Joy of Golf: Horschel shows again why golf’s a mind game

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What Billy Horschel did on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson was amazing, but what his wife Brittany did the next day was even more astonishing.

The American, who won the 2014 FedEx Cup Playoffs ahead of Rory McIlroy in sensational fashion – he missed the cut at The Barclays, finished second at the Deutsche Bank Championship and then won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship in a fourweek stretch – turned around his wretched form that saw him miss three straight cuts immediately before the tournament.

The American can at times be highly-strung but is generally a happy-go-lucky character. And he is someone who is outspoken about any issue bothering him – remember how he took on the USGA on using Chambers Bay as a venue?

So, his emotional reaction when he beat Jason Day in the first playoff hole on Sunday came as a bit of surprise. Perhaps it was because of how he struggled on the Tour for two years since winning the FedEx Cup.

For someone who seemed to be on the verge of making a massive impact in the game, just three top-five results in the past two years was unusual.

Horschel refused to divulge any details later in the press conference, saying: “Life gets in the way sometimes. I’m not able to talk about it right now. But it’s just a lot of stuff happened in the last year and this is just – this is nice.”

It was only after Brittany posted on Twitter that one came to know what the player and his family have been going through lately. Brittany revealed she was a recovering alcoholic, who has been sober for the past year.

She also said she spent more than two months last summer in a treatment facility, leaving her husband to take care of their 18-month-old daughter while playing full-time on the Tour. It was a brave revelation; one that Brittany hopes will raise awareness on the issue and help other families going through a similar situation.

It is often said that golf is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears. Horschel is just one of the many players we have seen on Tours recently who have struggled when they have other things on their mind.

In 2014, Rory McIlroy was unable to get a win until the time he decided to call off his wedding plans. That week itself, at the BMW PGA Championship on a Wentworth course he is not very comfortable on, he triumphed.

That led to the incredible summer when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship back-to-back, followed by consecutive runners-up finishes in the Tour Championship, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the DP World Tour Championship.

Or, take the example of Day this year. The world No1 has fallen to No3, but for someone who dominated world golf from the Open Championship in 2015 until his injury at the 2016 Deutsche Bank Championship, 2017 was proving a comparative struggle.

Day finally revealed during the WGC-Dell Match Play about his mother’s illness. Now that it is off his chest, and she is getting good care, the Aussie is showing signs of his best form again and finished runner-up in last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.

Of course, there are times when the opposite holds true as well. Henrik Stenson’s win last year at the Open Championship is a good case. On the eve of the tournament, the Swede came to know about the death of his good friend Mike Gerbich.

Even though he thought of Gerbich throughout the 72 holes, those memories seemed to galvanise Stenson as he became the first male Swedish major champion. India’s Jeev Milkha Singh showed terrific grit when he won the Japan Golf Tour’s season-ending JT Cup the same week he and wife Kudrat lost their baby in the seventh month of pregnancy.

And then there was the stoic Darren Clarke, who played exceptionally well to help Europe win the Ryder Cup in 2006 at K-Club just weeks after the death of his wife Heather. The mind works in unique ways and experts believe that the greatest athletes are the ones who can harness its power the best.

GOOD WEEK

Jason Day

The Australian has endured a tough start to the year, distracted following the news of his mother battling with terminal cancer.

He has dropped from world No1 to four, so a play-off loss at Byron Nelson to someone who wasn’t even ranked inside the top-75, would surely hurt. But he had a great week with the putter – except for the three-putt in the play-off hole – and that would lift his morale.

BAD WEEK

Jordan Spieth

Things are definitely not all right in the Spieth world. The Texan missed the cut at the Byron Nelson, following a round on Friday in which he hit two balls out of bounds and posted a nine on the hole.

Everyone is entitled a bad week here and there, but the American has now missed three cuts in last four starts. That’s a bit of worry, but he reckons he is not very far off from his best form. So, let’s wait and watch.

