29 March 2021: Billy Horschel vowed he wouldn’t let it happen again. He was sick of match play getting the best of him when deep down he knew it was a format made for him. This time it would be different. Matt Kuchar defeated Victor Perez in the consolation match for third place.
To get to how Billy Horschel won the 2021 World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play, (which he did by beating Scottie Scheffler 2 and 1 in Sunday’s final at Austin Country Club), we first must go back to how he lost it on his previous tries.
In 2014, when the tournament was a straight elimination format, Horschel had destroyed the higher seeded Jamie Donaldson 6 and 5 in his first-round match and was cruising against Jason Day in the second round.
He was 3-up at the turn and Day had just sent his drive on the 10th into a cactus, forcing an unplayable penalty while Horschel sat in the fairway. About five minutes later, after three-putting from 40-feet, Horschel had halved the hole. A previously dejected Day sparked up and forged a comeback – forcing a playoff before winning on the 22nd hole.
Day would go on to win the tournament.
At Harding Park in San Francisco a year later, with the new group format, Horschel made light work of Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner over the first two days setting up a winner-take-all showdown with Rory McIlroy. He had a chance to win from 12-feet on the 18th hole … but you guessed it. He missed.
“I was 2-up against Rory with two to play. Rory drained like a 45-footer on 17 (we checked – it was 26-feet, 4-inches) and birdied 18 and then he won two holes later. So that was an opportunity lost there,” Horschel recalled.
McIlroy went on to win the tournament.
In 2019 – now at Austin Country Club – Horschel opened group play against Jordan Spieth. Like Scheffler, Spieth is a Texan who played at the University of Texas in Austin. He was a clear crowd favorite. But when Horschel birdied four of the first six holes to set up a 3-up lead they were pretty quiet.
He lost the lead three holes later but managed to rebound to be 2-up with three to play. Then he bogeyed 16 and 19 to tie the match. Still, come Friday, he knew a win against Kevin Na would keep him alive and the pair were square with four to play. He lost three straight holes.
Na didn’t win the tournament, but he did get to the final eight.
“I’ve had my opportunities. I just didn’t finish off matches. So to be able to do that this week – it makes this win sweeter,” Horschel grinned.
So what was the change? What was the vow that allowed this Billy Horschel to get out of his group with Collin Morikawa, J.T. Poston and Max Homa (via a playoff) and then past Kevin Streelman, Tommy Fleetwood (via a playoff) and Victor Perez before taking out Scheffler?
“There were certain times that I’ve been too focused on trying to play my opponent instead of the course,” Horschel explained. “When he’s in trouble you’re just like, hey, I just want to hit the green and make a par and you wind up not hitting a great golf shot.”
The passive mindset wasn’t working for him. And so the vow was simple. First, play the course not the man. Second, if the moment came, be smart but keep the foot down. Third, move on from mistakes quickly.
These came to life in the championship match. Holding a 2-up lead coming down the par-5 12th Horschel watched Scheffler’s second shot find water. So he took the smart, yet conservative play of laying up. Then, when it came time for his wedge, Horschel smelled blood in said water – and took dead aim going for the kill.
It was the right mindset – but wrong execution – as the ball bounded past the pin and into a bunker that he wouldn’t get up and down from. Scheffler though did not take advantage. Rather than dwell on the negative Horschel moved on.
“You have to understand that it’s going to be a roller coaster. You’re going to have ups and downs, you’re going to have swings in matches where you think you’re going to win a hole and you wind up tying or losing a hole,” Horschel adds.
“But you have to understand that the next hole’s a new opportunity to win a hole and improve your standing. So I’ve got the mentality that I’m never down, I’m never out, until you tell me I can’t play anymore. That’s a perfect mentality for match play. I’m a bulldog. I fight hard. I never give up, and I always think I can win. I always think there’s a way I can get the job done.”
As Scheffler tried to find a way to cut into his lead, Horschel held firm and even when he once again overcooked a wedge on the 16th, knowing a birdie would end the match, he shook it off and chipped brilliantly to preserve his lead. A hole later and the 2014 FedExCup champion was a six-time PGA TOUR winner.
It turns out a spring vacation with family last week – where he left his clubs at home – went a long way to allowing him to stay in the correct mindset.
“Mentally it was the key. I needed it. I needed a little mental reboot and that’s what I got,” he said of the trip. “We went back to where I grew up in Melbourne, spent time with my cousin and her kids and my aunt and uncle and we had my boat down there and just spent time in the water, fishing, tubing, just water every day.
“I don’t think we’ve been on a family vacation ever that didn’t have clubs involved. So everyone had a great time, and I’m sure there will be more of this after seeing the success I’ve had this week.”
The victory moved Horschel within reach of another FedExCup title as he flew up to seventh in the season long standings and back into the top 20 in the world (at 17th) for the first time since July 2015. He was as low as 98th in July 2018 but now feels he’s where he belongs and has desires to climb to greater heights.
“I’ve always felt I had the talent to compete with the best players day-in and day-out. I think the difference between me and maybe a Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas is just the consistency day-in and day-out,” Horschel said.
“My goals are lofty. If I could get to double digit wins and those be four majors and THE PLAYERS … I’ve always felt like I want to be one of those guys who have won a Grand Slam. I think I only have one top-5 in a major, so obviously I sound ridiculous saying this, but I think I have that talent, I know I have that talent, I just haven’t played well enough and done what I needed to do.”
Horschel is also fully aware it is a Ryder Cup year.
“If you looked at some of the other formats, how I played in team events, what I’ve done at Zurich (winning with Scott Piercy in 2018). I’ve had success there. I’ve had success playing at QBE Shootout. So I feel like I’m a really good partner to pair up with a lot of people.
“I feel like I should have been on Ryder Cup teams before but that’s my fault because I haven’t done what I needed to do to take care of that. But maybe this year is the year. It’s always been one of my priorities. If I do happen to make a Ryder Cup team in my career, I’ll be happy.”
For now – Cup team or not – he’s plenty happy. And the first chance for a leg of that grand slam comes at Augusta National in less than two weeks’ time. Don’t count him out.
PGA TOUR Content