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April 23, 2014

Billy Horschel


THE MODERATOR:  We'd like to welcome the defending champion of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Billy Horschel, to the media center.  I'm sure it's nice to be back at the site of your first PGA TOUR win, so tell us a little bit about what it's like being back here and some of the feelings that have come up.
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Yeah, it's awesome to be back in the city.  I've been saying this is probably the one tournament this year that I was really looking forward to playing in.  I know there's majors and WGCs that may mean more, but to me it meant a lot.  The city is such a great city.  The people here are so great, so warming, so welcoming.  The food, you can't beat the food, probably the best food there is at any TOUR stop.  It was a big tournament for me to come.  It meant a lot for me.  I was looking forward more to this tournament than the Masters or the U.S. Open or whatever other tournaments there are on the schedule.
And then to be back here is just such a great feeling.  Obviously my form may not be where it was coming into last year, but there's a lot of good vibes.  You remember a lot of good things that happened out on the golf course, and I always come here and always seem to be at a sense of ease, which is always a good thing for me.  I'm always a little hyper and a little on the go, go, go, and sometimes coming here just makes me just sort of calm down and relax and enjoy a good time.

Q.  It sounds like the rhythm of the Big Easy is soothing to you or calming, and just talk about how it's different‑‑ this is your first time as a defending champ at a major tournament.  Do you have any funny stories about the welcome or the treatment is different when you come back like that?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Yeah, the Big Easy is such a great city.  Like I said, it's just something about this city just puts me at a sense of ease.  I've got some great friends in the Capellas and Desi Vega who I've hung out with the last few years, and probably being around them, we go out to dinner pretty much every night, and we don't talk about golf much, we just talk about other things, and we're having a good time.
And then coming back here and seeing things, realizing I've got a big picture of myself up on that grandstand.  I've got to look at my mug every day.  It's a little bit different.
When you see all the tickets with your face on it and other stuff, you know, it's my first time defending, and I'm taking a lot of pride in coming back and hopefully being able to defend my title.
I've sort of geared up as much as I can for this tournament, and hopefully I can do a repeat performance.

Q.  After you won last year, what was the coolest message or something that you won't forget in the immediate aftermath?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Oh, I don't know.  It's funny, I don't do a good job at remembering things like that.  All I know is I got hundreds of voice mails and hundreds and hundreds of text messages that it took me a couple days to get back to everybody.  Just everyone reaching out to me and showing their support and congratulating me meant a lot to me.  I just can't tell you about one story because nothing sticks out.  I'm sure there was several of them.  But like I said, I don't do a good job at remembering things like that.

Q.  Along that line, I'm curious if you can put into words kind of how much your life has changed over the past year as far as obligations, requests and all that stuff and how you think you've handled it and how it's affected everything else?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Yeah, life has changed.  It hasn't changed me, I'm still the same person I was before I won this tournament.  I act no different.  I treat people the same way that I treated them before this tournament.  It doesn't matter how I play golf, that's what I do for my living but it doesn't make me anybody else who works a 9:00 to 5:00 job.  It took a little while to get used to.  I'm very welcoming to wanting to please everybody, and sometimes it was tough for me to say no.  I don't do a really good job of saying no.  I always want to make sure everyone got what they needed, and I always tried to go above and beyond, so I had to learn to make sure I took care of my stuff first, and then when I was done doing what I needed to do, then I could take care of anybody else that needed anything from me.
That's changed a lot, but it comes with the territory, and it's a good thing to have.  Obviously if you're having a lot of requests from media and doing stuff like that, it means you're doing something right.

Q.  Do you feel more comfortable with it now?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Yeah, I mean, I've never had so much issue with doing the media stuff, it's just saying no.  I'm not good at saying no to anything.  If somebody asks me to drive them four hours to Miami from Jacksonville or wherever it is, if I've got nothing going on, I'm more than likely going to drive them, especially if they're a friend of mine.  But it's just making sure when you do say no, you say it in a respectful way and a nice way so that they understand you've got to take care of your business, and for the most part you guys do a good job of understanding that this is our job and we've got to make sure we take care of ourselves first, and if we can we get to you if there's time.

