Is Billy Horschel the most misunderstood man in professional golf?

NEW ORLEANS – Billy Horschel has Christmas morning energy every day of the year.

That’s how Matt Every describes his former Florida Gator teammate and it doesn’t get any more spot on than that.

But it isn’t just Horschel’s overcaffeinated Energizer Bunny routine that grates on some nerves. Conor Moore, the Golf Channel impressionist, once asked Horschel whether after conducting media interviews, if he doesn’t go back home or to his hotel and think ‘Why was I so honest?’

“Do you ever sit back and think ‘Why the f_ _ _ did I say that?’ ” Moore wondered. Horschel smiled and with a comic’s perfect timing uttered, “Every single f_ _ _ing day.”

“Why don’t I just say I’m not going to answer that?” Horschel said rhetorically to a reporter not long ago. “Because it’s just not in my nature. I just can’t. If someone asks me a question, I just have to give my true thoughts. There are times when I won’t because I’m not educated on a certain topic and I don’t want to misspeak. Inherently, I’ve always been the one who is the most opinionated.”

Nobody loves a know it all, but the 36-year-old Horschel attributes his willingness to engage to a trait passed down not from his dad, Billy Sr., a soft-spoken former foreman at a local construction company, but to his mom, Kathy, who has some fire in her belly.

“I think it gives me a great balance,” Horschel said almost as proudly as when he later detailed how his mom went back to college at age 50 to get her college degree while working a full-time job.

Horschel’s combative side dates at least as far back as his seventh-grade history class when he just couldn’t resist debating one of his classmates.

“I made a point, and another student made his and then I made another one to refute his point and it was going back and forth for 10 minutes and I won that argument,” Horschel recalled. “My teacher said to me, ‘Did you ever think of being a lawyer?’ Not that I like to argue but I like to prove people wrong. It’s in my DNA. I’ve always been that way. If someone says I can’t do something, I’m going to do it. If they think their point is correct, I like to prove it’s wrong.”

Is Horschel the most misunderstood man in professional golf?

Billy Horschel plays his shot from the seventh tee during the second round of the 2023 Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

“That’s a great question,” said Todd Anderson, his longtime swing instructor. “If people knew him the way I know him, they would have a totally different view of him. I think he’s misunderstood a little bit because Billy is going to tell you what he thinks. He doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear, which I respect, but some people don’t like that.”

Some people don’t like his bravado, his on-course temper tantrums, his outspokenness on any number of topics. The Shotgun Start podcast has dubbed him both Baton Boy for the number of times his clubs go airborne and The Town Crier.

But it’s a rep that seems outdated for a kid who rose from blue-collar roots and initially received only a book scholarship, the equivalent of $400 a semester, to Florida before outworking nearly everyone in the game and blossoming into a top-20 player in the world. He’s won at Jack’s Place, a World Golf Championship, playoff events, a FedEx Cup, the flagship event of the DP World Tour and finally earned a spot representing Team USA at the Presidents Cup.

He’s the type of guy who treated his college coach to a first-class trip to the Open Championship at St. Andrews and gives back at his alma mater as a volunteer assistant coach. He’s the type of son who bought his parents a home when they retired and cars for his brothers with his FedEx Cup riches. He lent his name to both an AJGA and APGA Tour event, but that barely scratches the surface of his involvement in those endeavors. Horschel arguably has been the most vocal supporter of promoting minority golf.

“Usually when celebrities do tournaments or events they show up and leave,” said Ken Bentley, one of the founders of the APGA Tour, whose mission is to bring greater diversity to the game of golf by developing Blacks and other minorities for careers in golf. “Following the first round of the first tournament Billy did for us he was on the putting green playing putting games with the guys for dollars. They were on the green until dark. Billy gave each player his phone number and email address and said he was going to do all he could to see that the guys got to the next level. In telling the guys this he had the same level of determination and commitment in his eyes that he has when he’s trying to win a tournament. The guys all believe Billy is in their corner.”

When Willie Mack III, a two-time winner of Horschel’s event, earned his Korn Ferry Tour card in December, Horschel sent the first congratulatory text. “No one in professional golf has done more for me than Billy,” Mack said.

So why is Horschel, who for a while had as many career wins as Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau combined, a frequent punching bag for critics and not beloved in the same way as those American stars?

Billy Horschel hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during a four-ball match at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. (Photo: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

When Horschel first arrived on Tour out of Florida, Anderson perceived his pupil as borderline cocky and conceded Horschel overstepped his bounds, making claims he should have kept to himself about how he was going to take the golf world by storm.

“I said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to tone back some of the things you’re saying.’ ” Anderson recalled. “You don’t have the credibility as a professional to go out there and make those kind of statements.”

With help from the likes of Anderson, who has served as a mentor of sorts for Horschel, he has toned down his act, especially when it comes to those debates he couldn’t resist with keyboard warriors.

