It didn’t take long to find Billy Horschel. One day after the Floridian shot a disappointing four-over par 76 in the final round of the Irish Open and fell into a disappointing tie for 45th place, he was on the range at Wentworth. Working on his swing was clearly a top priority, but equally, Horschel knows for sure that this was a place where good vibes are a given.

Starting Thursday, Horschel will compete in the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship over the historic West course, known as the “Burma Road”. And already his record is well beyond impressive. The winner here in 2021, the 36-year-old has never been outside the top 10 and is 47-under par for the 11 rounds he has played (last year’s event was shortened to three rounds because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II). His average score is a little south of 68.

“I do have something of a love affair with this tournament,” said Horschel, a smile replacing the look of deep concentration that formed his expression as he addressed the mid-iron shots he was hitting. “This is only my fourth time actually playing here at Wentworth, but it feels like I’ve been coming to the BMW PGA Championship for a lot longer than that. I grew up watching this event from afar on television and always wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t do a great job early in my career when it came to making it over here, but when I did back in 2019, my already high expectations were exceeded. Everything about it impressed me. Only this morning I told someone if I could play this tournament 25 times a year, I’d be a very happy man.”

Predictably, the course plays a big part in Horschel’s enthusiasm for an event that has (under various sponsorships) been a permanent fixture at DP World Tour headquarters since 1984. If the roll call of past champions can be used as evidence of quality, Wentworth passes even the closest scrutiny. Since ’84, 10 major champions—Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Angel Cabrera, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Danny Willett and, last year, Shane Lowry—have inscribed their names on the trophy, as have eight-time European No.1 Colin Montgomerie (three times in succession) and former world No.1 Luke Donald (twice in succession).

That’s a powerful list.

“The golf course is a big part of that,” Horschel said. “It’s just beautiful. it requires you to drive well and hit good iron shots. If you’re off a little bit you, have to scramble well. The greens are not too undulating, but they are always interesting and thought-provoking.

Billy Horschel plays a shot into the 18th hole during the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. [Photo: David Cannon]
“Throw in the 25,000-plus fans we get every day, you’ve got yourself a seriously impressive occasion. In fact, because the trees are so close to the action it always feels like there is more than 25,000 watching. It’s so exciting and feels like a massive event.”

And yet, a perennial problem continues to exist. Even now that the BMW PGA is played in September, after the FedEx Cup, rather than in May, as it was before 2019, Horschel is almost alone in his American-accented enthusiasm. Only a few from the States feel inclined to play in what the seven-time PGA Tour winner calls “a top-six event in the world.” This year only five are in the field.

“I’m disappointed that more of my compatriots have not come,” he said. “I understand some guys want some time off after the FedEx Cup. The U.S. Ryder Cup team was in Italy over the weekend. I wouldn’t expect them all to come and play here, but I thought some would welcome the chance to play an event in European conditions before the Ryder Cup. They could still go home next week and prepare.”

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, Horschel is far from alone in contending that the obvious reluctance of so many of his fellow PGA Tour players to travel is a factor in why the U.S. is currently looking to win the biennial contest on foreign soil for the first time in three decades.

“I hear people asking why America hasn’t won a Ryder Cup over here in 30 years,” he said. “Maybe some of it is the financial stranglehold the PGA Tour has over the game. We just don’t have to travel the world in order to make a lot of money. Which is a pity. It’s not as if our top players aren’t good enough or smart enough to adjust to the courses. But add it up and the end result is that we have been losing on courses the Europeans are a lot more familiar with.

Billy Horschel poses with the trophy and with greenkeeping staff after winning 2021 BMW PGA. [Photo: Andrew Redington]
“I preach every year to guys on the PGA Tour that this is a great course for them,” he continued. “There are guys whose games are made for Wentworth. And I know if they did come, they would love everything about this place. I mean, London is right there, a city that offers everything in entertainment. Plus, given the support I get from the crowds here, I have to think guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas would get an even bigger reception, because of where they are in the world of golf.”

As for the future, Horschel is torn by what he sees is ahead for the BMW PGA. On one hand, he hopes the different landscape that will surely prevail in professional golf worldwide in 2025 means a more prominent place for one of his favourite events. On the other, that might mean the rank-and-file on the DP World Tour missing out because of the event being co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour.

“I would love to see more Americans playing here,” he underlined. “But that worries me, too. Would this event be diminished in a historic sense? It’s been a staple of the European scene for so long, I’d hate to see a lot of the guys over here not get to play. Would something be lost if that was to happen? It’s a fine balance. And I can’t quite decide. I certainly don’t want the European guys to lose this special event. But to get the recognition this event deserves that might have to happen.”

Such an eventuality would also threaten the length of a short list Horschel is more than proud to be a part of. In the long history of what many refer to in the U.K. as “the PGA,” only two Americans have emerged victorious. Horschel was the second of those, the first Arnold Palmer in 1975, when the event was played at Royal St George’s.

“To have my name alongside one of the greatest players in history and one of our game’s biggest ambassadors, means so much to me,” he said. “I’ve clearly done something right. I’d love to win it again and have one more than Arnie. That would be really special.”

And with that, he went back to beating balls.

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