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In the last 15 months, Billy Horschel has won a World Golf Championship, one of the top tournaments in Europe and Jack Nicklaus’ event.
Before that, he was best known for winning a FedExCup with one of the hottest of streaks. But Horschel’s game has reached even higher levels since the start of 2021, thanks to sustained consistency instead of a couple incredible weeks.
It started last March with a win in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Then he became the first American since Arnold Palmer to win the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event on the DP World (formerly European) Tour. Horschel’s win Sunday in the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday vaulted him to a career-high 11th in the world ranking.
With five top-10s this season, including a pair of runners-up to go along with his win, Horschel is 10th in the FedExCup. He’s missed just one cut in 15 starts and finished in the top 25 in nearly two-thirds of his starts.
“It shows what we’re doing at home and what we’re doing on a weekly basis, we’re doing the right things,” he said Sunday after winning by four shots.
Part of that preparation back in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, is work with the same swing coach he’s employed for 14 years, Todd Anderson, the Director of Instruction at the PGA TOUR’s Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass.
In this edition of Inside My Swing, Horschel and Anderson will give a closer look at the swing of the seven-time TOUR winner and show what they’ve worked on during more than a decade as a teacher-student combination.
“It’s not changing every day,” Horschel said. “It’s finding out what works, sticking with it and making tweaks here and there.”
Some players overlook their setup because it’s the only static position in the golf swing. Not Horschel, who treats it with the utmost importance.
“It’s probably 85 to 90% of my swing,” he said. “If I don’t feel correct in my setup, I’m not going to make a good swing.”
Like many players, Horschel uses alignment sticks during his practice sessions. He lays one at his toes to ensure his body is properly aligned. But he also places one in front of his ball, pointing at his target (pictured above). This helps him visualize the line he wants his ball to travel on after impact and helps him get his clubface square to that target.
“To be able to see where a straight line is from the clubface to the target is super important,” Horschel said. “I always align the clubface first and then align my body to that.”
Horschel combats a tendency to get too “open” at address, which can occur when he’s also standing too far from the ball. He likes to feel that his arms are hanging straight down from his shoulders at address.
To keep his body from pointing too far left of his target, Horschel will exaggerate the opposite of his flaw. He’ll set up to the ball with his right foot dropped back in a “closed” position, then place his right hand on the club while keeping his right shoulder back.
“I’ll put my left hand on the club, … and then just try to deliver the right hand and the arm to the club without my right shoulder moving closer (to the ball),” Horschel said. “The bad times are when the right arm feels like it’s on top of the left arm. Then I feel like my right arm is really dominant.”
When Horschel feels that he has his upper body properly aligned, he’ll then move his right foot into its proper position to achieve the correct setup.
Horschel has been on TOUR more than a decade, but it’s never too late to make a change. Last year, he made a fade his predominant shot shape, hitting a shot that moves from left-to-right instead of the draw that was his stock shot for most of his career.
In the past, Horschel fought a tendency to get the club too far “around” him. This can lead to inconsistency because it requires more face rotation to square the clubface. Switching to a fade has lessened the costly left misses that Horschel would occasionally fight.
He ranks 10th in driving accuracy this season and 28th in greens in regulation.
An improper setup would set Horschel’s swing off kilter from the start. When his shoulders were aimed too far left at address, his left side would be overactive at the start of the swing to “get back to square,” Horschel said. This led to him rolling his arms and the clubface, and the clubhead getting too far behind his hands.
Anderson said Horschel wants his left side to be “more of a follower than a leader.”
Adds Horschel: “When I get in that good setup with the right arm just below the left, that allows me to feel like my first move is my right shoulder turning back behind me and the club staying out in front of me. From there, I can just complete the backswing.”
After a proper takeaway, Anderson said Horschel simply “folds” the club up to get it to the top of the swing. His hands are now higher at the top of the swing than they were when he was hitting a draw and the club no longer gets “laid off,” i.e. pointing left of the target, at the top.
Horschel uses the “pump drill” to rehearse his transition from the backswing to the downswing. After completing his backswing, Horschel does this drill by “pumping” his hands up and down three times.
This drill helps him maintain width in his downswing and keeps his upper body from turning too early in the downswing. The “pump” comes from the movement of the right arm as it extends and then bends back up to the top of the swing. The shoulders stay relatively still during this drill.
“It feels like I’m throwing or tossing the club,” Horschel said. “The left arm is staying quiet and the right arm is extending.”
After completing the drill, Horschel simply feels like he can turn through impact. Horschel said this drill helps him have a shallow angle of attack, something he sees in many of the best iron players, like Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and, especially, Tiger Woods.
“Tiger had a very wide release,” Anderson said, referring especially to those years from 1999-2002 when he won seven of 11 majors in one stretch. “He didn’t get real narrow with his arms. His arms stayed wide, the club kind of moved away as he came down.”
When Horschel would get laid off at the top of his backswing, he felt like he’d start his downswing by “pulling” the club down in an attempt to get the club in front of his hands. His downswing would get too narrow and his upper body opened up too soon.
Horschel is particular about his alignment on the putting greens, as well. So much so that he doesn’t make practice strokes. It’s a unique approach that pays off, as Horschel ranks 11th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season.
“It takes him a little bit to get his hands on the club the way he wants, so once he does, he just slides in and hits it,” Anderson says.
Horschel returned to the left-hand low grip about three years ago. Players who use that grip have to fight the tendency to get “closed” at address, the opposite of Horschel’s tendency in the full swing.
But like his pre-shot routine for full shots, Horschel lets his arms hang freely to get the feel for proper alignment. He’ll also address the ball by putting his right foot in position first (pictured above) to keep him from getting too closed, the opposite of what he does on his full swing.
He switched to the left-hand low putting grip, also known as cross-handed, in part because he hates to pull putts. That’s also why he stands very close to the ball when he is putting and has a forward press, where the grip is ahead of the putterhead at address.
“He gets his hands high at address with his left arm hanging down under his left shoulder so that the putter sits a little bit on the toe,” Anderson says. “From there he pushes the putter back with his left hand/shoulder and then drives it through with his right arm. He wants to feel very little arm or face rotation during the stroke. It’s very straight back, straight through. His left side keeps the putter in line and the right side delivers the hit.”
He also uses a chalk line (pictured) on the green to ensure he’s starting the ball on line, the same reason he places two tees little more than a ball-width apart on his target line. An off-line putt will strike one of the tees.
Birdie to start the back ????
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