ORLANDO – Coach Horschel?
Billy Horschel hasn’t even officially been a college golf coach for a month yet and he’s already responding to his new title. Horschel was announced on Feb. 16 as the new volunteer assistant at the University of Florida, his alma mater, where he joins a staff that includes head coach J.C. Deacon and assistant Dudley Hart, a PGA Tour winner in his own right.
Between Horschel and Hart, that’s eight Tour victories. No other college golf team can claim that.
“I’m just there to give them any knowledge that I have,” Horschel said. “Anything else they need from me, I’m available. I told them I’m an open book.”
Horschel was visibly excited talking about his new opportunity on Wednesday at Bay Hill, and he spoke like he was prepared to chat for hours about his Gators. He said he has exchanged phone numbers with each player, and while his busy playing schedule has kept him from being around as much as he’d like to, he was able to make it out for the Gators’ spring opener at TPC Sawgrass last month.
From helping with game-planning during the practice round to shuttling around the other coaches for both tournament days, Horschel fully embraced his side gig – and to top it all off, Florida won in Horschel’s debut.
“I’ve gotta hand it to him, he’s been incredible,” Deacon said after the win. “He’s really spent a lot of time getting to know the guys, learning their games and being a huge part of our team. He’s helping a lot. He’s got that swagger and confidence, and enthusiasm and love for the Gators that is palpable, and the guys can feel it.”
Deacon has explained that while Horschel has given insight into qualifying and practice strategies that he has learned under legendary coach Buddy Alexander and on Tour, Horschel’s greatest value comes with the confidence that he’s instilled in some of the Gators’ role guys. Everyone knows Ricky Castillo and Yuxin Lin are All-Americans with huge potential, but for players such as Fred Biondi and John DuBois, hearing the No. 22-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking tell them that their best is good enough has done wonders. Biondi has gone win-second in his last two starts.
Horschel, who followed the squad closely even before he joined the coaching staff, said he noticed the lack of confidence within the program. But since he first met with the team last fall, he and Deacon have noticed a sizeable difference – and not just because the Gators have won twice and recently finished fourth at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, one of the best events of the year.
“Any player, you know, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you think you’re good or you have the confidence and the ability in yourself,” Horschel explained, “but at some point, when you’re around better players or these guys are looking to get to the PGA Tour, and a PGA Tour player comes up to them and says, ‘Hey, you’re a really good player. These are the areas where you need to get a little bit better at in your game, but right now, you have that ability and that talent.’ … Having that belief and that confidence that you can pull off the shots and you can do the right things is important, so for me, maybe just giving them that extra bit of confidence that they were lacking has really showed.”
Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational
When Horschel played for the Gators, he said Alexander used to recruit players that worked harder than everyone else, including many who weren’t necessarily blue-chip prospects. He shared with this current group that practicing a couple of hours a day isn’t good enough if you want to have success not just as a pro but in college.
He’s happy with how the guys have responded, though is quick to give most of the credit to Deacon and Hart. As for the rest of the season, Horschel has gone through his schedule to see when he may be able to attend another of Florida’s tournaments. There’s little room, he says, but should the team advance to the NCAA Championship, which runs through Wednesday the week of Memorial, Horschel may just have to book a flight to Scottsdale from Fort Worth that Sunday night, spend that final round of stroke play Monday with the team, and then take a late flight to Ohio.
If not, you can bet he’ll be on his phone a lot each night.
“People who know me know that whenever I want to be involved in something, I want to be involved 100%,” Horschel said. “If I’m not doing as much as I want, I feel like I’m letting people down, but J.C. and Dudley understood that, and they wanted me to be a part of it as much as I could and help any way I can. They know that I want to give them more time, I want to be around the players more, I would love to go to tournaments and be a part of that and help them prepare and talk to them about course management and just the feelings you have out on a golf course. I’d like to be at more practices. … I can make time, but it also depends on how well I do out here.
“It’s tough. It eats at me that I’m not able to be a part of it as much as I would like.”
The good news for Horschel is that when his playing days are over and he wants to dive full-time into coaching, he can already say he has experience. He just needs to practice driving a sprinter van.