DUBLIN, Ohio — More than a little apprehensive Thursday morning before he embarked on his opening round in the Memorial Tournament—and rightfully so after his crushing 84 to being the tournament a year ago—Billy Horschel received some sage advice on how to navigate Muirfield Village Golf Club.

The muse was his 5-year-old son Axel.

“He told me how to play the par 5s. He said, ‘you know, no one’s making eagles on the par 5s when they’re hitting irons into ’em, so hit a wood into ’em,’” Horschel relayed. “He said, ‘if not, then make a long putt or maybe chip in or hole out from somewhere.’”

Well, your dad did OK, Axel.

After a couple of days of genuine worry, Horschel took a few deep breaths and went out and exorcised some demons with a solid three-under 69 on a windy and trying day at Jack Nicklaus’ vaunted signature design that is hosts a signature event. The outing further solidified the strides Horschel has made since last year when he was thoroughly embarrassed by his performance as the defending champion. But amid the disappointment of that day, which brought him to tears, was the start of his reclamation. And because he was so open and honest about his frustrations by spilling his heart out in a post-round interview, Horschel garnered respect and admiration from his peers and golf fans.

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Everyone who has played knows golf is hard. Not everyone realizes how cruelly it can break down even a seasoned professional. People saw that. They responded. It helped with the healing process.

Still, Horschel had to face the challenge again. That he asked for—and received—a sponsor exemption into the tournament was an indication he was ready. Mostly.

“I’ve been thinking about it since Tuesday,” Horschel, 37, said of last year’s train wreck. “I mean, every hole I played this week, I’m thinking, ‘God, how bad I played that hole on Thursday last year.’ So, yeah, the last couple days I’ve been thinking about it and even today, I was nervous waking up because, obviously, yeah, I’ve won here, and I’ve played fairly well here in previous years.

“But yeah, that 84 still lingers a little bit. I think it’s just that one little thing that I just need to get over and to play well today, I hit quality golf shots, and sort of get back into, you know, I guess, hopefully, get over the hump of what happened here last year. There is a little scar tissue from here last year, but I think hopefully I got over that today.”


Billy Horschel reacts to a shot on the 17th fairway during a first-round 84 last year at the Memorial.

Dylan Buell

Part of Horschel’s apoplexy over the worst round of his career was that it came in the first round as the defending champion. “Shooting 84 when you’re defending champ, it was sort of the lowest of the low point for me,” he admitted.

Another part of it was total confusion over why it was happening. He began working with instructor Todd Anderson on adjustments to his swing in late 2022, but he was more lost than ever. Then between the Memorial and the U.S. Open, after a somewhat redemptive 72 in the second round, Horschel learned that the lie angles on his irons were too upright.

“Technically, the swing was good, but the lie angles were off. So we figured that out. Then it was just some of the emotional side,” Horschel said. “Then it was a matter of getting rid of all the scar tissue, getting rid of all the bad shots that I had hit from January to early June and replacing those with quality shots and believing that we can swing a club again.”

Ranked 66th in the world, Horschel has been swinging it well enough that he fired a final-round nine-under 63 for a come-from-behind victory in the Corales Puntacana Championship in April, the week after sitting out the Masters. It was the eighth win of his tour career, and a validating one, too.

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“It was a validation, there’s no doubt about it,” the Florida native said. “I felt there was a win coming, and I felt it was just a matter of time until I got back in the winner’s circle and won again.”

Horschel didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but after a round in which he was among the leaders in several statistical categories and made 115 feet of putts—Axel undoubtedly would find that to his liking, the former FedEx Cup champion found himself in the mix and hoping to do “something special.”

But if his week doesn’t unfold as he’d like, he’s seen rock-bottom, which every player eventually sees at some point in his career, and he climbed out of it no worse for wear. He can deal with it.

“Listen, sometimes we get caught up in everything, and we get caught up in things that we can’t control,” Horschel said. “You’ve got to come back to what you can control and that is just try and get better at the game of golf day-in, day-out, improve, have a good attitude, work hard at it and have the belief that things are going to turn around. So, sometimes you need to get put back in a little bit of the perspective mode to see what really matters. … It is just golf.”

Easy to say. Easy to forget sometimes, too.

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com