Dooley: Nice guy finishes 1st


Billy Horschel, left, is hugged by friend, and fellow UF alum, Chris DiMarco after winning the Zurich Classic on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:42 p.m.

Buddy Alexander was at the state golf tournament eight years ago trying to decide who would get the last scholarship. And I cannot put enough sarcastic quotations around the word “scholarship.”

In college golf, scholarships get divided up like onions at a Japanese steak house.

“It was a minimal scholarship,” Alexander said.

He had two guys he was looking at. One of them was a skinny kid named Billy Horschel. Alexander liked the other guy better.

“The other guy had better-looking action,” said the Florida golf coach. “But there was something about Billy. I could see he was going to be a tough little guy.”

Horschel was an All-American as a freshman and then did it again two more times. And on Sunday, Alexander watched another of his prized pupils win a PGA Tour event. Horschel's birdie on the final hole of the Zurich Classic in Avondale, La., gave him the win in the same tournament former UF golfer Chris Couch won for his only Tour victory seven years ago.

Back when Horschel was a freshman at UF.

“He took a chance,” Alexander said of Horschel. “He's a special kid. He was one of those guys who you just knew was going to make it.”

But the journey had plenty of pitfalls. Horschel qualified for the Tour in 2009, but played in only four tournaments because of a wrist injury. He had to return to Q-school last year to qualify again for this season.

And for the last few weeks, there hasn't been a better golfer on Tour.

Horschel sometimes gets a little amped up on the course. He wears his emotions on his logoed sleeve. Just a few weeks ago, he shot an 85 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

I'm not going to lie to you, when I saw that score online, I thought it was a typo. Pro golfers don't shoot 85s at anything other than the U.S. Open. Later that night, Horschel tweeted a picture of a pint of beer. He was drowning his sorrows.

Since that round, Horschel is 48-under in four tournaments.

He kept knocking on the door and then kicked it down with six straight birdies in the final round Sunday. When he made bogey on the 15th, I wondered. He followed it up with a birdie on the 16th and then the closing birdie on 18. For the entire final round, he held his emotions in check but when that putt rolled in he went all Horschel. The celebration was epic.

It helped to have a couple of former UF golfers hang with him during the second of two weather delays. It came with his ball in the rough on the final hole. Chris DiMarco and Matt Every, who was a senior at UF when Horschel was a freshman, made the wait a little easier to handle by hanging with him in the clubhouse.

On TV, it was a real Gator lovefest.

“It was nice that I had two of my good buddies there to chat a little bit and take my mind off some stuff,” Horschel said.

And now he is a winner. When I tell you this, it will sound like a cliche. Heck, it is a cliche. But it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

But it was more than just another win for a former UF golfer, more than a breakthrough by a great guy. It was a win for all of us who believe in stepping up and hitting the ball without spending 10 minutes talking to your caddy or checking the wind. It was a win for all of us who show how we feel when something good or bad happens. It was a win for those of us in the media who like a guy who tells us what he is thinking and not what he thinks we need to hear. Just this week, Horschel called Alexander to tell him he was talking this upcoming week off and would be in Gainesville to visit.

“I don't know if that will happen now,” Alexander said with a chuckle.

When you win a Tour event for the first time, your life changes. Doors open that you only dreamed of before.

“You want some irony?” Alexander said. “I watched him win it in an airport in Augusta. Now, he can play in The Masters.”

Oh yeah. There's that.

It's a long way off, but I hope the green jackets are ready for Billy Horschel.

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