Former mini-tour pro and musician Joe Horowitz is as adept with a Taylor guitar as he is with a 1-iron

October 16, 2019
Joe Horowitz

If you were walking down the main drag in Portrush during this year’s Open Championship, you might have glimpsed a gent playing his guitar on a hotel balcony, cheered on by a crowd below.

This evoked the iconography of both the Beatles and U2, but there was something else familiar about the scene: the bald guy belting out the soulful rock songs. Perhaps you remember him from his fifth-place finish at the Tour Championship on the Canadian Tour or performing with Darius Rucker at “Monday After the Masters.” You might have spotted him shooting 62 at the Goslings Invitational in Bermuda or making his guitar (and a few overserved buddies) weep around a firepit at Bandon Dunes. Wasn’t he the same dude who won the Met Open all those years ago? Or sang with Toby Keith at the Crosby Clambake?

Joe Horowitz is golf ’s Zelig, seemingly everywhere at once, a chameleon as adept with a Taylor guitar as with a 1-iron. Most of us are lucky to have one marketable skill; Horowitz has made a life in both golf and music, collecting friends and tall tales at every stop along the way.

Turning 40 earlier this year motivated Joe to chase the dream(s) even harder. The result is the recently released EP Save Yourself, a collection of rocking meditations on success, failure, love, lust and encroaching middle age. The producer of (and drummer on) the album is Adrian Young, of No Doubt fame. “I met Joe through golf,” he says. Of course he did; they share a swing coach in Jaime Mulligan, who also ministers to PGA Tour players Patrick Cantlay and Luke List. “He is a very talented musician,” Young says. “He has a great voice and he knows how to write a song. [The title track] ‘Save Yourself ’ should be a monster hit. I could see it anchoring the soundtrack of a big movie or hit TV show. It’s just a matter of the right people hearing it.”

But Horowitz isn’t ready to give up on golf just yet. It’s been nearly a decade since he was a full-time mini-tour player. In the interim he has gotten married (to Julianne, a saint), had two adorable kids (Jack, Charlotte) and taken a couple of corporate jobs built on his raconteur’s skill at entertaining and connecting people. (At Pure Insurance he is vice president of member engagement and development but given more freedom to pursue his passions than the weighty title suggests.) “Deep down, I feel like I’m a musician even though I’ve devoted more of my life to golf,” he says. “But I know it’s a smaller window to achieve some of the things I want to in golf. So that will be my focus for a little while.”

Pause. Guffaw. “I think.”

The son of a school nurse and a science teacher, Horowitz grew up on the south shore of Long Island, where his favorite hangout was Lido Golf Course, a scruffy public layout with an eclectic clientele. Golf became an important part of his identity. “I was always trying to prove myself,” he says, “because I was the short, Jewish kid who didn’t belong to a country club.” He earned a scholarship to Richmond — “Shoulda been Wake Forest” — and won three tournaments as a Spider. Along the way, Horowitz also learned an important life lesson, as the homely dude in the neighboring apartment had a string of beautiful girlfriends seemingly based entirely on the fact that he was in a band. Horowitz was thus motivated to pick up the guitar. (He’s self-taught, as with the golf swing.)

In 2003 he embarked on a pro career, with little money and no real plan. “I thought I had to change everything about me to succeed, including my swing,” he says. To help fund his travels, Horowitz often performed at pro-am parties and local bars, selling CDs of his first album, Whiskey Sunrise, for $10. Waiting out a snowstorm in New Mexico, he wrote an elegiac song titled “The Good Life.” (Sample lyric: “Where I end up, well, chalk it up to the great unknown/But I’ll tell you one thing, it ain’t gonna be back home.”) He played it at so many Canadian Tour gatherings that, he says, “I still have guys tell me that when they hear that song it takes them right back to Ottawa in 2008.” Of course, late nights at bars is a good way to pick up waitresses but not ideal preparation for playing tournament golf the next morning.

When Horowitz talks about his future in golf, his goals are modest: play in a U.S. Open (he has missed out on qualifying a couple times by a lone stroke) and an Open Championship. Still, he can’t help but daydream about a hot streak that could take him to the big leagues. “He definitely has the game to make it,” says List. “He has a really sound swing and is a good putter. With a guy like that, you never say never.”

Even as Horowitz is working on his game, he’s busy promoting his new album. He recognizes the contradiction built into his unusual life, saying, “There’s an old saying by Confucius, or I don’t know, maybe it was Bob Rotella. But anyway, it goes, ‘The man who chases two rabbits catches none.’ Maybe I’d be more successful if I’d focused only on golf or only on music. But I wouldn’t change one shot or one note because all of it got me to where I am now. I love my wife, I love my kids, I still have a love for playing the game, I still love playing music. If I had focused exclusively on one path or the other, I’m sure I’d have had a lot less fun and made far fewer friends. Maybe that’s really the best way to measure success.”

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