‘I absolutely despised him:’ Rory McIlroy on his former match-play enemy

Rory McIlroy could only laugh at the question. And why not? It was all in good fun. Plus, he knew the answer.

McIlroy, the guest on this week’s GOLF Subpar Podcast with co-hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz, was running through the Emergency 9 portion of the podcast, in which guests are asked nine quick and fun questions about golf and life.

The one that led to McIlroy giggling? When Knost, looking back at two of McIlroy’s famous match-play duels, asked which player McIlroy would have most liked to punch: Patrick Reed or Billy Horschel?

“Billy Horschel, and that’s saying something,” McIlroy said, laughing. “And that is saying something.”

First, let’s offer some context. McIlroy and Horschel are good friends now. But that wasn’t the case back in 2007, when their respective teams — the U.S. vs. Great Britain and Ireland — squared off in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down. The Americans won 12.5-11.5, and Horschel, 20, and McIlroy, 18, faced each other in three of four matches.

Knost was on this team, too, so he knew the backstory here, which is why he asked McIlroy the question.

Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel at the 2007 Walker Cup.
Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel during the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. Getty Images

Horschel beat McIlroy 1 up in afternoon singles on Day 1, and Horschel and Rickie Fowler teamed up to beat McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell 2 and 1 in morning foursomes on Day 2. McIlroy got some revenge in afternoon singles later that day, beating Horschel 4 and 2.

Horschel, when he appeared on Subpar in February 2021, talked about these matches with McIlroy. Horschel said he and Fowler were down early in their foursomes match but stormed back, and one key moment came when Horschel almost holed a bunker shot.

“I come down like a damn cheetah, yelling at the top of my lungs, running after the ball, ‘Go in! Go in!’” Horschel said on Subpar. “And it lips out. I guess [McIlroy] was pissed about that. I guess he was pissed about the day before when we played our singles matches.

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“And so, the first hole [of Horschel and McIlroy’s Sunday afternoon singles match], [McIlroy] nukes a drive,” Horschel continued. “I mean, he hit one so far down there, he had like literally an 8-iron into the green. He hit it to 15 feet, and I had 10 feet for birdie or whatever. And he makes this eagle putt, and he gives out the biggest yell, because he’s letting me know, this s— ain’t happening anymore. This is my house today. And I was like, ‘Damn, I’m f—–.'”

Horschel would be the first to admit he’s always been an emotional and fiery player.

“Ohh, I absolutely despised him,” McIlroy said on Subpar. “We’ve actually become really close since, which is great. Billy in that ’07 — we were all probably obnoxious at the time, but because I was at home as well and he was like pretty rude to the crowd at times too and they are my people. It was like, ‘I’m going to beat his ass.’ But we actually have forged a really good friendship since. Billy’s a good dude. I like him a lot.”

The other well-known McIlroy match-play showdown? That was against Reed at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. They traded several highlight-worthy blows in the first match out for Sunday singles, with Reed ultimately winning 1 up. Compared to McIlroy and Horschel, McIlroy and Reed’s relationship has had a slightly different trajectory since. In January, an incident involving Reed tossing a tee in McIlroy’s direction — which led to a bizarre but intriguing week of headlines — led to McIlroy disclosing that an attorney who represented Reed subpoenaed McIlroy on Christmas Eve 2022.

“I was trying to have a nice time with my family,” McIlroy said at the Dubai Desert Classic. “If someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you’re not going to take that well. I’m living in reality. I don’t know where [Reed] is living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake. I don’t see how you can pretend like nothing’s happening.”

You can listen to McIlroy’s complete Subpar episode below, in which he discusses the upcoming Ryder Cup, major championship close calls, what might be holding him back at the Masters and more. You can also watch it on YouTube here.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining GOLF.com in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.