Horschel does Atlanta, wants Tour Championship return

While holding a baby gator at the Aquarium, Horschel mused on how entertaining it would be to pull it out of his bag on the first tee at East Lake and scare the freckles right off Rory McIlroy.

Credit: Stan Badz / PGA Tour

Credit: Stan Badz / PGA Tour

While holding a baby gator at the Aquarium, Horschel mused on how entertaining it would be to pull it out of his bag on the first tee at East Lake and scare the freckles right off Rory McIlroy.

Billy Horschel owns several pairs of pants that would have been perfect for his visit to the Georgia Aquarium Monday.

There was the pair he wore to the 2013 U.S. Open, the ones covered up in little octopi. “They’re in the closet. They took on a life of their own; I can’t ever wear those again,” he said.

Or even the one with little sharks all over them that he wore Sunday in the final round of the PGA Championship. However, after Horschel shot 75 in those, they, too, are likely destined for a closet spot right next to the 2001-model velour jumpsuit.

“I was hoping I was going to be like a shark and make an attack up the leaderboard. But it looked like I was the one attacked by the sharks,” he said.

Instead, Horschel was happy wearing the more standard uniform of the PGA Tour player: White slacks; obligatory logoed shirt; a belt bluer than Muddy Waters and a cap that doubled as a billboard. Still, he was unique. Not too many people walking around Centennial Park on a Monday morning looking like they just stepped out of a Golf Digest instructional shoot.

So, Horschel and his entourage drew a goodly number of who’s-that stares as they did their photo-op half marathon around the sites that ring the Park.

Here’s the answer to all those quizzical looks: Horschel is the 22nd-ranked golfer in the world who last year mounted an epic finishing kick to win the Tour Championship at East Lake, the season-ending FedEx Cup and some serious, .250-hitting infielder money.

He blew through town to promote next year’s Tour Championship. One that he has made his mission to win again, although players more noted than he have never defended the FedEx Cup.

“If I could be the first one who wins the FedEx Cup back-to-back then that means I have something on Tiger Woods. So when he gives me crap on the golf course the only thing I could come back to him with would be: ‘Hey, I won back-to-back FedEx Cups.’”

Along the way, he held a baby gator at the Aquarium, musing on how entertaining it would be to pull it out of his bag on the first tee at East Lake and scare the freckles right off Rory McIlroy.

He mingled with the corporate swells at the World of Coke. Sliced a 20-yard field goal attempt at the College Football Hall of Fame. Shot around with Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, hitting a walk-off 3-pointer just as his four hours in Atlanta were done.

Horschel lives in Ponte Vedra, Fla., and is such a committed Florida Gator that he even risked some first-degree booing at East Lake last year while celebrating victory with a Gator chomp on the 18th green. But he came off Monday like 3D Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce presentation.

And heaven help the powers of golf should they ever think to move the Tour Championship out of Atlanta. “I’d be the one in the front of the line at the PGA Tour offices saying, ‘What the heck are you guys doing?’”

There is no guarantee Horschel will make it back to East Lake this year, since the Tour Championship sits at the apex of a playoff-type format. The FedEx Cup playoffs are a series of four events that winnow the top 125 in points down to 30 in Atlanta.

So, best to round up a few of his thoughts on the big issues of the day, just in case we don’t see him again.

And, yes, he said, Tom Brady got hosed (atop being a Florida fan, Horschel is partial to the Patriots, too).

Last year Horschel began the playoff push well out of anyone’s field of vision, 69th in points (he stands 43rd today). He finished 2-1-1 in the final three FedEx Cup events. And put together 12 straight rounds in the 60s. Is such sustained superiority possible again by someone not named McIlroy, Spieth or Day?

“I’ve been playing better this year. I haven’t had the results I wanted (no wins, two top 10s in 24 starts), but I feel my game’s rounding into form,” Horschel said.

That week at East Lake last year, Horschel amassed $11.4 million in winnings. Two days later, his wife Brittany gave birth to their first child. Should someone who just made that kind of cheddar ever change a diaper?

“I changed her first several diapers,” he said. “I don’t mind it. I did my fair share. I don’t do nearly as much now, but I try.”

Horschel is 28, putting him in a class of 20-something players who are now ushering in the post-Tiger Woods era. So, what’s going on with this new generation?

“Everyone is coming out younger and more confident and more ready to play,” he said. “And when the guys in their 20s get to their 30s, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to go off and die in the desert. We’re still going to be good players, we are still going to be the ones leading golf for the next 10 or 15 years.”

And finally, vitally this time of year as golf’s playoffs get ready to launch, do you think new coach Jim McElwain will turn around Florida football?

Stop him if you’ve heard this refrain before around the SEC. “We got to figure out who our quarterback is going to be.” he said.

“I think (McElwain) is the coach to do it. He’s recruiting well. Just give him some time, he’s going to do a fine job.”

(Insert another Horschel Gator chomp here).