Billy Horschel Moves Past Memorial Tournament Meltdown of a Year Ago

An opening-round 84 in 2023 at Muirfield Village was a career low point but a 69 on Thursday allowed Horschel to move on.
Billy Horschel has experienced the highest highs and lowest lows at Muirfield Village.
Billy Horschel has experienced the highest highs and lowest lows at Muirfield Village. / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

DUBLIN, Ohio — There should be plenty of good memories to draw on, especially what was perhaps the biggest victory of his career. But Billy Horschel’s mind drifted elsewhere Thursday and it’s been on his mind all week at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Despite winning the Memorial Tournament here in 2022, Horschel thought only of the 84 he shot in the opening round a year ago, a day that he said had him at the lowest point of his career.

Playing as the defending champion, Horschel said he was hitting shots from places he couldn’t believe, lost in the abyss of a swing change—and later, he learned, an equipment issue—that saw him part of an emotional, tearful news conference afterward.

 “My confidence is the lowest it’s been in my entire career,” he said that day.

Things were much better during this opening round as Horschel shot a 3-under-par 69 at the Memorial Tournament, where Adam Hadwin led with 66 and No. 1-ranked Scottie Scheffer was a shot back after a 65. Reigning PGA Championship winner Xander Schauffele shot 68.

“Every hole I played this week, I’ve been thinking, God, how bad I played that hole on Thursday last year,” Horschel said. “The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about it and even today, I was nervous waking up because obviously I’ve won here and I’ve played fairly well here in previous years.

“But that 84 still lingers a little bit. It’s that one little thing I needed to get over. And to play well today, hit quality golf shots and hopefully get over the hump of what happened here last year. There’s a little scar tissue from last year. Hopefully I got over that today.”

Horschel began the process of building back after that interview. He received an outpouring of support from fans and fellow players, and the low point became a turning point.

He dropped outside of the top 90 in the Official World Golf Ranking earlier this year then returned to winning ways by capturing the Corales Puntacana Championship, an opposite-field event that was played the same week as the RBC Heritage.

It was his eighth PGA Tour victory and first since capturing the Memorial in 2002.

“I think any tournament you win, when you come back, you want to have a respectable showing,” Horschel, 37, said. “Obviously the goal is to win, but you want to have a respectable showing as defending champ. Coming in, I had played some really bad golf. I had hit golf shots that I just haven't hit in my entire PGA Tour career. So that was fresh in my mind and that was a concern coming here. It was just sort of the tipping point.

“Shooting 84 when you're defending champ, it was sort of the lowest of the low points for me, and then from there, I can start moving on, and as I've said since, I had talked to my team about where my confidence was coming into this event last year, but to sort of share how—where my confidence was and share how vulnerable I was, just impromptu, after being asked a question, I think that next morning I woke up and I felt relief, just sort of getting it off my chest and everything, and then from there, I could sort of start moving forward again.”

The day was rough. Horschel made no birdies, six bogeys and three doubles. He had been struggling with his swing for months and it all went horribly bad that day.

The impromptu session with reporters actually helped him turn things around but not before he also discovered an equipment issue that he and his coach, Todd Anderson, had missed.

Horschel had testing done that showed the lie angle of his irons were as much as 3 degrees too upright, which caused his shots to go left. That’s why the cut he kept trying to hit wasn’t working. The work that he had been doing on his swing seemed so good and yet the ball wasn’t going where it was supposed to go. And now he had some answers.

“Then it was just some of the emotional side,” he said. “It was like saying, hey, I've played some really bad golf this year and I've hit some shots that I'm not accustomed to and where I've been over the last 10 years on the PGA Tour, I'm not where I want to be. I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to that.

“It really came down to the lie angles, and then once that got figured out right before the U.S. Open, it was more or less just getting rid of all the scar tissue, getting rid of all the bad shots that I had hit from January to early June and replacing those with quality shots and believing that we can swing a club again.”

It took some time, but Horschel had a fourth-place finish in August at the Wyndham Championship. That wasn’t good enough to get into the 70-player FedEx Cup playoffs—but Horschel played three times on the DP World Tour.

He did struggle with three missed cuts earlier this year before finding some form prior to his victory. That win helped him get a start at the Wells Fargo Championship via FedEx Cup points. He got into the Memorial on a sponsor’s exemption because he was not otherwise eligible for the signature event.

But Horschel has played well enough to get into next week’s U.S. Open via FedEx points and he’s in a good spot on the leaderboard here—and in a far better place both literally and figuratively than a year ago. He had five birdies and two bogeys in his opening round.

“I think I'm in a good position with three rounds to go,” he said. “Hopefully, I can just focus on hitting quality golf shots, be positive out there on every shot. As you guys know, this course requires a lot of precision. When the wind's blowing, it's even tougher.

“I never want to get too far out in front of my skis, but I think I'm in a really good spot where I am mentally and physically to continue to push forward to this weekend and see (if I can) do something special again.”


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.