“He’d get into Twitter arguments,” Anderson said, “and finally I told to him one day, ‘Why do you respond to these people on Twitter?’ You’re never going to solve anything; they’re just trying to wind you up and they’re just trying to get you into a situation to where they’ve kind of got you in the palm of their hand and you just keep going and going and going. Just ignore them; don’t reply to them.  It’s not worth it. You’re not gaining anything by doing that.’ I think over time he’s softened his approach.”

Like Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods before him, Horschel has been labeled a fiery player, who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Every, on his podcast “Straight Down the Middleish,” recounted how in college he rooted for Horschel to lose at blackjack when they went to the casino. “Just to see what you’d do,” he said.

Horschel admits that there have been some fists into walls at more than one casino. On the golf course, he concedes his behavior at times embarrassed him. But those days are few and far between anymore.

“It’s tough as a player if you did something early in your career, right, wrong or indifferent, if you’ve grown and you’ve matured and you’re better about it, and you slam a club or you drop the ‘F bomb’ or something. Let’s be honest, everybody is slamming clubs. Everybody is dropping the ‘F bomb.’ But it seems like certain guys kind of get picked on for doing it and kind of get held to a different standard than others,” Anderson said. “If Tiger slams a club or somebody like that slams a club, it’s OK. But Billy does it and it’s like breaking news.”

Billy Horschel hits a chip shot on the third green during a four-ball match at the 2023 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. (Photo: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

Horschel has worked with Dr. Bhrett McCabe on the mental side of the game and become a dependable closer – finished off his seventh Tour title at the Memorial in June with ruthless efficiency – but the goal isn’t for Horschel to control his emotions.

“We’re trying to process through them,” McCabe said. “There’s times that he’s excited and times that he’s fired up and that’s cool. It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling, you can still execute the game plan that you want to execute. You can be stressed, you can be frustrated, you can be in between swing feels, but we can still come to a clear intention of what we want to do on every shot. That should never change based on what we feel. So much clutter that you fail to get intentional. The game of golf is a game of probabilities built around games of intention. That’s what makes it hard. Any lack of intention will show a crack in your stuff.”

Horschel’s temper still flares from time to time on the course and given his higher profile as a Tour winner he’s been caught on camera in less-than-flattering situations. Social media had a field day when Horschel slipped and fell on his butt at the Masters two years ago. The next day, he hit a bad shot at No. 7 and followed with a lousy chip. He slammed his club into his bag three times. Horschel later was advised by his management team to write an apology to the club for his behavior, but elected to post an apology tweet.

“I didn’t think it was unnecessary,” he said. “I thought it was going to bring undue attention to a situation that I didn’t think needed to be addressed.”

Last year, during the third round at the Masters, Horschel was under the spotlight again in a featured group pairing and pull-hooked his second shot into Rae’s Creek at the 11th hole and threw his club to the ground. Social media pounced again. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach wrote a story that ran under the headline: “Frustrated Billy Horschel loses his cool, tosses club during third-round play at the Masters.”

Horschel pulled the reporter aside and complained primarily about the headline.

“I get that writers don’t write the headlines (to their stories) but that was ridiculous,” he said. “When I logged on Yahoo for news the next three days, I’d see my photo there and some crap and I saw some Instagram comments.”

Horschel had a week to stew and during his pre-tournament press conference ahead of the two-man team Zurich Classic a seemingly innocuous question about his fiery on-course persona – When you have a teammate do you feel like you have an obligation to tone it down? – led to an epic rant.

“It just runs way too hot inside me, and I can’t stand not being able to play to the level that I expect of myself on a day-to-day basis,” Horschel explained. “There’s times that it boils over, and you know what, it happens.”

AVONDALE, LA – APRIL 28: Billy Horschel reacts after making a putt for birdie on the 18th hole during the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana on April 28, 2013 in Avondale, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Added Horschel: “This is going to sound blunt, it’s going to sound bad, but if you don’t like it, I honestly don’t care anymore. I’ve cared enough over the last 13 years of my career to try and please everyone that watches me, and you know what, I can’t do anything more. I’ve done everything I can. If you don’t like me for some reason, I don’t care anymore.”

At this point, Sam Burns, his partner in New Orleans, interjected: “If he gets running too hot this week I’ll just go give him a hug and calm him down a little bit,” Burns chirped with a smile.

The hothead storyline still pops up in his Google searches, but the press conference proved to be a flash point for Horschel.

“The question got asked. I answered it and took it to the next level. I’ve done that plenty of times before. I just had something I wanted to let out,” he said. “That little rant or whatever you want to call it was me just saying I can’t please everyone anymore. I’m happy who I am and I haven’t changed one bit since I was a kid. I’ve gotten smarter and learned how to do things better but I am who I am and I’m going to enjoy my life and not worry about what people say and think about me.”

Including the fact that he’s misunderstood?

“I think it irked me that I had that label for a little while but now I don’t mind it,” he said. “Not everyone is going to get who you are as a person. I’ve come a long way and I’ve been around people that thought of me as one way and when they spent some time with me they changed their opinion and it was without me trying to change their opinion. I’m OK being misunderstood. I’m happy with it.”

Make no mistake about it.