PGA Tour Confidential: Billy Horschel wins Zurich Classic
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
Billy Horschel fended off D.A. Points -- and two rain delays -- in New Orleans for his first career PGA Tour title. In recent years, this event has helped launch the careers of Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner. Is this win the start of something big for Horschel? Do you see major championships or a U.S. Ryder Cup team in his future?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What's not to like about this kid? He does everything well and makes a ton of birdies. Horschel is also a smart dude with a degree in sports management. He understands everything about the business of being a pro golfer. Sky's the limit for him.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was awesome golf today. Billy H. might be wound too tightly for major championship play, but who knows? The who-knows part is why we love the game, right?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: A similar question was posed after the 2010 Zurich. Jason Bohn won it that year. Jason Bohn. Let's let Billy enjoy his first career PGA Tour victory before we start penciling him in for major championships and the Ryder Cup roster.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Yeah, I don't see this as a fluke at all. If you look at his results in the last month-and-a-half you can see he was working up to this. Sure, I could see him making a Ryder or Prez Cup team.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Horschel showed a lot of game and grit. At one point he reeled off six straight birdies and had every answer for playing partner D.A. Points, who threw up a 65 and still lost. I'm not penciling in Horschel for the U.S. Ryder Cup team yet but it's hard to find any fault in his performance this week, other than his shoes.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Horschel looked good, and has for the last few weeks, but still too early to say. Every year there's someone who looks great early and then peters out. Call it Jhonny Vegas syndrome.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Dude's clearly having a moment right now. He's taken his game up another notch this year, with four top 10s before his victory on Sunday, and he certainly doesn't lack confidence. I don't know about majors or the Ryder Cup, but if he keeps playing like this, a spot on this year's Presidents Cup team is not out of the question.
Last year's hero at New Orleans, Jason Dufner, is a zero this year -- as in, no top 10s so far. He's spent more time on YouTube and in TV ads than he has in the final group on Sundays. Is he in a mild slump, or did he peak in 2012?
Shipnuck: Many, maybe even most, players struggle to adjust with all the new demands after achieving stardom. Despite his laconic demeanor, Dufner is very driven to succeed and a tremendously hard worker. He'll be fine.
Bamberger: Mild slump. Any other answer is not sporty.
Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: What impressed most with Dufner was his pure ballstriking and even-keeled demeanor. I still think he's capable of much more, but he needs to forget about celebrity for awhile and get back below the radar.
Gorant: Dufner does actually seem to have the goods but no one owns the game. He'll get it together before the spring's over.
Godich: I don't think Dufner is that far off. It just shows what a fine line these guys walk. You wouldn't know anything was wrong by looking at his body language. Oh, wait.
Ritter: Until Dufner panics, we shouldn't. Though I do wonder what a panic-stricken Dufner would look like.
Morfit: I just think the level of play on Tour is so good it's very easy to disappear for weeks or even months at a time. Lucas Glover is another example of that.
Reiterman: The Duf doesn't look too worried about it, so I'm not, either. Who knows if he "peaked" last year, but he had a great year, and there are very few players who have those kinds of seasons on a regular basis.
Two weeks after making the cut at the Masters, 14-year-old Chinese amateur Tianlang Guan made another one in New Orleans and finished 71st. He said his next move is to play a U.S. Open qualifier in two weeks. Is Guan pushing his career too fast, or is this the right next step?
Morfit: I am feeling Guan-fatigue. Doesn't this kid have to go to school at some point? He proved everything he could possibly prove at the Masters. I didn't need to see him play TPC Louisiana.
Bamberger: Oh, no -- he should try. He's not beating himself up. If he gets in, he's earned him place, just as he earned his place at the Masters by winning the Asian Amateur. I'm more leery about him accepting sponsors invitations, at least at this age. But when he earns it, it's all good.
Shipnuck: What the hell, he might as well ride this hot streak as long as possible. I do hope that by fall he goes back to school and resumes life as a teenager but that's doubtful -- he's now a national hero in a culture that deifies achievement. I'm afraid young Guan has crossed the Rubicon and he's going to be playing big-time golf from now on.
Godich: If Guan is good enough to make the cut at the Masters, he has every right to try and qualify for the U.S. Open.
Reiterman: As long as he's having fun and enjoying it, that's all that matters. He's not turning pro anytime soon, so why not soak up the experience and keep making history?
Gorant: I think the Open qualifier is a good step, because it's the Open, but after that he should probably head back home. It's good to get the experience and figure out what you need to work on, but too many trips around out there and he'll start to try playing catch up on the fly and that won't end well. Plus, he'll likely cool off at some point and then his excursion will go from positive experience to doubt-feeding memory.
Passov: I heard Faldo say that he's fine thinking that this particular 14-year-old is OK being out there. I think history proves that too much, too soon, doesn't end up well (see Wie, Michelle) but there are exceptions to every rule. Maybe we found one.
Greg Norman made headlines for telling an Australian newspaper that golf's current drug-testing program is "disgraceful." He cited the Vijay Singh deer-antler case as an example of why blood testing needs to be part of golf's anti-doping program immediately. Is Norman correct?
Bamberger: Absolutely. The Tour is spending millions annually on its drug-testing program that in my opinion is designed not to catch cheats but to give the public the impression that the sport is super clean. Golf is a big-bucks sport in the 21st century. It's not realistic to think there are not people trying to gain an edge through drugs, and taking healthy risks along the way.
