PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Billy Horschel is determined not to let the difficulty of the Champion Course define how he views the Honda Classic.
In fact, Horschel, who is golf’s version of Florida Man (not in the irrational, maniacal way) having been born, educated and still living in the state, enjoys the state’s challenging courses. A view unlike some of his peers who have waved the white flag in recent years when it came to the Jack Nicklaus-redesigned course.
“The courses are tough, and it can be a grind,” Horschel said. “But sometimes when you’re not playing well on easy golf courses it’s just as taxing, maybe more taxing because you know birdies have to be made and when you’re not making birdies, everyone else is making birdies.
“On the harder golf courses, par is a really good score, and it makes it a little bit easier. If you’re not on top of your game, you don’t have to worry about making six, seven, eight birdies a round to stay with the rest of the field.”
That is a unique way of looking at it, which is why Horschel is one of three of the top 25 golfers in the world who have decided to kick off his Florida Swing by playing Honda this week, even if it means teeing it up five consecutive weeks.
Managing time key to playing 5 straight
Horschel says it’s been “quite awhile” since he played five in a row. He’s coming off an uneven start having tied for 32nd two weekends ago at the Phoenix Open before missing the cut at the Genesis Invitational last week with a 74-73. But he’s counting on the experience of 14 years on Tour to get him through the stretch.
“I think I know how to manage my time,” he said. “It makes it a little bit easier out of five weeks, three are in Florida where I can drive. I know all these courses well. It’s not something I have to necessarily grind away at learning the golf course or traveling a lot. That makes it a lot easier.”
Horschel was raised about 90 miles from PGA National in Brevard County. His degree is stamped with a Florida Gator. He lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, which is where The Players Championship, his fifth tournament in the five-week stretch, is held. Horschel turned pro in 2009 and has played Honda every year since 2011 with the exception of 2012 and 2021.
And his success has been mixed. Horschel had consecutive top 10s in 2016 (8th) and 2017 (4th) and last year’s 16th place finish was his second top 20 in his the last three starts (16th in 2019). But he’s also missed the cut four times, three of those in his first four attempts at the Champion Course.
Still, being a native tugs on his heart.
“I feel like I need to play the courses in Florida as much as I can,” he said. “It’s no different than the guys from Texas; they play the majority of the Texas events. Guys from California play the majority of the California events.
“And being born and raised not far from Honda, I love that area, the support from fans down there has always been great. There’s lot of Gators down there.”
Every pin-high approach is met with a Gator Chomp in Horschel’s gallery.
But of his seven PGA Tour victories, Horschel has never hoisted a trophy on his native soil.
“I’d like Honda to be the first,” he said.
Horschel’s career highlight occurred in May 2022 on the 18th green at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He had just won Nicklaus’ event by four shots when his three children rushed the green, all trying to get a piece of daddy.
Horschel later said it was a moment he will never forget.
“I just always wanted that one moment where my family runs out, the kids run out and I can always look back for many years to come and they can look back for their entire lives of being on the green and congratulating their father for a victory,” he said.
Losing friends to LIV ‘sucks’
Horschel understands the changes golf is going through and the turbulence caused by LIV Golf that has taken away many of his peers.
“It sucks, he said.
Of the 11 top-50 golfers in the Honda field a year ago, six have since joined LIV. He is friends with Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Cameron Smith and others on the tour that is financed by Saudi Arabia. Koepka, Poulter and Westwood played Honda a year ago.
Horschel misses them but understands they made personal decisions.
“They made a decision that puts their happiness to the forefront and that is big for all of us,” he said. “We all make decisions that are best for us and our future. They try not to look back and I think everyone on the Tour has done the same with the decisions they made to stick with the PGA Tour.”