Backspin: Short game, maturity pay off for Horschel

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April 29, 2013
Brian Wacker,

Nine players are currently averaging 300 yards or more off the tee on the PGA TOUR this season. Between them, they have just one win (Dustin Johnson in Hawaii).

Billy Horschel isn’t one of them. Neither is Graeme McDowell.

Horschel and McDowell won each of the last two weeks on two very different golf courses -- Hilton Head is short and tight, while TPC Louisiana is one of the longest tracks on the schedule.

While Horschel has been pounding on the door of late with three top 10s, including a runner-up, in each of his last three starts prior to last week, it wasn’t so much momentum as it was an improved short game and the elimination of unforced errors that led to his first career victory Sunday in New Orleans.

“He’s always been a good driver and iron player,” said his coach Todd Anderson. “But he never got a lot out of his putting. In the offseason, we made a conscious effort to work hard on his putting, his short game, his wedges. That’s where he was losing strokes.”

In turn, he was also losing confidence and that led to a lot of mistakes.

Take the RBC Heritage. Horschel was in contention until becoming unglued with a final-round 74 on a windswept day at Harbour Town.

Too many three-putts and only one birdie on the three par 5s gave too many shots back to the field. “I told him he has to clean up some of those errors,” said Anderson, who talks to Horschel almost every night.

That can be easier said than done, but it also comes with maturity and knowing your game and believing in it, something that Horschel has done ever since he guaranteed at q-school last December that he was going to get his card back and was going to win this season.

“If he got off to a shaky start, he’d hit the panic button,” Anderson said of the old Horschel. “In the past he was trying too hard and got out of rhythm. Now he has the confidence in his game and knows the birdies are going to come.”

And they’ve come in bunches. Horschel is second in birdie average, 10th in scoring, third in the FedExCup standings. Now he has his first win, too.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I've always felt I was good enough to win out here. I just felt I had to check every box. Some guys get out here and win right away and then they struggle. Other guys it takes longer for them to get to that process. There are a lot of people in my 26‑years ‑‑ ever since I started playing golf from a little kid until now there's always been someone who has helped me in some way, whether it be big or small. This win is for them, too, as well as for myself.” -- Billy Horschel after his win Sunday in New Orleans.

“He's in the eighth grade! The eighth grade and he's playing in the Masters! And he gets a penalty? Can you imagine giving a 14-year-old kid a penalty for slow play? There's hundreds of guys who are much slower probably than (he was), and they figure out a way to get away with it.” -- Jack Nicklaus on Guan Tianlang’s slow-play penalty at the Masters.

“It’s like cheating. I swear to God. This is the easiest thing I’ve ever seen to putt with, is that belly putter.” -- Lee Trevino on trying the belly putter for the first time at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@BobEstesPGA: BillyHo may not be the best player in the world right now but I can almost guarantee you that he's the most confident. -- Estes on Horschel, who has four straight top 10s, including a win.

@DougFerguson405: Jordan Spieth is now $39 ahead of Gary McCord on the PGA Tour's career money list. -- Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson noting the sign of the times on TOUR.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Last week was the last chance for players not otherwise qualified to earn a spot in THE PLAYERS Championship by winning, being in the top 10 of the FedExCup standings or the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Horschel was the only one to earn a spot last week, thanks to his win. Meanwhile, Matteo Manassero fell out of the top 50. After Monday, the only way for a player not already in the field to punch his ticket to TPC Sawgrass basically is to win this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. The only other way a player can qualify is off the FedExCup list if it is needed to fill the field of 144. Luke Guthrie (No. 30), Brian Stuard (No. 44) and James Hahn (No. 51) are the next three players on the FedExCup list, not otherwise qualified.

2. Points’ first nine starts this season: Seven missed cuts, including four in a row at one point. His last four: A win and a second place. One of Points’ goals at the start of the year was to get in the top 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings. “I’ve still got work to do,” he said Sunday night. It’s possible now, however. Points moved to No. 48 after last week.

3. Speaking of guys who got off to abysmal starts, Bobby Gates missed his first seven cuts of the year. Sunday, he tied for fourth in New Orleans. Will he follow a similar path as Points?

4. What do Keegan Bradley, Justin Leonard, Mike Weir, Camilo Villegas, Charles Howell III, John Merrick, Aaron Baddeley, Ben Crane, Charley Hoffman and Charlie Beljan all have in common? Aside from each having won on the PGA TOUR, all of them were beaten by 14-year-old Guan Tianlang last week in New Orleans.

5. How fragile (and important) is confidence in golf? Take Hunter Mahan, who in his first eight starts this year didn’t finish outside the top 26, which included a runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. But here are his last seven rounds: 74, 71, 76, 82, 68, 76, 78. Twice he missed the cut, including at the Masters where he was 14 over, and the third time he barely made the first cut before missing the secondary cut.

6. James Driscoll, who was born in Brookline, Mass., and lives a couple blocks from where the Boston Marathon bombings took place, made another $6,000 for the families of victims, bringing his total contribution to One Fund Boston to $15,000. TaylorMade, which sponsors Driscoll, matched his Birdies for Boston effort with another $15,000. CNBC  "Fast Money" contributor Mike Murphy of Rosecliff Capital also pledged to match Driscoll's contribution of $1,000 for every birdie he made over the last two weeks. You can contribute, too, by clicking here.

7. Stat of the Week I: Horschel’s run of six straight birdies on Sunday matched the longest such streak on TOUR this season (and came within three of Mark Calcavecchia’s record nine straight at Glen Abbey in 2009). Horschel leads the TOUR in birdies with 220 this season. As his coach Todd Anderson told me, Horschel has “a lot of offense.” As I noted earlier, he just had to eliminate the unforced errors.

8. Stat of the Week II: Maybe there’s something in the gumbo, but whatever it is the Zurich Classic has become a haven for first-time winners. Horschel became the 13th player to make the event his first victory on TOUR and six of the last nine champions there have done so.

9. Stat of the Week III: Lucas Glover made an early bogey Sunday and never recovered, losing his two-shot lead at the start of the day and eventually finishing fourth. Still, he’s an ATM in New Orleans. In his 28 rounds at the event, 25 of them have been at par or better. His last score over par there was in the second round in 2008.

MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
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Let’s say Adam Scott is 20-to-1 to win the Masters next year. How much does the banning of the belly putter affect him? -- Donal O’Connor

First, we don’t know when or even if that will happen. Remember, there’s been nothing concrete in terms of how or when the proposed ban would go into effect. In terms of how Scott would be affected, though, I’ve asked him about this before and he feels if anything the long putter he uses has made him an overall better putter of the ball no matter what he’s using. Only time will tell, though.

We know Guan Tianlang is youngest to ever make the cut in a major, but who is the oldest winner in major championship history? -- Jeff Howard

That honor goes to Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, 4 months and 18 days. Tom Watson nearly did it at age 59, though, before losing to Stewart Cink at the 2009 British Open.

Have a question for the mailbag? Email your question to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com, or tweet it to @pgatour_brianw.

FORWARD SPIN: WHO I LIKE THIS WEEK
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It was stunning to hear Webb Simpson say a couple of weeks ago that he was struggling with his confidence this season. But Simpson is winless since his U.S. Open victory last summer and has had trouble getting back to being the player he was at The Olympic Club. After a runner-up in Hilton Head, however, it looks like he’s starting to find his rhythm. Now comes a home game at Quail Hollow, where Simpson has finished in the top 25 each of the last two years, which includes a fourth-place finish a year ago. It’s sometimes more difficult to win at home because of everything going on outside the ropes, but Simpson is playing the best he’s played all year and now believes he can win again.

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