CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Davis Love III tried to warn us. One of the players he had sat during Presidents Cup day one wasn’t exactly sitting.
“Billy Horschel, I told him over and over again, don’t wear yourself out today,” Love said late Thursday night to a handful of reporters at Quail Hollow. “He kept zipping by me in a cart, back and forth.”
The Horschel story is a notable theme this week. Match play is his thing. But not once, over 35 years on earth, and 13 years as a pro, has he been called on for a Presidents or Ryder Cup team. He can also run hot, and even he admits this. And you’ve seen what this environment can do to a person. Shoot, if stoic Patrick Cantlay can call for cheers at one of these things, what the heck is Billy Horschel going to do?
Something like Friday.
Over 18 holes and five hours, there was a butt slap (the good kind). And an overhead club throw (the bad kind). And fist-bumps for any kid who asked for one. There were five (!) near hole-outs from bunkers. And questionable chips that you’ll never remember because of what came next. We saw some things. If you want the conclusion, Horschel and partner Max Homa defeated Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith 1-up in best ball, and the United States leads the Internationals 8-2. But you’re gonna miss some of this week’s best parts if you click away now.
After all, this was how Horschel previewed himself.
“What everyone’s been building — I’ll say this in a nice way. It’s not a bad way. I’m not trying to make me look good,” Horschel said Tuesday. “But everyone has been building me up because of how much energy I have and some of the celebrations I have on the course at times, but a lot of that is organic. A lot of that’s natural. It comes to me, and then it just is a natural reaction to things.
“So when Davis says, we’ve got to rein Billy in with his energy or we want Billy on the 1st tee pumping everyone up, I’m like you’re killing me here. You’re like pumping me up — not to fail.”
That Horschel did not. Let’s walk the course with him.
They have one this week, and it’s set up over a 200-or-so yard stretch from a practice green to the 1st tee, with fans alongside ropes at the start, and a walk underneath a 2,500-seat buildout in the middle. Think a college football-stadium entrance. It pumps you up. And Horschel is getting going. His right arm is around Homa’s shoulder, and he’s in his left ear. Homa is a team-event rook, too, though he played on Thursday.
Horschel pars 1, after a drive into a left fairway bunker, a second shot into a greenside bunker, and a third shot to 15 inches. He bends his knees forward after the near-make. (This sand story will develop; just wait.)
There’s some early spice, too.
When Conners misses a 4-footer for birdie to win the hole, Horschel lifts his right hand to the left side of his face, his palm facing away, shouts something back to the green and walks away.
“It was really fun watching Billy,” Homa said afterward. “Obviously, I had my first yesterday so I knew what it feels like, and it’s an exciting thing. It’s really cool.
“So to be able to walk those fairways with Billy, you know, I know he’s a high motor guy, as they say. But when he hit his bunker shot on 1, I mean, Billy’s a gamer. He’s a guy you want to play with. He’s a competitor, and he’s clutch as can be. So I knew he was going to be in his environment.”
The fan comments
Horschel crowd comment break. On 1, you hear: Let’s go, Gators. That makes sense: Horschel is a Florida Gator alum. You also pick up: Let’s go, Bills. But there aren’t multiple Williams playing. And Buffalo, home of the NFL’s Bills, plural, is a long drive north. Let’s move on.
On the walk to the 3rd tee, after the teams halved the 2nd, Horschel fist-bumps dozens of kids.
Assistant captain Fred Couples is out watching the group now. Horschel is again in a greenside bunker, hits to 2 feet, 1 inch from there, and he and his caddie, Mark Fulcher, believe they’re good; Fulcher is a good 75 feet away. But Horschel is forced to mark by the International gang, there’s a pause, and he sidearms his ball across the green and over to his caddie .
When Pendrith and Conners par, Horschel is told he can pick up. Crisis averted.
Club toss No. 1
Before we go further, a tip of the cap to the tee box volunteer on No. 4. Pendrith is done with his chewing gum, he hands it to his caddie, who then hands it to the worker, who tosses it into the trash. Gross.
In golf news, Horschel is again in a greenside bunker, he again nearly holes-out; he’s three for four in the category now. Homa, meanwhile, narrowly misses a 31-footer, and Horschel’s putter goes skyward. That’s club toss No. 1.
He can’t catch it, though, and he repairs the mark it left on the green. Horschel then cleans up after the Internationals miss par putts, and USA leads 1-up.
A fourth near hole-out from the bunker — in five holes
From his fourth greenside bunker in five holes, Horschel nearly holes-out for the fourth time; he’s four for five now. Before Homa’s 24-footer for birdie, he leans in to tell him, “Don’t worry, I’m going to make it” — an attempt to free Homa up, though he misses.
Horschel crowd comment break. There’s confusion whether the hole is actually finished, so before Horschel putts for par, a man in the bleachers to the right of him is very audibly ordering drinks for what seems like a large group. (Tito’s is the pick, if you’re wondering.) Horschel has to have heard him.
Horschel makes the putt.
“I love the hair! It hasn’t moved!”
Notably, Horschel isn’t wearing a hat this week. And he’s told another outlet that he’s locked his hair into place with a cement mix of hair paste and spray. And on 6, folks are taking note.
