Billy Horschel has a two-stroke lead at the Tour Championship over Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Chris Kirk and seems to be just churning along at the top of the leaderboards. Ever since he missed the cut in the first Playoffs event, The Barclays, he seems to have found himself. He went home after that for some deep introspection and collaboration with his wife about why he hadn’t played to his potential. He was being impatient.
In the next event, the Deutsche Bank in Boston, he finished T2 after shockingly shanking his approach shot on 18 into the hazard. It was the clank heard round the world. How would he recover from such a thing? No problem:
“My confidence was never shaken by that shot that I hit on 18 at Deutsche Bank. Listen, it was a bad swing at the wrong time. I know I’m a better player than that. I’ve shown I’m a better player than that. And unfortunately just as a golf shot that happens.”
“So I was over it. I took a lot of confidence from the way I played that round or that week, especially that round. And carried it over into Denver [where he won the BMW]. I’m a guy that when I feel good about my game, I’ve got some confidence that I’m going to figure out some way to play well and score a number.”
“I’m just going to keep it going. And that’s what’s been carrying over the last three weeks.”
We have been over this ground on Horschel before. But it bears revisiting again because of the importance of the lesson he learned about how to just step over an unsettling moment like that rather than being blocked by it for some unspecified period into the future. He was able to do that because of his certainty in his ability. A 15-handicap would have that same boost from knowing that he is a very good 15, even if he isn’t from time to time.
Horschel understood that anytime you can cling to your sense of yourself as a player, good things will routinely flow to you. It’s when you give up on yourself that trouble ensues. He knew that in the long run, trusting yourself is the way to get better.
He knew that that sense of yourself comes from “putting yourself in position” to win, such as holding interim leads:
“I know I’ve had some 36‑hole leads and I think before last week I’ve only had one 54‑hole lead. But going into last week and having that lead and executing the game plan almost to a tee that I had, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that when I’m in that lead I can play my game and I can still come out on top.”
“I think the better thing that I think about is that I didn’t have my A game. I didn’t play very great. I didn’t play very solid the last round. I made some mistakes but I was able to scrape it around and make a score and come out on top.”
“So I think that gives me a lot of confidence that I know I can close out a tournament if I can do my thing and focus on what I’m doing, not let someone else or some other guys affect how I’m going about my game plan.”
Asked about his strategy for Saturday, he alluded to the brave new world of golf statistics he discussed recently where he revealed that he has now hired a statistician to drive his hole-by-hole decision making.
“Really no different than the last two days. We’ve got a game plan that we came up with between my teacher, Todd Anderson, and my caddie, Micah, and we’re going to stick to it. We’ll have some information from the way the course is playing before we tee off and take that into account.”
“But we’re going to be aggressive on the holes we can be aggressive, and the holes where pars are good score, we’re going to make sure that we’re putting it in the right place at least make par. So nothing different. Not thinking any different. Just doing my thing and whatever anybody else wants to do out there I’m fine with.”
He will be paired with Rory McIlroy in the last group. That should be very entertaining.