In my “five players to watch this week” article, I told you all the reasons why I thought players like Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, and Jason Day could win this week’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links. I even called Day the favorite for the event, and I still think he is.
But, here’s a player who’s flying under most people’s radar after a week off.
Billy Horschel was playing tremendous golf leading into the Masters. The University of Florida graduate came from out of nowhere in most casual golf fans’ eyes this season. He shouldn’t have. The 26-year-old is in his fourth PGA Tour season, and he has some serious game.
Horschel is really the textbook definition of a Tour grinder. An individual medalist at the 2006 US Amateur and three-time All-American in college, Horschel turned pro in 2009, but has hit seemingly every stumbling block a player of his talent can hit.
After making it through “Q school” to earn his 2010 PGA Tour membership, a wrist injury limited him to just four starts and no cuts made. He then went through the qualifying tournaments again to secure 2011 membership, even though he had a medical extension which would have made it easier for him to maintain his card. His highest finish in that 2011 season was a tie for 13th at the Mayakoba (now OHL) Classic in Cancun, but he found his way to 140th on the money list and stayed on for 2012.
Despite a near breakthrough with a third-place finish at the 2012 True South Classic, Horschel had to go through Q School a third time just to be on Tour this year. While the Masters took the attention of the entire golf world, Horschel nearly secured an invite to Augusta this year — twice.
With ties for second at the Shell Houston Open and third at the Valero Texas Open (one stroke behind world no. 2 Rory McIlroy), nobody is playing more solidly than Horschel right now.
This season, he ranks 23rd on Tour in both ball striking and strokes gained putting, and fifth in par breakers (over 25 percent through 40 rounds played). Harbour Town is going to put a premium on consistent play on and around the greens, and he’s got his game in shape right now.
Don’t underestimate the combination of preparation and determination. Many players wouldn’t have struggled through injuries and qualifying as much as Billy Horschel. One of these days, maybe this weekend, he’ll be hoisting the winner’s trophy on the PGA Tour.