FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The 120-player field at the FedEx Cup playoffs’ opening event includes participants who have won dollars by the millions and millions as well as many, many major championships.
But only one player at The Barclays tournament this week has a rule named after him, no matter how unofficial it might be.
“I don’t call it my rule,” three-time PGA Tour winner Billy Horschel said. “Everybody else does.”
Nonetheless, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will invoke that “Billy Horschel Rule” the night before his team flies to Minnesota to play Europe at Hazeltine National Golf Club late next month in the game’s biennial match-play throwdown. That’s when Love goes on national television at halftime of NBC’s Sunday night NFL game and announces his fourth captain’s pick that will give the U.S. team’s its 12th and final member.
Horschel’s triumphant finish to the 2014 PGA Tour season and a newly formed U.S. Ryder Cup “task force” that thought long and hard about its team’s mounting failures changed its qualifying rules after the Americans lost the Ryder Cup in Scotland two years ago for the sixth time in the last seven tries.
Horschel ended the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs that year with a second-place tournament finish followed by back-to-back tournament victories to claim the playoffs’ title and a rich $11.4 million check.
But despite being the hottest player on the planet that September, he was left off the U.S. Ryder Cup team because, according to PGA of America’s procedures, captain Tom Watson already had chosen the rest of his team after Horschel finished second at the Deutsche Bank championship over Labor Day weekend.
“You want to identify and pick who’s playing their best at the time,” said Love, who will announce his first three wild-card picks Sept 12 at Hazeltine National. “That’s where we’re trying to do.”
European captain Darren Clarke will have his 12-man team finalized by next week.
This time around, that last U.S. captain’s pick, at the 11th hour, will allow Love to add a player should anyone approach what Horschel did two Septembers ago.
After shooting a 2-under-par 69 Thursday at Bethpage Black, which put him three shots behind leaders Patrick Reed and Martin Laird, Horschel was asked if the PGA of America has done the right thing, even if it’s two years late for Horschel himself.
“I don’t think it’s the wrong thing,” he said. “You’re trying to get the best players playing at the best time. I think that’s a great rule to have one pick left. We need to switch it up. We haven’t won a Ryder Cup since 2008, so it’s been a while. We need to figure out something to do.”
A long-hitting former Florida star who turned pro in 2009, Horschel is 28th in the current U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, meaning one of the team’s eight automatic qualifying spots — finalized when The Barclays ends Sunday — is way out of reach.
That’s partly because Horschel has played a lighter schedule than normal knowing it’d cost him Ryder Cup points and partly because, despite a fifth-place finish last week, he just hasn’t built much momentum, much like 2014.
His coach tweaked his putting grip after he started the 2014 playoffs by missing the cut at The Barclays and then something magical happened.
“Just confidence,” he said, remembering when. “No matter what kind of start I got, no matter what was going on, I was going to find some way to play well. That’s what every player does when they get in that kind of mode. They have a confidence level that it doesn’t matter, nothing is going to bother them.”
Horschel reached the 2006 U.S. Amateur quarterfinals at Hazeltine, which he remembers as a “big, ol’ course” suited for long hitters and is neither counting on nor discounting the kind of finish he delivered two years ago.
“I think there’s always magic out there,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. Obviously, it’d be great to do what I did in 2014, but there’s still so many weeks ahead, so many rounds of golf…I think it’d be pretty ironic if I get picked by that rule at the end of the year, the first one to get picked is the one who possibly created the rule.”
He said watched that 2014 Ryder Cup from home and was asked after Thursday’s round if he’d trade his FedEx playoffs payday for the Ryder Cup experience.
“No,” Horschel said. “Never.”