Billy Horschel did not arrive at Muirfield Village this week with the typical confidence of a defending champion at one of the PGA Tour's iconic venues.
That's because the 36-year-old is enduring what he calls an "abysmal" year on the course. Horschel has dropped to 35th in the Official World Golf ranking from 18th at the start of the year. Through nine events in 2023, he has four missed cuts and only one top-20 finish -- a tie for ninth at the Match Play.
It serves as a stark contrast as Horschel attempts to join Tiger Woods (1999-2001) as the only players to successfully defend a title at the Memorial Tournament.
"The season's been pretty bad, pretty abysmal, to tell you the truth," Horschel said Wednesday. "We tried to make some changes in the offseason to get better and unfortunately it didn't work, went back to some of the old stuff and it's just, it's taken a little bit longer."
Horschel has long been known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve on the golf course, and has publicly apologized on multiple occasions for his behavior -- including once after a video emerged of him smashing a club into his bag at the Masters.
But Horschel admitted his struggles this year have carried over following certain rounds. He pointed to a discussion with his caddie Mark Fulcher and "stats guy" Mark Horton in the parking lot after missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
"I think even before I got back to the room, just in my car, just thinking about the discussion and thinking about where the game was and where I want to be and where I'm not at the moment. I sort of just broke down a little bit," Horschel said. "As much as people have seen me get upset and a little angry on the golf course, on the flip side of that, I'm not very much an emotional guy that way.
"I'm not a sappy guy -- I wouldn't say sappy not in a bad way -- but I don't cry very often -- not that people cry a lot, I don't know. But I broke down and I cried a little bit. I had tears."
The second "low" point this season came after another missed cut at the RBC Heritage -- where he shot a 74 on Friday to miss out on the weekend by three strokes.
"It was just a mental sort of grind and stress and fatigue and just on the range there for about 30 seconds just bending down," he said. "Had my head in my hands, just sort of, just trying to hold back the tears for a little bit. Because this game means so much to me and I love the game of golf and I'm so passionate about it."
Horschel said the internal pressure to live up to his own expectations, and to deliver results for the "team" and family that supports him, often gets in his way. He admitted the pressure he puts on himself has contributed to the seven-time winner historically struggling at the majors -- with a best career finish of T4 at the U.S. Open coming back in 2013.
Currently 108th in the FedEx Cup Standings, Horschel needs to move into the top 70 over the next 10 weeks in order to qualify for the playoffs for the 11th consecutive year.
His 2023 statistics would indicate Horschel faces an uphill battle. He's currently ranked outside of the top 100 in most major categories, including 171 is shots gained off the tee and 143rd in shots gained tee-to-green.
However, Horschel is confident his game is coming around. He chalked missing the cut at the PGA Championship to making "absolutely nothing" on the greens and is coming off a T40 at the Charles Schwab Invitational that would have been better if not for a 74 on Friday.
"It's been a very difficult year. It's been the hardest year of my 14 years on the golf course," he admitted. "But I'm starting to see some life, starting to see some more quality golf shots.
"My bad golf shorts aren't nearly as bad anymore. It's getting closer -- it's still not where I want it to be, but there's life in the game, finally."
--Field Level Media