WHAT’S IN THE BAG

Billy Horschel

Winner, AT&T Byron Nelson Driver: PXG 0811X (9 degrees) 3-wood: PXG 0341X (15 degrees)
5-wood: PXG 0341 (18 degrees)
Irons: PXG 0311T (3, 5-PW)
Wedges: PXG 0311T Milled (52-, 56- and 60-degrees)
Putter: PXG Bat Attack
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

EVENTS THIS WEEK

PGA Tour
Dean & Deluca Invitational Course: Colonial Country Club Fort Worth, Texas
Purse: $6.9 million
Defending champ: Jordan Spieth
European Tour BMW PGA Championship Course: Wentworth Club Virginia Water, England
Purse: $7 million
Defending champ: Chris Wood

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MENA Tour winner Jazz to feature in DEAN & DELUCA Invitational

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Rising Thai star Jazz Janewattananond will be hoping to hit all the right notes when he tees it up at the PGA Tour’s DEAN & DELUCA Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth in Texas from May 25 to 28.

Jazz has been handed a special invitation to compete in the celebrated PGA Tour event by the Pace Development Corporation, the owner of gourmet food and beverage brand ‘DEAN & DELUCA’ and title sponsor of the $6.7 million tournament, following his impressive victory in the MENA Tour’s MahaSamutr Masters at Banyan Golf Club in Hua Hin, Thailand, earlier this month.

Jazz flashed a glimpse of his burgeoning talent when he held off a spirited challenge from fellow Thai professional Varanyu Rattanaphaibulkij to take the honours in a playoff in a first for a Thai player on the MENA Tour.

The 21-year-old prodigy, who will be the first-ever Thai professional to play in the PGA Tour’s longest-running event, will join a star-studded cast at Colonial, headlined by defending champion Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Masters and Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar among other top draws.

“It is a great honour and opportunity to represent Thailand at such a world-class professional tournament,” said Jazz, who turned professional in 2010 and became the youngest ever player to make the halfway cut on the 2010 Asian Tour, aged just 14 years and 71 days.

“My sincere thanks to PACE Development Corporation and DEAN & DELUCA for offering me such a valuable spot. I will try and do my best. The experience of playing alongside world-class player will certainly come handy for the future.

Sorapoj Techakraisri, Chief Executive Officer, PACE Development Corporation, said: “As a Thai entrepreneur, PACE continuously sees the importance of showcasing Thai potential and talent on the world stage in many aspects.

“Apart from operating business in Thailand and internationally, PACE continually supports local golf development. This will mark the second year as title sponsor of DEAN & DELUCA Invitational, which is one of the world’s most famous and longest-running professional golf tournaments.

“We are pleased to offer this great opportunity to a young passionate Thai professional like Jazz. As the first-ever Thai professional golfer to attend this tournament, Jazz will be able to showcase his talent at a world class tournament on the PGA Tour, while competing alongside the world’s top players.

“We hope that Jazz will gain much experience from this tournament and we believe that he will be a good inspiration to the younger generation of Thai golfers.

In addition, PACE, under MahaSamutr Country Club Hua Hin, sponsored the ‘MahaSamutr Masters Pro-Am’ to select two lucky Country Club members to play alongside the PGA Tour stars at DEAN & DELUCA Invitational Pro-Am 2017.”

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Shiv Kapur planning to make the most of third lease of life

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Resurgent Indian star Shiv Kapur reckons he is enjoying the ‘third innings’ of his life, and is determined to make the most of it in the coming years.

The 35-year-old Dubai-resident returned to the winner’s circle recently in stunning fashion, shooting an eight-under par 64 in the final round to triumph in the Asian Tour’s Yeangder Heritage on a demanding National Golf Country Club in Chinese Taipei a fortnight ago.

That ended nearly three years of frustration for Kapur, whose last victory came at the European Challenge Tour’s 2013 Grand Final at the now-closed Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai.

With his win in Dubai, Kapur rose to No142 in the world, and it looked like the 2002 Busan Asian Games individual gold medalist was ready to fulfill the promise he showed early in his career. After all, he was a standout star for Purdue University in NCAA in his college days, and quickly followed up his Asiad win by almost qualifying for the 2004 US Open as a 21-year-old amateur (he spent the whole opening round at Shinnecock Hills as the first alternate, but nobody in the field pulled out at the last minute).