Q.  People in the SEC are very proud.  They've won seven national titles in a row.  Any talk among guys on the TOUR that SEC has won this event four times in a row?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Yeah, I had that question at the media day about a month ago about SEC winners and everything.  You know, the SEC is such a prideful conference, and we take pride in all our sports.  So when you come here‑‑ the good thing about the SEC conference is it doesn't matter where you go.  I hear the "Go Gators" and everyone hears "Go Dawgs" and "Roll Tide" and "War Eagle," so everyone hears those chants.  But it's also nice.  SEC people, they're going to want to pull from someone from the SEC.  People think I'm crazy when‑‑ if Florida is not playing in the national championship game, I'm pulling for the SEC team in that national championship game.  How can you do that, they're the biggest rival.  Yeah, they may be during the year but they bring more money to our conference if they win the national title, so I look at the bigger picture.
Yeah, the guys that went to school here in that Southeastern Conference and live in the SEC territory, we just have a sense of greater pride, and especially if you're going into rival territory, you always want to make sure you can do well and possibly come out with a victory.  It doesn't matter if it's in football or golf.

Q.  Along those lines, Buddy Alexander announced that he's going to retire at the end of this year.  How much did he mean to you and how much of your game is because of him and how much does he help your form?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Man, Buddy meant a lot to me.  He gave me a small scholarship.  He took a chance on me to come to Florida.  I don't know where I would be if I didn't have the opportunity.  I knew he was the best coach even before he offered me a scholarship.  I knew that, like I said, he was the best coach possibly ever to coach the game of college golf.  When you look at his accolades as a player, there's not many coaches out there that have won a U.S.Amateur, who have played in the Masters, who have played on Walker Cup teams and World Cup Amateur teams, so just on the player side he has so much knowledge and experience that he can share with his players, and then from a coaching side how he can relate that to his players and what he's done.
Sure, he may not have won as many national titles or SEC titles as other coaches, but sometimes that's just the way the chips fall.  I can honestly say I don't think I would be in this position if it wasn't for him.  He took me from being a kid out of high school that was a halfway decent player to two, three, four levels beyond that and into a TOUR player, and then he handed me off to Todd Anderson who's been a big help, and I still seek out Buddy's advice to this day, about stuff on the golf course and even about stuff off the golf course.  I mean, he's a guy I talk to on a fairly regular basis, and whether it's golf or whether it's something, how to be a better man or a better husband, now I've got a baby on the way, so I'm sure he'll have some advice for me about being a father.
It's going to be sad to see him not there anymore, being in his office when I go back and visit a team at tournaments and everything, but maybe this will be a little better.  Maybe Camilo, Matt Every and I can possibly put up a little bit of money and have him travel with him and spend time with us out here on TOUR.

Q.  What do you think the hardest part of backing up a breakout season is on the PGA TOUR?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Possibly dealing with all the media questions and that plays with your mind a little bit.  You know, obviously when you have a breakout season it's always a good thing.  It's never a bad thing.  But you can't try and put more pressure on yourself to do what you did last year.  Obviously you want to do better, but you can't focus on I played well here at this tournament so that means I should be playing well here at this tournament.  You never know when you're going to play well.  All you've got to do, for me at least, I've got to try to get better day in and day out, week to week, month to month, and if I can do that, everything else will fall into place, and I feel like I've done that.  I'm a better player than I was a year ago right now, and I'm a better player right now than I was in January.
Have the results been the same?  No, but that's the way it is.  We're at the highest level, so sometimes you may not see the results right away.  You're not going to see big jumps and leaps and bounds.  Sometimes it's little small little things and it adds up to bigger things in the long run.  You know, sometimes it's dealing with the pressure of people asking why you're not playing as well as you did last year, and some people aren't able to handle that and other people are.
For me I don't care if‑‑ sure, I haven't played well, but I know that I'm ready about to start a stretch of really good golf.

Q.  I know you had a stretch of really good golf leading into this tournament last year, knocked on the door a bunch the weeks prior.  Looking back on it now, can you think of anything in particular about this week that kind of opened the door or anything you did particularly well, or something about the golf course or anything?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  The hole was like the size right here, and right now the hole looks about that big, or the ball thinks the hole is about that big.  That's all it was, the putts go in.  That's the thing about my game.  I'm always going to strike it good enough to play week in and week out.  I've worked hard on my short game to make it more reliable on a consistent basis.  I've always had a pretty solid short game, but maybe consistency level compared to like a Luke Donald or a Steve Stricker or some other top short game guys, I may not have been there on a consistency level, so I think I'm getting to that point, and really it just comes down to the greens.  I'm just not making anything.  I switched putters last week.  I finally started rolling the ball better, hitting my lines with this new Ping Karsten TRB 60, so I'm excited about that, and now it's just keep committing to it and hopefully the ball will find its way in the hole because there's not much more I can do.  I'm doing everything I can, and it's just when they start falling, hopefully they fall in bunches like they did last year, because I did putt really well for the first six, seven months of the year.

