The guy playing the best golf over the past several weeks of the PGA Tour season won the FedEx Cup. Not the guy who won the most majors or the guy who had the best summer or even the best year. Billy Horschel was barely a factor in the biggest tournaments in 2014, his name hardly registering. And prior to the PGA Tour’s playoff events he had posted just two top-10 finishes, none since last June. So give the man credit for good timing.
Not only did he manage to survive the week at the Tour Championship with his wife, Brittany, avoiding going into labor with the couple’s first child, but he picked an excellent occasion to play some of the best golf of his career. (Brittany would have the baby, a girl, just a few days later.) Playing with the worlds No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy, over the final 36 holes at Atlanta’s East Lake, Horschel held his own, shooting a 2-under-par 68 to claim the Tour Championship along with the FedEx Cup. He defeated McIlroy and Jim Furyk by three strokes. “I was able to rise to the occasion and get the job done,” Horschel said. “And it just gives me so much confidence, such a thrill to accomplish something like this, especially with the guys I was going up against.”
The double victory was worth $11.44-million and capped an incredible three-week run in which Horschel, now 28, tied for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship, won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship, his third PGA Tour victory. And he had even dreamed about it, a rather surreal deal that you wouldn’t believe unless you heard Horschel tell the tale. Along the way, he pocketed $13,477,333.33. Or here’s another way to look at the financial haul. Heading into the week in Atlanta, Horschel’s career earnings were $7,895,691 – which included the $1.44-million he made the previous week in Denver.
At the Tour Championship, he made $11-44.million — $1.44-million for winning the tournament, another $10-million FedEx Cup bonus. And the story gets better. While he was not obligated to do so, Horschel gave his caddie, Micah Fugitt, 10 percent of his haul. Not just the first-place money but also the FedEx Cup bonus. Horschel had made that promise to Fugitt in 2013 after he captured the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He told Fugitt that if he ever won the FedEx Cup, he’d cash in, too. In a three-week span, Horschel made nearly $13.5-million – meaning roughly $1.35-million for Fugitt.
“It kind of overwhelmed me at first,” Fugitt told GolfWorld. “It was hard to believe he was going to pay me that kind of money. As great a gesture as it is, it’s kind of crazy, in a way.” So was the notion of Horschel winning the FedEx Cup – as late as three weeks before he won it, he was nowhere in the conversation. Following a tie for sixth at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June, Horschel had no more top-10s until finishing second at the Barclays – and even that was a bit dubious as Horschel messed up a chance to win by hitting his approach to the final hole in a hazard. During that time, Horschel was out of the top 20 on four occasions, including two missed cuts, the second coming at the Barclays, the first playoff event. And three weeks later he was holding the trophy and all that money?
That is part of the beauty of the FedEx Cup, which rewards hot play at the end of the season far more than it does year-long excellence. While earning the most points through the bulk of the regular season gives you an advantage over other players heading into the FedEx playoffs, it in no way assures victory. Ask McIlroy, who in 2012 and 2014 was the overwhelming money leader on the PGA Tour. In 2012, McIrloy had won the PGA Championship and two playoff events but still finished second to Brandt Snedeker in the FedEx Cup.
In 2014, McIlroy won two majors championships – the Open and the PGA – along with a World Golf Championship event – the Bridgestone Invitational. But he was unable to overtake Horschel in the final standings because of the former University of Florida’s second-first-first run in the last three events. And so there was Horschel with a chance to fulfill a dream. As he walked toward the 18th green during the final round, his tee shot safely in play and victory all but assured, Horschel told Fujitt a story about having dreams that occur in real life. It seemed strange enough that Horschel was asked to explain – and did so sheepishly.
There was the time he dreamed as a kid he’d get hit in the head with a baseball bat—and did. And then there was the time months ago that Horschel woke up in a fog, having dreamed he had won the FedEx Cup. “It was very faint, but I remember holding up the FedEx Cup trophy,” Horschel said. “As the season went along, I never thought about it, and figured maybe it was just a dream that wasn’t real. “But I thought about it last week after I won 9 (at the BMW). I’ve thought about it (in Atlanta) a little bit that maybe this is supposed to happen. And maybe that’s why when I woke up I was calm knowing that this is my chance to win the FedEx Cup trophy.”
Not only that, but he captured the Tour Championship in the process, winning for the second time in two weeks and third time overall. And that really is the stuff of dreams. Reality is, that as 2015 dawns, Horschel will be viewed among the elite players. He jumped into the top 20 in the world after his last-season run, now he must deal with the expectations that come with such success. For Horschel, however, he will take those problems. Perhaps even dream about them.
January 01, 2015