Billy Horschel had an impressive looking scorecard in Saturday’s third round of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. First of all, it said 63 when he finished counting up the 7 birdies he made. But what was interesting about it was that it demonstrated two sides of a pretty hot player right now.
First, it demonstrated his patience; he only had 2 birdies on the front, on 1 and 8. That’s an eternity to wait for someone with Horschel’s up-on-the-edge-of-his-chair style of play. And second, it demonstrated the payoff of that aggressive style of play; 5 birdies on the back on 10, 14, 15, 17 and 18.
That got him to 13-under and with a 3-shot lead over Ryan Palmer in 2nd by himself. Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson are two strokes behind him and T3.
Because the wind was going to be down, Horschel knew the scores would be low and that he needed to make some birdies:
“I knew today was going to be very similar to yesterday. Except the wind was going to be a lot less, so there was going to be some very low scores out there. You’re going to have chances to make a lot of birdies. So, I just went out there. My caddie and I have been doing a really good job thinking this week for a new golf course, trying to be aggressive when we can be and back off a little bit when we need to be.”
“We have a great team around me with [his coach] Todd Anderson. He’s not here this week, but he did some good work with me last week.”
But teams have been expanding on the PGA Tour. The latest must-have team member is a stats guy. ShotLink data has opened up a brave new world of statistical analysis that helps players make better percentage choices about how they play each hole on a course:
“And then the stats guy I’ve been working with this year, Mark Horton, has been a big help. Not only for myself but for my caddie too, Micah. Really just showing us the way holes should be played and just better course management. I feel like we have always done a good job beforehand, but I think we do a lot better job with him just having the stats to back up some stuff.”
But all things take a little time to percolate and not much happened in Horschel’s game at first. He assured a worried Horton that it wasn’t his fault:
“It’s been unfortunate because I feel like he’s helped a lot beginning of the year, the results just haven’t shown. It’s sort of frustrating, because I kept telling him like hey, we’re doing the right things, it’s not happening. And I didn’t want him to feel bad about me not playing well, and I didn’t want him to think he was the cause of it, because he wasn’t, he was actually helping us. The results just didn’t happen to show up as quickly as we wanted.”
“But, having him on the team — he helps us prepare for the way we should play golf out there. Just certain holes, how holes are playing, and everything. And he’s been a big help with course management and a couple other things that you can always improve on.”
Here’s an example of why there’s a little lead time in incorporating Horten’s suggestions. When they started looking at his stats this year, they saw that his putting had slipped substantially. But it takes time to put things as delicate as that back together:
“You look at my stats, it’s been my putter this year. Last year I was Top-20, Top-25 in strokes gained putting, and this year, I’m somewhere down 120, 130. And I just haven’t been making any putts from 10 to 20 feet (before the last two weeks) to get some momentum. I played some good rounds, hit some really good shots, and I wouldn’t make the birdies from 10 to 20 feet to get something going, it was unfortunate.”
“And the last two weeks, only thing we really been focused on, because my putting has been really good, I just been focusing a lot on speed. Because the speed has been really inconsistent this year, hitting a little too hard, a little too soft. We read them really well. We just don’t hit them with the speed and the line that we need. So, that’s the thing we have been focusing on is just the speed and making sure that — I keep harping on it, it’s just speed. Focus on speed on the putting greens.”
One of the key skills Tour pros have is the ability to just let mistakes go. You made it, it happened, move on. The media had some curiosity about Horschel’s ill-timed shank on the 18th hole in last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship. How did he process that and how long did it take him to get back in the game?
“I didn’t process anything. It was a bad swing at the wrong time. I’m a guy who doesn’t dwell on a lot of stuff. I sort of let things roll off my shoulders. I got some really thick skin, so nothing really bothers me too much.”
“And listen, I’m a better player than what I showed with that golf shot. I wasn’t nervous over it. I was telling my caddie, you know, when I saw Kirk miss the putt, I said I’m going to hit this on the green, and I’m going to make eagle, and we’re going to win this tournament.”
“And that’s just the way I think. There’s nothing that I should be down about — about the way I played last week, and so it wasn’t a big deal. It was nothing to process, nothing to get over, it happens, that’s the way golf is.”
On the whole, he played great last week and he came into this week expecting the same thing. That shank was not a reflection of his talent; he knew he was on a run:
“I’m a momentum player. If you look back at last year when I got on a little roll, I kept it going for a long time. It’s just the kind of player I am. I knew coming into this week I was going to play well”
“Obviously, what happened on Monday, the 6-iron into the hazard, it happened. It’s not a big deal. Just a bad swing at the wrong time. You can’t dwell on things like that. There was a lot more positives from last week to take than just one bad swing on the last hole. So, I knew coming in I was going to play well. I like the golf course, and I’m in a great position going into Sunday.”
There can be a lot of pressure in trying to close out a win on the PGA Tour, primarily because everybody is just so damned good. In match play, you’re playing one guy. On the Tour you’re playing 144 or 156 depending on the amount of daylight. So you have 143 guys with the same searing intention as you do.
But if you’re really good at it, you like the feel of that pressure; it means you have a chance:
“Yeah, we work hard to — all the guys out here, we work hard to be in a position to win a golf tournament. And I’m in the best position you can go, going into Sunday.”
“I’ve been in some leads last year, and they haven’t worked out. But, you think I’ve learned enough in the last year or year and a half, to deal with what’s going to come from tomorrow. I’m not going to change anything I’ve done the last two weeks, I’m just going to go out there, be focused. I’m going to do my thing and not let anything affect me.”
“And have fun. Golf’s fun. And as much as we — there’s a lot of stuff that’s on the line, it’s a fun round of golf. It’s a challenge out there, and that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple weeks, just having fun and embracing the challenge of playing a great round of golf.”
And he doesn’t intend to ruin the fun by looking at the scoreboard. He has discovered that it doesn’t work for him. He delegates that chore to his caddie who his expected to let him know if he needs to amp it up as they come down the stretch. But if he doesn’t, he just wants to be left to golf bliss:
“The one thing that I probably haven’t done as well this year, as I did last year, is I haven’t — I’ve been looking too much at the scoreboard. I’m a guy who too much information sort of affects me. I think my mind starts going on and on.”
“So, I’m trying really hard the last two weeks of not looking at the scoreboard. I didn’t know where I stood out on the golf course. I was just doing my own thing.”
“I seem to — there’s other tournaments throughout the year where we don’t have the electronic scoreboards, and I seem to play really well there. When I missed the cut at Barclays, there was a couple things I was thinking about. Things that I needed to change to perform better because I felt like my game was in the right place. I just wasn’t getting the results, and that’s one of the things I saw was I just need to stop looking at the scoreboard. It does me no good.”
“Now, in saying that, will I look at the scoreboard tomorrow some time on the backside? Possibly. But, my caddie knows, Micah knows that he needs to look at the scoreboard, and he needs to tell me if I need to do something coming down the stretch. So, yeah, I don’t look at the scoreboard.”
With all of this going on in the background on Sunday — the glow of last week’s play, the ability to put mistakes behind him, a team of consultants to help him sort it all out, being someone who thrives on pressure but not enough to look at the scoreboard — it will be very interesting to watch his demeanor, to watch his eyes, and see if all of it will bring him his coveted victory.