10 things Billy Horschel learned in 2014

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Billy Horschel’s 2014 is the perfect example of how quickly things can turn around in golf. Heading into September, he had only recorded two top 10s and looked like he’d struggle to match an encouraging 2013 where he’d earned his maiden PGA Tour victory, notched a tied-4th at the US Open and finished 16th in the FedEx Cup. Three weeks later he was the FedEx Cup Champion and $13.5 million richer thanks to a runners-up finish and two wins in the final three Play-Off events.

It’s fair to say his year has been a steep learning curve with a very happy ending. Here, he exclusively tells Golf World the big lessons he learned from his incredible journey in 2014.

1. The value of patience
Overall, 2014 was a weird year for me. It obviously ended well when I won the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, but for the first few months I was struggling more than a bit. That was disappointing because I had played so well in 2013. But I knew I was working on the right things. I knew I was doing all the things you need to do to get better. It just took time for them to show up in my results on the course. So I had to be patient – and I like to think I was.

2. You have to putt well
The biggest reason behind my early season frustrations this year was my poor putting. I felt good about what my coach, Todd Anderson, and I were doing on the range. But because I wasn’t making the putts you need to make to do well at tour level, any advances tee-to-green took a while to be obvious. Things really turned around when Todd made a change to my grip just before the second play-off event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, where I finished tied for second. Then, of course, I won in each of the next two weeks. All because I was making birdie putts from 10-20 feet.

3. The majors are different
Like almost everyone else on tour, I try to approach the major championships in the same way I do regular tour events. Physically that’s fine, but mentally it is a very difficult thing to achieve. Like it or not, the four biggest events in the game are special and it’s hard not to think about that fact in the lead-up to each one. Having said that, my preparation for all four is the same as any other week in as much as Todd and I come up with a plan of how I am going to play and the shots I am going to need. Inside, I still know they are different though.

Billy Horschel

4. The Masters is all about putting
More than perhaps any other event in the game, you have to putt well at the Masters to have any chance of winning. The US Open is typically more about ballstriking and hitting fairways and greens, but at Augusta National it is more about what happens on and around the greens. I made my first appearance there in 2014 and putting was my downfall. I made the cut – finishing T37 – but too many three-putts was my undoing. It’s really that simple, and that difficult, of a course.

5. True belief only comes with winning
I’ve always had confidence in my ability as a golfer. Even when I’m not playing that well, I never really lose that. But winning at the highest level has had such a positive effect on my outlook and attitude. Instead of just thinking I can do something or win tournaments, now I know I can do those things. That certainty has really helped me, especially under pressure down the stretch on Sunday afternoons. When I’m in position to win I know I have been there before. I know what it feels like. And I know I can get the job done. That’s a nice feeling to have.

6. I love Royal County Down
As part of the 2007 American Walker Cup side, I was lucky enough to play at Royal County Down. I enjoyed every second of that week. It was such a buzz to play for my country on such a wonderful golf course. So my appreciation for Newcastle is hardly new. And I bring it up because I know the 2015 Irish Open is going to be played there. I’ve already spoken with Rory McIlroy – against whom I played in 2007 – about the championship. And if it fits into my schedule, I’d love to go back.

7. I love the Open Championship too
The signs that my game was turning around actually started to show up before the start of the FedEx Cup play-offs. In fact, when I went over to England for the British I played pretty well. Yes, I missed the halfway cut, but that had more to do with me getting the wrong side of the draw than it did poor play on my part. It was frustrating, but I know that can happen across the Atlantic. I’ll be back next year, and every year. I love links golf and playing the ball on the ground.

Billy Horschel

8. The US should make the Ryder Cup fun
I wasn’t a part of the US side at the Ryder Cup in 2014. But, with a new baby at home, I watched almost every shot on television. What struck me most was the fact that the European players seemed to embrace and enjoy the event more than the Americans did. More than anything, that was the difference between the two teams. Even when they were losing a match, the Euro guys knew that it was all part of the bigger picture and so were able to move on. If I’m fortunate enough to make it into the next matches at Hazeltine in 2016 – and I intend to be there – remembering to have fun is something I will take with me.

9. A good coach is invaluable
As you may have noticed, I have mentioned Todd Anderson more than once when talking about my play in 2014. He has been my coach for a few years now and every season I realise even more what he brings to my game. Yes, I hit the shots, but it is Todd that has given me a technique good enough to allow me to compete at the highest level. And his knowledge of the swing, and my swing in particular, allows him to make a difference at times when I need help. His putting tip at the Deutsche Bank is a typical example of that. He’s been a huge part of my success, and I can’t say enough about him.

10. I want to play more with Rory McIlroy
I gained a lot of confidence from my play this year, in the second half of the season especially. But the biggest boost I got was playing the last two rounds of the Tour Championship with the best player in the game right now. It doesn’t get much better than looking Rory in the eye and beating him. I know he will get his share of victories over me and everyone else in future, but it was nice to play as well as I did with him for company. Hopefully, we can look forward to many more battles in the years to come.

Billy Horschel