Buddy Alexander had only one last piece of a scholarship to give when he went to the Florida state golf championships in 2004.
The former LSU and then-Florida men’s golf coach was going to offer the scholarship money to one of two players.
One player had the better swing.
The other was Billy Horschel.
“There was something about Billy I liked,” Alexander said in a PGA Tour video feature on Horschel. “You could tell he loved golf. You could tell he was going to be a blue-collar kid who would fight like crazy and figure out how to be a good player.
“So I went on a hunch with Billy.”
Some hunch. Horschel turned out to be the a three-time first-team All-American at Florida. Alexander says he may be the best Gators player ever.
Despite his college pedigree and a game dug out of the dirt, hitting balls over and sometimes into the windows of his family’s home in Grant, Florida, Horschel’s pro career started slowly.
Wrist surgery set him behind former Walker Cup amateur teammates and rivals like Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy. It was 2011 before he played a full schedule on the PGA Tour.
By 2013, he was a winner. He rolled in a 27-foot putt on the par-5 18th hole at TPC Louisiana to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
In the buttoned-down world of professional golf, few players ever celebrated their first victory with such raw emotion. Horschel pumped his fists and screamed with delight, then he buried his head in his hands, overwhelmed by what he’d just done.
“When I finally won at the Zurich, it showed the passion and love I have for this game and how much it meant to me,” Horschel said.
The win was the foundation Horschel needed to reach a huge career milestone.
The PGA Tour did a commercial early last season featuring several pros. It showed Henrik Stenson winning the 2013 FedEx Cup. In the next scene, it showed Horschel hitting balls in the dark.
“This guy plans to be next,” actor Luke Wilson says in the voiceover.
Like Alexander, Horschel made Wilson a prophet. He missed the cut in the FedEx playoff opener, then tied for second in the Deutsche Bank, won the BMW Championship and won the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup title and the $10 million annunity that goes with it.
Counting his tournament winnings, Horschel took home $14.8 million for the 2014-15 season.
Horschel doled out $10,000 to the locker room attendants at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. He gave caddy Micah Fugitt $1 million.
“Shock. Happiness. Joy,” Fugitt told Golfweek about Horschel’s bonus. “He’s always been great about showing gratitude to people like that.”
Horschel’s 2014-15 season so far has been all choppy seas. He’s missed four of 14 cuts, including the Masters, but had a season-best third-place showing the week before that in the Texas Open.
Now he’s back in the town and at the tournament he loves, hoping to rekindle a little magic.
“It’s one of those events that when you get closer and closer to it, I really start getting excited,” Horschel said. “I can’t wait to get back there.”
Horschel tees off at 12:50 p.m. Thursday with fellow past Zurich winners David Toms of LSU and Nick Watney.
Toms, being a Louisiana guy, will naturally have his fans.
Horschel, considering what he’s done and where he’s come from, should be just as easy to pull for.