Billy Horschel: The Learning Curve is Flattening Out

Billy Horschel leads the Valero Texas Open by two shots after 36 holes. With two early bogeys, he still shot 4-under on the day to get to 8-under. Three guys are at 6-under, most notably, Charlie Hoffman.

Horschel could win at any time. He’s ready. I have been paying attention to him ever since he was paired with Tiger at Torrey Pines in the 3rd and 4th rounds. It was so impressive that while he faded all the way back to T39 at the end, he didn’t get flustered and looked like he belonged. It seemed he was always chatting with Tiger every time the camera showed the group. His scores may have been rising, but the simple act of hanging out with Tiger as they played along, although respectful, was another way of saying, “I belong.” 

And he had the same experience with Lee Westwood in the final round in Houston:

What I took away from last week’s finish was being in the final round, being paired with a top 5 player in the world, knowing that I can still hang with him.  I can do my own thing and not get caught up in his business and I played my game.  I’ve learned that I found ways to limit the distractions around me.  Not pay attention to scoreboards, not always looking around with the crowds cheering [it’s called tunnel vision].

I actually watched the coverage Sunday night after the tournament, and if I would have looked at the leaderboard, I can guarantee I would not have played as well.  Because when I saw everyone making birdies and the leaderboard fluctuating a lot, there was no chance I could have put that out of my mind [sometimes ignorance is bliss].

But what I’ve learned is I’ve learned a couple ways to limit the distractions and I’m pretty happy about mentally what I’m doing.

Coming down the stretch Friday, there was a lot of hoopla coming from the groups in front of him. There were four major champions trying to reach up the leaderboard: Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Rory McIlroy and Lee Janzen (the guy who was sobbing when he won his second U.S. Open because it had to have meant that his first one was not a fluke.)

So did any of this distract Horschel as he was finishing? Not at all and this is the kind of language that a centered player uses when he talks about it; “Hey, I belong out here.” And his language is matter of factual, not cocky.

I couldn’t care less if they won majors or not, honestly.  I know they’re good players and what they’ve done, but I feel I’m a good player in my own right.  I think you have to have that mindset.  You can’t think that these guys have won majors and then you start worrying about what they’re doing and you forget about yourself.

You’ve got to remind yourself, hey, I’m leading this golf tournament after two rounds, I’m that good.  I think over time I’m hopefully going to win my fair share of majors and win my fair share of tournaments.  I think if I just keep doing what I’m doing, everything will fall into place.

All of you who suffer through the “unfairness” of putts just missing or lipping out, here’s Horschel’s thinking on missed putts:

It happens.  I had a couple misreads, a couple of bad — lined up a little bad.  But I’m trying not to overanalyze when I miss putts.  I’m not trying to think, well, did I miss it because I did this and then I try something else on the next putt.  I’m just committed to the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple weeks with my putting.  Whether it goes in or whether it doesn’t, I’m just trying to hit good putts and that’s what it really comes down to.

The thing that makes that mindset possible — just hitting good putts — is extensive practice on 6-foot, straight putts. You have to stand there for hours over months finding out what it takes to knock a 6-foot, straight putt in the hole. This is where you fool around with all the things that go into a putting stroke.

Should you putt with your shoulders or your arms or your hands? Where is your weight distributed at address? (It should be slightly on your left side and stay there so that you don’t sway when your arms begin the backstroke. This also helps in putting “through” the ball.) Where are your eyes at address? Over the ball or inside the ball? Where is the ball in your stance? What’s the best position to put a good roll on it? Should your stroke be very linear, back and through, or is there a slight arc to it?

This is all the kinds of stuff that you have to sort out with a coach and practice. The only thing you should be thinking about as you get ready to pull the trigger is getting the ball in the hole.

Billy Horschel knows how to do all of that. He knows how to play through distractions. And he’s slept on a 36-hole lead before:

A couple times.  I’m not sure how many times, but yeah.

He may not win this week, but he will in due course. And that could, indeed, come due this week. He’s not only saying all the right things, he’s saying them as if they are completely ingrained in his belief system.

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