I remember during my college playing days, David Duval was the No. 1 player in the world and my college coach Puggy Blackman was his swing coach. He had also been Duval’s college coach and so David would be around from time to time. On one of those occasions Duval said something that has stuck with me ever since: Normally, over the course of a tournament, a PGA Tour player is only on with his swing one out of the four days — the other three days he has to rely heavily on his short game to scrap out a decent score. On that one great ball-striking day Tour players play aggressively, firing at every pin and hitting driver often in the hopes of shooting in the mid-60s. During the other three days most play very conservatively, shooting for the middle of the greens on most holes and laying up on some of the tougher tee shots, just trying to shoot a score that won’t put them out of the tournament, maybe a 70 to 72. It seems like the best players have a great understanding of where they are with their game, when to press and when to just hang in there.
When you watch golf on TV, I don’t think you really see this aspect of the game; normally all you see are long putts being made and great approach shots being shown. So far this season, I’ve been impressed by two players who seem to possess a maturity that hasn’t come overnight: those two are Jimmy Walker and Billy Horschel. Not too many people in this modern era of golf have been able to jump right onto the big stage and perform consistently at the top, and these two up-and-coming stars are no different.
Jimmy Walker is a nice, soft spoken guy with a ton of game and offense. He doesn’t get much credit for his game but I think he is going to be a real star in the next few years and a Ryder Cup player. He’s very long off the tee, with a powerful draw. After Jimmy topped the money list on the Nationwide Tour in 2004 it looked like he was ready for the big time, but injuries held him back until recently. Now healthy, it seems that he is comfortable and ready to be around for a long time.
When we played with Billy this year in San Diego I knew there was something different about him and I really liked it. Billy walked onto the first tee about 30 seconds before his tee time (normally you would be there at least 5-10 minutes early) with his chest out and a swagger that I have only seen from major winners. As he grabbed his scorecard and shook the hands of his playing partners, you could tell it was his show for the rest of the day. Billy’s caddie’s name is Micah and on every shot from the first tee on, Billy would say something.
“Micah, you see that green tree out there? I’m going to start my ball at the left edge of it and let the wind bring it in. Watch this.”
He reminded me of a kid just showing off, but he did this on shot after shot, explaining exactly what he was going to do before he did it. For the first two rounds, Billy put on one of the best driving displays I have ever seen: dead-straight balls that started right up the center of the fairway. He ended up being paired with Tiger the last two days and I’m sure that’s his next learning curve.
It hasn’t came easy for Billy: he missed his first seven cuts when he first got on Tour and had to go back to Q School the last three years in a row, successfully retaining his PGA Tour card each time. Looks like he won’t be losing his card anytime soon, though — he has the longest streak of made cuts going on Tour, making his last 21 in a row, and just achieving his first tour win at the Zurich Classic.