And within a year of turning professional, he won the 2005 Volvo Masters of Asia, the elite season-ending championship.

Kapur plied his trade on the European Tour for several years before losing his playing privilege there in 2016. And after getting married to Maya in April, faced a potentially life-threatening situation in August.

Shiv Kapur.

Shiv Kapur.

While in Bulgaria, Kapur developed high fever that refused to subside. He pulled out of European Tour event the week after and was being treated for viral fever. But when six days later he still had high temperature, he decided to somehow make the journey back to India.

It was there that he got the shocking news. There was a tennis ball-size abscess in his liver that needed urgent surgical removal. Kapur was clearly lucky as a few more days and it could have spread to his stomach and developed into septicaemia.

“It was scary all right. I was very lucky I decided to go back to India. Because, in Bulgaria, I was given antibiotics, which was very dangerous for my liver at that stage,” said Kapur as he prepared to participate in this week’s Thailand Open.

“I was in the hospital for a week as the doctors wanted the abscess to reduce in size. After the surgery, they told me to rest for two months. And that was where I made a mistake. I guessed that if I could walk, I could also play golf. I started playing in 10 days and I remember playing my first practice round in Korea, I was so weak and so much in pain, I could barely walk back to the hotel.

“Because I wasn’t strong, my distances with the clubs were all wrong. I started getting into bad habits with my swing – basically my body was trying to protect the injured part. It all deteriorated pretty quickly.

“I am extremely competitive and I just can’t stay in the bed. And I am very passionate about my golf. During my stay in the hospital, I was getting restless, which prompted the decision to come back so soon. Of course, in hindsight, I should not have done that.”

As Kapur puts it, it was the third lease of life he got. In 2003, while studying in America, he suddenly felt one side of his face going numb. Within days, his right side was paralysed. It was diagnosed as Bell’s Palsy, a viral infection, but he also developed a lump in his throat, which could have been cancerous.

“That was even more scary as I was all alone in the US. I did not tell my parents because they would get worried. The only person I informed was my sister. For three weeks I would drive to the hospital and get checks done. Thankfully, it all cleared up, and believe me, I was so relieved, I played the best golf of my life in college after that,” recalls Kapur, who studied business management and finance in Purdue.

“You know, after incidents like these, you start appreciating more what you have got. Health is the most important thing in your life, golf isn’t.

“But as much as you understand that, when you go out on the golf course and do not perform, frustration still sets in. Things have changed in my life. I am married now and I have to think of Maya. We golfers can lead a very self-centred life, but now I have someone else to take care of. There is more balance in my life, and it is going to change some more when we have our first child (due mid-August).”

Kapur worked hard on his game towards the later end of 2016, but wasn’t getting the desired results. Three weeks ago, he played very good golf in the Panasonic Open in Japan, and still missed the cut by one shot. He was left heart-broken.

“I was very upset after that. I traveled to Taiwan thinking I’d play that week in the Yeangder Heritage, and then take a call for the rest of the year. I love my golf, but I also have a knack for business. I was seriously contemplating if I should give up golf and think more on the business front.

“But this game of ours is really funny. It would be wrong to say I lowered my expectations in Taiwan. In fact, I honestly went there with zero expectations. And suddenly, I win the tournament. It has changed everything now.”

There is now a perceptible spring in his step, something that comes naturally with the confidence of a recent win. Kapur is now looking forward to the future with renewed vigour.

“Obviously, winning helps and hopefully this is the start of a great run for me. I want to represent India in the 2020 Olympics. That is the dream goal for me. But I do not want to set other goals. I’d like to get back into the European Tour, and I’d love to play on the PGA Tour. But I will take things as they come,” he added.

“One thing I really want to do is play majors. I have felt the rush and adrenaline of doing well in majors…I have led the Open Championship and I have done well in the US Open. That is something that I want to experience again.”

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