was colder here — it certainly felt a lot colder here today. Last week back in Ireland it was snowing and I didn’t feel as cold.
It was tough early on. In some ways that’s a nice thing, because you know just keeping it level par, and then you’re within your comfort zone. All of a sudden, you make a couple of birdies and you’re 3 or 4‑under par pushing on. But there certainly wasn’t the feeling standing in the first hole that you had to go low to stay in this tournament. There was the feeling of let’s just hang in there and stay in the tournament. Sometimes that lets you play a little bit more within yourself.
Billy Horschel is interesting because he’s the current holder of the PGA Tour Consecutive Cuts Made at 20. But with all of the notoriety coming out of the University of Florida, he probably expected things to happen a little faster for him. He was and is a terrific player.
He came out in 2009 and didn’t manage to get a complete season in until 2011. It was a promising start making 11 of 14 cuts, but only $533,000; not enough to be fully exempt in 2012. He wasn’t able to improve that with his T103 Q-School effort.
He only got into 17 events in 2012, but he made an impressive 15 cuts, but once again not enough money to be fully exempt in 2013. But he rectified that with a sterling T4 at Q-School and with his high priority number, he was able to get into early-year events. And he made the most of it.
He hasn’t missed a cut in 9 events and he’s already locked up his card for 2014 with $932,000 in winnings. But that’s probably just a passing milestone for him; like all good players out there, he has his mind on winning. And he is good enough to get that done.
There is a certain fastidiousness to him and his swing looks as tidy as he does. But even with that, he’s not sure how this whole Consecutive Cuts run got started:
I don’t know. I mean, I know my first couple years out here wasn’t great. I have high standards for myself, and I’m a perfectionist when it comes to golf. Off the golf course, maybe not so much; but on the golf course, I’m a perfectionist. In college, I was very consistent day‑in and day‑out, in tournaments always near the top of the leaderboard and finishing up near the Top 10 at least.
You turn pro and I tried a little too hard. I think that’s what the key was. I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well, didn’t allow myself to be free and allow it just to happen.
Then, also, you sort of realize what your weaknesses are a little bit. Not that I had a lot coming in. I just think I could have been a little bit more consistent day‑in and day‑out with my short game. I spent a lot of time on that with Todd Anderson. He’s got one of the best short game players in the world in Brandt Snedeker, so I’m sort of picking Brandt’s brain a little bit, trying to do the same drills he does and everything. Obviously, they’ve worked for him, why can’t it work for me?
But I think with my ball striking always being somewhat solid and I never really have to worry too much about that. I think it’s just more or less short game and making the putts inside 10 feet on a more consistent basis. Throwing in a couple of 15‑20‑footers around. Those are putts that keeps a round going or gets a round going with making a birdie or something.
So I think the run all started with me just being a little bit more — putting a little more time on a regular basis with my short game.
And then he got into a fascinatingly open dissertation on the difference between his golf and home standards for perfection:
Like I said, I’m not so much at home. I go through spells at home where my closet has to be in order. I don’t like clothes lying around. Then that doesn’t happen often. I just throw clothes in. I’ll organize my closet, and it will be great for a week or two maybe three at best. Then I just get tired of hanging them up and being in order and everything, and my wife knows that. So I go like a month or two where my closet’s just like all over the place. Then I’ll clean it back out.
I hate my car being dirty, but I don’t do anything about it (laughing). I guess that’s one thing. But when it comes to the golf course, I want to hit the ball perfect every time. I want every putt to be perfect every time. I want every chip to be perfect every time. I don’t want any mediocrity in my game, and I won’t even use it as a term.
It’s funny, my caddy will be like, Oh, that was good. And I’ll be like, Yeah, I didn’t think that great though. He says you just hit it 15 feet on the green, and I say, Yeah, but it didn’t feel great though. It’s just that I want everything to be perfect every time I hit a shot, and I’ve sort of understood that it’s not always going to be like that.
So I’ve sort of tried to lessen my standards a little bit. Still have high standards, but understand that 15 feet is still good. I guess that’s something along those lines.
Why all of that is of significance is that in his “confessions,” he reveals his humanity and that, in spite of the fact that he has high standards, he knows perfection is just a mind cleansing goal, however achievable.
It is okay to have them, indeed, they are central to his newfound success, but it’s also important to have a sense of proportion about them. That he can laugh at his willingness to put up with a dirty car is a good sign.