The big payoff came Sunday for years of hard work. Billy Horschel finally realized his dream of winning on the PGA Tour by winning the Zurich Classic at New Orleans by one stroke over D.A. Points. And he did that by stroking a 27-foot birdie putt into the exact geometric center of the 18th hole.
Had he not done that, Points was just 4’9″ away from his own birdie and he’d been putting like a maniac. No way he was going to miss, especially with his fresh win a couple of weeks ago in Houston where he proved that he knew how to handle pressure. If Horschel missed he’d surely be in a playoff, yet another obstacle between him and his win.
The Tour knew that rain was coming, so they did a good job of moving up the tee times to early morning so that they would have a chance of avoiding a Monday finish. It turned out to be a brilliant stroke; there was a three hour delay late morning and just short of an hour delay with three groups left on the course.
But that actually didn’t bother Horschel at all:
Yeah, you know, for some reason whenever there’s been a delay, growing up in junior golf or college golf or even pro golf, I’ve always come back from the delay and played really strong. I’m not sure if it’s because I go in there and you never know when you’re going back out and you’re relaxed.
I think that’s what it is. I’m so pumped up for four rounds of golf and I’m so anxious to play. So for play to have to stop, for some reason it puts me at ease a little bit.
It must have really put him at ease because he came out and made six straight birdies:
To come back out and birdie six straight holes, that was huge. To try to separate myself from the field a little bit. I did my best, but you have to tip your cap to D.A. He played great. He nipped me in Houston, and I got him back here, so…
And by all that was right and true, he should have nipped him. That stretch of holes was magical. On holes 7 through 12 he made putts of: 2, 9, 4, 13, 6 and 15 feet. He already had one in the bank on the 5th and then added two more on the 16th and 18th to offset a lone bogey on 15. That was a tournament record-tying 8-under 64. He needed every one of those shots because he and Points began T2 and Points shot his own tidy 65.
Coming into the tournament Wednesday, he was once again speaking life into the future he envisioned for himself. He told Marin Senn, the CEO of Zurich Insurance and the sponsor of the event, that he would meet him on the 18th green Sunday:
I think it was more of a stupid comment than anything. It was just me trying to impress Martin a little bit, but I felt confident in the way I’ve been playing. I like this golf course. I’ve always felt like I played well on Pete Dye golf courses. He sort of tries to intimidate you with looks and everything off the tee and into the greens. But I think there is more room there than what you see.
So I felt confident coming in with the way I was playing, and I saw Martin Wednesday night, we chit‑chatted a little bit, and I said, “Hey, my plan is I’m going to see you on the 18 green.” I just tried to impress him, and it was somewhat of a dumb comment, but obviously, I lived up to it, so it’s not a dumb comment now.
Now he brushes it off as a dumb comment, but when those words crossed his lips he was in the future, the movie playing in his mind of his triumphant victory.
And Senn certainly took him at his word. As Horschel was making his way through the tunnel under the stands to the scoring tent, Senn had him in a headlock and might have been a touch more joyous than Horschel, if that was possible. You could tell by his positively face-breaking smile.
But for Horschel, his journey hadn’t been all smiles and joy and a bed of roses. There was a trail of the inevitable failures in professional golf:
I think 2011 at McGladrey hurt the most. Playing a golf course I played a lot in college, my coach being up there, a lot of family and friends. I didn’t play very well. But what hurt most was the way I handled myself on the golf course. It was pretty pathetic in my mind. I got called out on it from family and friends, and I don’t like doing anything wrong in front of my family or my friends, and that was a big turning point.
All the other close calls, none of them put a scar on me at all. I think it just gave me more motivation to work hard and get that first victory. I took more positives away from all of those than any negatives. So, like I said, there wasn’t much scar tissue at all. I played well. It just wasn’t my time, like I said. It was nice that today was my time. I think I was close, and it’s nice that I’m up here in front of you all talking about my first victory.
When Horschel was leading the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio after 54 holes, his post-round interview was so packed with forward-looking, transformation ideas and language that I was moved to write, “Billy Horschel: The Transformation is Well Underway.”
In light of his certitude and matter-of-fact prediction of victory, I highly recommend revisiting that post. It’s a nice morale builder and guide for accomplishing great things.