Billy Horschel was just minding his own business…and ended up the 36-hole co-leader with Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open at Merion.
The day didn’t start out this promising however. Because of the weather delays on Thursday, beginning on the 11th tee, he was only able to play seven holes with two bogies. And when he came back out Friday morning at 7:15 am to the 18th tee, he immediately made one more; 3-over par and the first round not even half over.
But he hung there with all pars on his back nine — no mean feat — and finished off with a closing birdie on the 10th which got him down to 2-over. And then he went to the 1st hole for his second round and shot the low round of the day, a 3-under 67.
Yeah, I’ll take the round. It was a good day. Obviously it was a long day in 29 holes.
But as I was telling people earlier in the week, I knew the weather was going to be bad Thursday, that there may be delays, I may not finish my round on Thursday, but I liked it better where I could play one round and go right into the next round, instead of playing Thursday and all the delays and wait all day today and get nine holes in.
I feel better when I play more and more holes. I feel more comfortable and get better rhythm.
His strategy was pretty straightforward. It was the same as all the other good players, he just did it better than anyone else. (For now; there are still 68 players that need to finish Friday’s round beginning at 7:15 am on Saturday morning.):
Yeah, I think some of the pins you can take on, and there are some pins if you do take on and you miss, you miss badly. You pay the price for it.
I was pretty happy if I hit 20, 25 feet, if I made the putt I was happy with it. And there’s some other pins you can go more aggressive with and get a little closer.
But it was a great day. Four birdies at a U.S. Open, I’ll take it. I wish I had a couple more, though.
So that was the strategic golf part. But what about the mastery part. What did he do to rein himself in under such pressure?
I’ve acquired some patience, not as much as I wish I had. But I just think that the older I get, the more mature I get on the golf course, the more understanding that if I do have a bad stretch of holes, I don’t — it’s not that I don’t hit the panic button, I just don’t press right away. You’re going to have a couple of bad holes, but if you get in a flow you can sort of get something going.
But the patience is something that has always been a struggle for me. I’m doing a really good job of it this week, staying patient and just taking what’s in front of me. I’m trying to keep a smile on my face and be happy with anything I do. If I can execute every shot, that’s all I can try to do out there this week.
How did he come to develop that sense of patience?
I worked with sport psychologist Fran Pirozzolo; he’s been great. I’ve been working with him for a year now. It’s tough because I can’t say what we’ve worked on because it’s analogous [sic] in my brain, I can’t think of it.
But we just talked about committing to every shot, execution. And I think it’s just — like I said, I think patience has come from the older I get, the more I can understand that I don’t have to get off to a hot start. If I do, if I’m a couple over after a few holes, then that’s fine.
I was 2‑over after 7 holes yesterday, after I finished, and I walked off the golf course and I wasn’t upset at all. I played well, I executed a lot of golf shots, just nothing went in the hole.
So like I said, I don’t have the most patience as a lot of guys out here, but I’ve grown week in and week out.
One of the things that helped him shoot 3-under Friday to get to 1-under for the tournament was to eliminate the distractions. He also gives two examples of the distractions. But it is by no means a complete list. The thing about them though is that you don’t even recognize them as such while they have your attention; it’s generally only after the fact:
It’s another tournament. I know it’s a big event. I know it’s a historical event. But one thing that me and Fran have worked on is limiting the distractions. I get distracted too easily out there on the golf course and off the golf course.
So it’s more or less just focus on what I do, don’t worry about anybody else. Don’t worry about the crowd noise. Don’t worry about what your playing partners are doing, just focus on what I’m trying to do. I’m not going to think about any of that. I’m just going to think about trying to execute every golf shot from here on in for the next 36 holes. If I can do that, we’ll see what happens on Sunday.
Note that none of that or his subsequent comments have anything to do with swing thoughts. Here he talks about “comfort level:”
It’s gotten a lot more comfortable with that. Like I’ve said in the past, I’ve felt more comfortable coming from behind, something I’ve always done throughout my career. There’s not many tournaments that I’ve led going into the final round. I know I’ve led some the last 36. But with Fran in the picture, I’m more comfortable with being in the lead or near the lead going into the weekend.
Like I said, it’s just all about limiting distractions and not thinking about scenarios, what happens if I win or anything. It’s just focusing on what I do best, and that’s playing golf.
For all his good play Friday, here he admits to nervousness…and not being in the zone. On the other hand, he hit all 18 greens and didn’t even know it until after the round:
No, I was not in the zone, trust me. This golf course, even though it’s soft, is still a tough golf course. I know what in the zone is for me. I don’t get nervous, I just see the shot and go. And I saw the shot and I went with it, but I was still nervous with a lot of them. Your misses here can be bad if you miss in the wrong spots.
I wasn’t in the zone, I was just focused on what I tried to do. I didn’t know I hit every green until I walked off 18. It’s a cool thing. But like I said, it’s not the first time I’ve hit all 18 greens. I’ve done it plenty of times in my career. Obviously it’s at a U.S. Open, but I think the softness of the greens helped that.
And, having grown up playing in the Florida wind, he offered a mindset on how to effectively deal with the wind:
Yeah, I grew up playing in the wind. I feel like I control my golf ball pretty well, flight it well. I try to use the wind as a my friend. I try not to hit shots to go up against it unless it calls for it. But, yeah, just growing up in Florida, playing the wind since I was a little kid, I’m just so comfortable with it.
He also talked about the momentum with which he’s been playing this year. The gold is in the last paragraph where he talks about coming to a round with an optimistic point of view. That no matter how bad elements of his game are, he knows that he can find a way to play well:
You know, I was like that in college. I played really well pretty much every event I played in. I had a lot of top‑10s, a lot of top‑5’s. I had a few victories, not as many as I would have liked in college.
But I think once I got on that little roll [today], I knew how to keep it going. I just felt like I was back in my college days. I knew how to keep it going.
I feel like when I come to the golf course, no matter how bad I hit it or how bad my short game is or how bad I’m putting during the practice round days, once I get to Thursday, I flip a switch and find some way to play well. That’s what I did in college and that’s what I’m doing now.
And how will he keep Friday’s momentum going on Saturday?
Keeping momentum? Don’t worry about anybody else. Keep doing the same thing I’m doing. I’m going to hit a couple of balls, hit a couple of putts, work with Todd Anderson, my teacher, and we’re not going to change anything.
Everything seems good. I’ve just got to stay patient and keep committing and executing every shot and I’ll be okay on Sunday.
Now we may not be able to execute every shot like he can, but it’s all relative. If we can at least go into each shot fully committed to it and optimistically expecting that we will execute each shot, we’ll get our share of passable ones.
We’ll see how he does Saturday playing with a pretty big distraction in Phil Mickelson and his adoring fans. But to his credit, he might have been thinking ahead: in Wednesday’s practice round, he played with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. No matter where you are on the golfer’s food chain, there’s nothing like knowing that you belong.