Shipnuck: Unfortunately, he's right. I don't think any of us believe PEDs are a rampant problem in golf but if you're going to have a testing program it needs to be done the right way.
Godich: I don't think the PGA Tour policy is going to be confused with the testing done by Major League Baseball and the NFL any time soon.
Ritter: There's no reason golf's testing program can't evolve to include blood testing and all other available technologies, especially since golf will soon be part of the Olympics, which has the most stringent testing in all of sports.
Gorant: At the time it was implemented it was world class. Can't say I know if new testing developments have rendered it weak. Did Greg read the deer antler story? The stuff is useless.
Reiterman: I don't know all the particulars of the drug testing program, except that it's closely modeled after the Olympics, but we all know the way the PGA Tour handles these matters is disgraceful. It's absurd they haven't punished Singh yet.
Morfit: Yes, he is. If the Tour wants to catch anyone, then it will need to add blood-testing. It could up its legitimacy right now by doing something about Singh and making the suspension public.
Passov: Why does it seem like every two months, Greg Norman is quoted with some over-hyped reaction to something in golf?
Next week the Tour returns to Quail Hollow, where one year ago Rickie Fowler beat Rory McIlroy in a playoff for his lone PGA Tour title. Would you characterize Fowler's career to this point as a success or disappointment? Does he have what it takes to reach No. 1 someday? What about the top five?
Bamberger: Rickie's career is a huge, unbelievable success. His skill in golf means he doesn't have to have a real job. He's the envy of the free world.
Shipnuck: It's been an okay career. Fowler has surely benefited financially by all the hype that greeted his arrival on Tour but it has also created outsized expectations for this diminutive fellow. He simply doesn't have enough firepower to be a dominant golfer, and yet he's not precise or gritty enough to grind out a bunch of victories like a Corey Pavin or Justin Leonard. He'll win a few more tournaments but I doubt he's ever gonna be a permanent fixture in the top 5.
Ritter: I remember watching that playoff last year at Quail Hollow and thinking that Rickie and Rory were heading for many more Sunday showdowns and semi-permanent places in the top 10. For Rory, it all clicked soon after, but Rickie has sort of stalled. His career has been fine; he's become one of the most popular players on Tour, but I still expected a little more. Of course, there's still plenty of time.
Reiterman: He's got a win at Quail Hollow and a Ryder Cup under his belt at 24 -- that's pretty damn good. But he still makes too many big numbers to contend on a regular basis, let alone get to the top of the rankings. He's also been making a few swing changes to take pressure off his back, so he still has a ways to go before we can put him up there with the big guns.
Godich: Fowler has been a disappointment. What's most amazing is the way he continues to tease us -- at the 2010 Ryder Cup and just a couple of weeks ago at Augusta, just to cite two examples. No. 1 in the world? Let's first see if he can pull even with Jason Bohn on the PGA Tour career victory list.
Gorant: Great success. He's become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, beloved by young fans and has had a lot of success. No. 1, who knows? Tiger's not going anywhere any time soon. Rickie's a little dude and unlike Rory he has a swing that puts a lot of strain on his body.
Morfit: I would characterize his career as tantalizing while rarely actually delivering, but the kid is so young. We got spoiled with Tiger and to some extent Rory.
Passov: So far, Rickie's results are a disappointment. He was one of the best collegiate players, a Walker Cupper, great rookie season -- very high expectations. He doesn't even seem to contend as often as he did in his early days on Tour. Yet, watching him interact with the fans and sign every last autograph, pose for every last iPhone photo on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'm finding it tough to be too critical.
This week the Champions Tour played its annual Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf, which began in 1978 and essentially launched the Senior Tour. Bernhard Langer is on fire this year and Rocco Mediate has brought some light moments, but the Champions Tour is still mostly operates outside golf's spotlight. What can the senior circuit to do generate more buzz?
Gorant: Nothing, and it shouldn't try. It appeals to a certain audience and set of sponsors that are loyal and which make it a successful venture. Not everything needs buzz.
Morfit: They could join forces with the LPGA and revive the old JC Penney mixed-team classic. But they'd maybe have to tweak the rules a bit to add a Champions vs. LPGA component.
Shipnuck: Nothing. If it went away tomorrow most golf fans wouldn't even notice, and nobody would mourn its demise. Like Norman and Faldo, Vijay doesn't want to play the Senior Tour, and neither will Phil or Tiger when they turn 50, if the tour even exists then. It's a niche of a niche of a niche.
Reiterman: As we've noted many times, it's hard to get too excited about a niche within a niche sport. Like hockey, there's no doubt the Champions Tour is better in person. The guys still have plenty of game, and they're incredibly fan-friendly. But it's hard to make that exciting for viewers at home.
Bamberger: I don't know, but I love the Legends event. If you can go, you should go. Whatever they are doing in Savannah should be attempted elsewhere. It's way better in person. Any fan can pretty much talk to any player, and the players, some of them, are legends.
Passov: I used to think I'd watch if they held events on golf courses that I really wanted to see, but I don't even make their Pebble Beach event Must-See TV. It needs superstars and rivalries. The latter is tough to envision, as the old-timers just want to play and cash checks, not prove any points. Maybe it's time for a Senior Ryder Cup.