Q.  This is kind of on the older golfers.  Ernie Els is playing well, Vijay Singh is in the field, he's 51, he's still doing pretty well, Fred Couples played well at the Masters.  Does it impress you how well those guys in their 40s and even 50s are playing?  Do you seek those guys out at all?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  You know, Vijay has actually been‑‑ some people outside golf and this and that, you see Vijay, there's a stigma about him, but he's been really great to me.  Ever since I moved to Ponte Vedra he's been a good friend of mine.  I'll see him out there at practice and we'll talk stuff and I'll ask him certain things about short game and chipping and certain other things, and then sometimes he'll ask me just if I'm watching him hit balls if I'm seeing anything or this and that.  He's been actually a good friend of mine and a good buddy.
When you look at a guy like Vijay and Ernie Els, they did a great job taking care of their body.  They took care of their body the right way, and they practiced hard and they did the right things.  So I mean, it doesn't shock me that they're playing well up to this age.  Fred Couples, same thing, he's such a good guy and great player, but there's different ways to take care of your body and different things.
But I'm not sure if I'll ever‑‑ 50 is a long time to play golf for.  I'm 27, I turned pro at 22, that's 28 years of straight professional golf.  I'm not sure if I'll make it that long.  I mean, golf, I love golf to death and it does good for me, but I've talked to people, my parents and my wife and certain other people, I said I may not want to play golf past the age of 45.  If I play good for the next 12, 15 years, whatever it may be, I may just say, hey, I've had a good time, I don't want to do this anymore.
I'll know the time, when that time is, when I don't want to wake up and go practicing and get in the gym and work hard.  So when that time comes I'll just hang them up and go do other things.

Q.  On the other end of the spectrum obviously fans focus their attention this week on you and other guys who have won, but knowing what you know about this tournament and all the maiden winners, are there any guys that have never won that you wouldn't be surprised based on how they're playing, if they emerged here?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  You know, Graeme de Laet has been playing well.  It still shocks me he hasn't won because he had such a great year last year and was so close at the end of the year to winning, and I think beginning of the year again this year he's been close to winning, so it wouldn't shock me if Graeme wins.  I'm going to put my good buddy Matt Every in there, he finally got his victory at Bay Hill.  I have a feeling that you're not going to see a maiden winner this week, I think you're going to see someone who's won before win, and maybe that's me, maybe it's not.
Like you said, this tournament has produced a lot of first‑time winners, and is there a reason behind it, I don't know.  It's tough to win out here, that's all it comes down to.  It's just tough to win out here.  You don't see guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and some of the other guys have 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 wins.  It's going to be tough to even get to 20 or 30 I think because there's so many good players out here.
For some reason I have a sneaky feeling that you're not going to see a first time winner and maybe it'll be somebody with a Zurich logo on them.

Q.  If you're looking at this PGA TOUR season big picture, and we're already past the halfway point of the season, which story lines to you really stand out and in your mind are defining what the season has been at the halfway point?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  Hmm.  This may sound‑‑ I'm not harping on a subject here, just the amount of withdrawals from tournaments and guys being injured and seeing that.  We do such a good job of taking care of our body, the majority of guys out here, so when you see someone get injured and you see a lot of withdrawals and guys getting hurt, and those guys that are getting hurt are top level players, that's what stands out to me.
I know that we've had a lot of young guys win, so that's a cool thing, but I just am always shocked when someone is injured because we do such a great job of taking care of our bodies that hopefully it's never anything major for these people because some of these guys that are injured, they drive our sport, and we need them back out here soon, because as much as we have the young guys and all these up‑and‑coming golfers playing so well, there's a couple certain guys that we need to play well to help drive it a little bit more.

Q.  Can you talk about the golf course a little and why this Pete Dye design fits you so well?
BILLY HORSCHEL:  You know, I've always been a fan of Pete Dye golf courses.  I know a lot of guys criticize him and aren't big fans of him, but it seems like wherever there's been a Pete Dye golf course I've always seemed to play well.  With his designs, it's a visual intimidation that he does off the tees and into greens and everything.  And then when you get out there, you realize, man, there's a lot more room or there's a lot more green to hit to.  I think it's a mind game he plays with you.
I just for some reason seem to focus a little bit better on courses that he designs.  Sometimes I tend to lose a little focus and just become a little too complacent knowing that I strike it so well that I think I can just hit any shot in here.  I have to be a little bit more focused and committed to what I do.  And this golf course is so great.  I know they've had a hard winter, I know a lot of golf courses around the country have had hard winters, but the greens are in really good shape.  Some of the fairways are a little thin, but for the most part the course is in a really good shape.  It's a little soft right now.  I know they had quite a bit of rain last week because I know we got it from Hilton Head, so I think the weather looks great this week, so I think when it starts drying out, it's going to be a good test of golf.

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