By Garry Smits
GateHouse Media Services
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Billy Horschel thought he went a long way toward figuring out the complexities of playing the Augusta National Golf Club when he had a respectable tie for 17th in the 2016 Masters Tournament, his third start in the season’s first major, under conditions that produced the highest scores in nine years.
The four-time All-American at the University of Florida then went into a slump and failed to qualify for last year’s Masters. He’s back this year, thanks to his victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic, and is chomping at the bit to apply the progress he believes he made two years ago.
“It hurt a lot (to miss the tournament last year),” he said. “I felt like the way we practiced before 2016, the way my game had come around, the stuff we had seen improvements on gave us the good results. I showed I can play this golf course. I know I can hit it from tee to green and I’m a pretty good putter. It’s just the short-game aspect of it and wedge play. Those were areas we worked hard on before we came here the last time and we did pretty well.”
Horschel is carrying the Gator banner as the only former UF player in this year’s field. And even though he’s missed four cuts and tied for 54th in his last five starts, getting back to Augusta may rejuvenate his game.
In addition to practicing the type of shots he’ll need to get his way around the course, Horschel said he’s trying to mentally coach himself to accept mistakes and then minimize the damage.
“What it comes down to is me trying not to be too perfect,” he said. “I try to be too perfect sometimes and I’ve got to realize that you don’t have to be perfect to play well here. You just have to be smart. Put it in the right spots and miss it in the right spots. There isn’t one hole or one shot that gives me the willies. I feel comfortable on every tee shot, every iron shot into the greens.”
Horschel’s former college coach, Buddy Alexander, said it will come down to controlling his emotions and putting.
“I think Billy’s temperament is fine if he plays really well,” Alexander said. “If he plays really well, that doesn’t surface. I think he’s old enough and mature enough to understand that if he’s in contention and makes a bogey on No. 10 on Sunday he’s not going to lose his cool and cost himself the golf tournament. Tee-to-green, he’s pretty solid. He’s as confident about his short game as he has been in a while. It all boils down to putting. If he has a good putting week, then Sunday will be exciting for him.”
Site: Augusta, Ga.
Course: Augusta National GC. Yardage: 7,435 yards. Par: 72.
Television: Today-Friday, 3-7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Tee time: 11:26 a.m.-8:30 a.m. — Billy Horschel, Chez Reavie, Cameron Smith