How an emotional press conference helped Billy Horschel heal
Two months is a long time in the golf world. Especially this golf world, where two months ago we knew as much (nadda!) about a forthcoming partnership between bitter rivals (NewCo!) as Tiger Woods did. Two months from now, we’ll be dissecting every decision made by Zach Johnson and Luke Donald in the Ryder Cup. Two months fly by when pro golf is this busy.
It’s worth rewinding two months and four days, just before the Saudi PIF and PGA Tour struck an agreement to try and strike a bigger agreement. It was June 1, just five days before the news cycle started sprinting downhill, that we were in Ohio, at Jack Nicklaus’ place, contesting the Memorial tournament. The defending champ, Billy Horschel, stepped up to the mic for a post-round press conference. He had just shot 84.
Perhaps you’ve seen how that went. If you haven’t here’s a clip shared by my colleague Dylan Dethier. It’s been viewed millions of times.
Which part of it hits hardest? The 22 seconds of thoughtful silence as Horschel gathers his thoughts? The seven choked-out words in that first sentence: Yeah, it’s tough right now. Maybe it was the emotional explanation that followed or even the final seven-word sentence:
Hopefully it f—-ing comes around soon, sorry.
That interview hung heavy in the air all weekend long, even after Horschel missed the cut. It was the kind of Q&A that doesn’t often go public, and at the very least isn’t done in front of a camera. But Horschel was asked to speak about where he was at mentally and he answered the bell. He didn’t have to, but he did. What he found was a form of catharsis. Whereas many pros lean in the direction of not sharing their struggles publicly, or not acknowledging the struggles that exist, sometimes it helps to do so.
What we have now, two months later, is a very different Billy Horschel at the Wyndham Championship. Or perhaps it’s the same Horschel, who just looks and feels differently. For starters, there’s the beard he’s been rocking, which he’s admitted has earned plenty of double-takes from his colleagues on the driving range. But just nine weeks after that 84 in Ohio, Horschel stepped up to the mic after shooting a 62 at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina. He sits just one shot back entering the weekend.
“Listen, I wasn’t expecting to be that emotional after the round,” Horschel said Friday. “It was just a lot of hard work and grind and everything sort of just built up and finally came out.
“And I’ve shared it with my team, my team knew where I was mentally, my family knew where I was mentally — but maybe just doing that, and like I said, it just happened. And just getting it out and sharing it made me sort of just relax more, feel better about myself getting it off my chest, getting off my mind.
“And then the outreach, the people that reached out to me afterwards, I mean, I just could never imagine family, friends, people in business, athletes — who’s who — text me and tell me how much they care for me and everything. So from that moment, it’s just been a surreal moment and I could never imagine something like that going down that way.”
It is hard to imagine an onslaught of support during modern times, where an 84 from a pro ruins daily fantasy lineups and Top-10 wagers and endless insignificant transactions that surround pro sports in 2023. But an onslaught is what Horschel received. And it seems to have made this forgettable season easier to stomach. He needs to finish solo second, as he understands it, to advance into the FedEx Cup Playoffs. It’s a tall task, even if it seems plausible now that he’s playing in the final pairing Saturday afternoon.
“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he said Friday after tying his career-low round on the PGA Tour. Now is all about building some sort of actionable momentum entering 2024, or even this year’s fall series.
Speaking out about his struggle has helped Horschel, but he’d also be the first to acknowledge that the mental battle is far from over. It’s ongoing. During another post-round interview with Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel, Horschel said, “It’s growing. There’s no doubt.
“Obviously I have a lot more confidence in my swing and my shots and everything. But there’s still scar tissue in there. I still have to work hard on focusing on the shot I want to hit and commit to it and not see the peripheral of certain holes and certain shots. Like I said, the last six weeks have been better and the last two weeks have been really good.”