Horschel crowd comment break. “I love the hair! It hasn’t moved,” a fan shouts.
In golf news, Team USA goes up 2-up after the Internationals bogey.
A playful moment
On 7 tee, Fulcher shows Horschel he’s brought him two bottles of water. Horschel pretends to kick one over.
Up ahead, he misses a 5-footer for birdie, and the Internationals pull back to 1-down.
Love and International captain Trevor Immelman are following the group. An investor in the Internationals yells: “This is where we pick it up. I have a big bet on you.”
Fist-pump No. 1 (though subdued ?!)
As they wait for the green to clear on the driveable, 350-yard, par-4 8th, it’s late lunch time. Fulcher goes over to Love to get a snack bar; Homa eats a sandwich on the tee.
Up ahead, what we were waiting for — a celebration — disappoints. For now. Horschel drops a 4-footer to win the hole, and he offers one (1) fist-pump, though it’s more of a fist nod.
On 9, after a tee shot left and into the trees, Horschel punches through, and he’s on in two. But there’s traffic work to be done. To create his opening, the gallery rope is moved, a TV truck is moved and everyone’s scurrying, though shots are still needed to be fired. Horschel jumps in.
“Hold up, guys. Hold up, Thank you.”
Indeed. Up ahead, he misses a 47-footer for birdie, does a 180-degree spin toward the trees, slaps his putter and shouts.
Club toss No. 2
The Internationals win the 11th hole to move to 1-down. On 13, we get the following:
— A fifth near hole-out from a greenside bunker (there will be no more).
— A second club toss (there will be one more).
— An International hole victory. The Internationals pull even.
The butt slap and fist-pump No. 2
The near-misses, and the International rally, and a few squirrely drives and iron shots have Horschel bouncing some. He’s stayed back on greens to re-do putts. On the greens, as the Internationals have putted, he’s searching for ‘feels’ with his swing; he deliberately brings his arms back, trying to find it. On the par-3 14th tee box, before hitting, he’s hunched over and wobbling his legs. Maybe he’s getting loose. Maybe he’s shaking out the bad ju-ju. Maybe it’s something else.
Horschel hits his tee shot right of the green, and he holds onto his iron with one hand in frustration on the follow-through.
Love comes over.
He slaps Horschel on the backside.
After a pitch to 17 feet, he rolls in the putt, the hole is halved, and we have a better fist-pump. And a glare, to one in particular.
Fist-pump No. 3
On 15, Horschel haves the hole on a 4-footer, though his ball sneaks in, and he’s barking at Fulcher about “degrees” on the way to the 16 tee box. Still, in mid-diatribe, a young fan reaches out his fist, and Horschel bumps it.
On 16, Horschel rolls in a 13-footer for birdie, and we get our best fist-pump — it’s forceful — though two more are to come.
Horschel comment break. Throughout the day, Horschel’s wife, Brittany has been following the action. On the 15 tee, she’s standing next to the water cooler, a fan says hi, and she turns around and smiles.
Tomahawk club toss and celebration No. 1
In the crowd now are a few members of the International team; by the 18th hole, every team member and every team captain will be walking the fairways. Also following this match is Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield; he’s walking with Homa’s wife, Lacey.
“Are you going to take care of the Saints this week?” a fan asks Mayfield.
He got a three-word answer.
“That’s the plan.”
Back on the course, Horschel is in the left fairway bunker, and his second shot fails to get up the upslope fronting the green and rolls back down toward the fairway. As it does, he takes his iron over his head and whips into the right side of the bunker. His third shot isn’t much better; he pitches to 16 feet.
Homa saves him. He drops a 13-footer for birdie, the U.S. grabs a 1-up lead with a hole to play, and the Americans celebrate. Homa fist-pumps emotionally. Horschel squats forward and raises both fists. If you’re looking for a moment at the Presidents Cup, here it is.
Until the next hole.
Celebration No. 2
Ten carts per team are watching now. All four tee shots find the fairway. Horschel’s second shot is long and left, Homa hits to 11 feet. Horschel walks over to Homa and double fist-pumps.
“Dude, if he makes this putt, it’s 8-2 and it’s over,” a fan says. That’s not right, but we get what he means. That’s a tough advantage to overcome.
On the green, Horschel again struggles with his pitch, dropping his ball to 9 feet Doesn’t matter. Homa makes, and they win.
Homa turns around and fist-pumps, even more emotionally than the 17th.
Horschel fist-pumps, walks over to Homa and tackle-hugs him.
They shake hands with Pendrith and Conners. Billy Horschel is 1-0 in match-play.
And yeah, Davis Love III tried to warn us.
“Yeah, even this morning lived up to it,” Horschel said afterward. “I woke up this morning and felt like I had to throw up for three hours straight.
“It was the most nervous I’ve been ever before any round of golf in my entire life. I think it’s just the anticipation of wanting to be on these teams for so many years and missing out and finally making one.
“When I finally started warming up, that feeling finally went away. Yeah, it lived up to everything that I expected. To see this guy right here perform at the end was truly special.”