As important rounds go, I’d put the final day of the 2014 Tour Championship right up there for me.
I went to bed Saturday night tied for the lead with Rory McIlroy. What was at stake was hard not to
think about. There was a $10-million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup, in addition to the $1.4-million-plus for the tournament. Those are serious numbers; and it didn’t make sleeping any easier.
Here’s the first thing I do when I have a big round coming up: Embrace it. No matter how nervous you are, you’re not feeling anything a million players haven’t felt before you. If you shrink away from the challenge, it won’t be any easier the next time. But if you welcome it, the next one will be easier.
Every day that week on the drive to East Lake, the same song came on the radio: “Flaws” by Bastille. It has an awesome, energetic beat. Some weeks I like a slower song, or something that inspires me. The country song “Drinking Class” by Lee Brice does that. But that week it was all “Flaws.” Two minutes from the course, the song still hadn’t come on, and I almost panicked. Then they played it. It was beautiful. That was a good sign. When I got to the course, I went immediately to the fitness trailer and spent 30 minutes getting my body ready to swing a club. If you don’t have a gym to use or a lot of time before your round, you should at least loosen up your lower back. Sit down, cross one leg over the other, and turn gently in the opposite direction. Then switch legs, and turn the other way. Avoid going straight to the practice fairway. You want to warm up before your warm-up.
My actual pre-round prep is unusual. At East Lake, I went to the putting green and spent 15 minutes making sure I was starting the ball on line. From there, I went to the short-game area and practised chips and pitches for 10 minutes. Then I headed to the range to hit mostly wedges, half and full distances, for 20 minutes. I use a range finder to see how far I’m hitting them, because my distance can change by as much as 10 metres, which is huge. I don’t hit many drivers before a round.
Seven to 10 did the trick at East Lake, but sometimes it’s as few as three. I was hitting my driver well, so I didn’t want to get fixated on it. I spent the last 10 minutes back at the practice putting green, this time concentrating on speed more than line. I went out and shot 68 and won the Tour Championship by three shots.
Big rounds don’t get much sweeter than that. — with Guy Yocom
Billy Horschel, 29, has won three times on the US PGA Tour.