Billy Horschel: Working on the same stuff I am

Billy Horschel won the biggest purse in golf when he simultaneously won the 2014 Tour Championship and the year long race for the FedExCup. A mere $11.44 million for a lifetime of hard work. He gave his caddie a $1 million bonus and left $10,000 for the locker room attendants.

I came across him practicing on the range Tuesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and he seemed to be a little lost. The reason I know is that for the forty-five minutes I watched him, he was working on the same thing I’ve been working on in my own swing: keeping his right elbow close to his body on his back swing. He does that well in the above video from 2013.

Curt Byrum, the announcer in the video, credits Horschel’s coach, Todd Anderson, for this beautiful swing. But Tuesday he and Anderson were searching for it again. How could that happen to such a great player? 

It is so interesting that someone who rose to the pinnacle of golf would be lost in space a year and a half later. But to diffuse some of the drama here, we’re talking about very small margin in his case: he finished T8 last week in the horrid conditions at the Farmer’s Insurance Open in La Jolla, California. You don’t finish that well in those conditions unless your swing is pretty tight. And to win that Tour Championship, after missing the cut in the first playoff tournament (The Barclay’s), he finished T2, 1, 1 in the last three.

I arrived before Anderson arrived. Horschel and his caddie were shooting videos of his swing on a cell phone, of all things. That’s how good cell phones have gotten. Horschel’s attention was on whether his right elbow was flaring away from his body on the back swing and whether his left shoulder was moving down and to the left on the follow through of his downswing. Anderson helped him feel the latter and 45 minutes later they had lost interest in the “fix” and were all joking about the playing conditions last week.

These are the kinds of things that come upon you suddenly as you’re hitting balls. For me, it was about feeling like there was no leverage at the top of the swing with my elbow drifting aimlessly away from my body. Horschel was exaggerating it for the purpose of demonstrating to his caddie and coach what he was trying not to do. He also was able to scroll through the videos on his cell phone to tournaments when it was all right on the button.

When it got to that left shoulder moving properly through the follow through, Alexander merely place his palm on Horschel’s shoulder and gently pushed it straight back rather than letting it chase the swing down the line.

This is all about consciousness or mindfulness. It is one of the great mysteries of golf. You think you have a comprehensively developed and balanced swing and all of a sudden, you have this uncomfortable, quirky feeling that comes out of nowhere. Somewhere in its history, some other “drift from what was working” is now impinging on what worked. And conscious or unconscious adjustments or compensations get added and before you know it, you have a flying right elbow and a swing speed that has slowed down. Plus there’s the seductive compulsion to “try to get better.” So you start trying to fix it. Or, “Maybe that’s it! The Secret!”

The point of all of this is that this is the way of golf. It happens to everybody all of the time. What to do? Stay in the emotionless, objective process of exploring the swing…and trust a good coach to help you feel your way back.

At least that was what Billy Horschel did.

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