ORLANDO – After hitting his approach shot on the 15th hole of his opening round Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Sam Horsfield noticed a big chunk of his golf ball was missing. Horsfield figured something must’ve been underneath his ball when he hit the shot, and the Rules of Golf allowed him to replace the ball mid-hole.
“That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me,” Horsfield said.
There have been a lot of firsts for Horsfield since he turned pro last summer following his sophomore year at Florida.
He won the final stage of European Tour Q-School in his first try. He played his first Sunday in a final group as a pro this month in South Africa. And his passport has several new stamps: Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, Mauritius, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Oman and Qatar – all added in the last year.
“I’m 21 years old and I get to see the world,” said Horsfield, who was born in England but moved to Davenport, Fla., at age 5 and didn’t play a tournament outside the U.S. as an amateur. “I was in Perth a few weeks ago, and Dubai for a couple weeks. A lot of 21-year-olds don’t get to do what us as golfers get to do. We have to cherish every moment of it.”
Especially this week at Bay Hill, a course Horsfield had played several times before as his family lives less than an hour away. He remembers attending the API as a kid and watching his childhood hero, Tiger Woods. To finally be playing in his hometown PGA Tour event with several family members and friends watching on, Horsfield was thankful.
“It’s just been such a great week,” said Horsfield.
Horsfield had just been on the road for nine consecutive weeks. His parents, Tony and Sue, hadn’t seen their son play a tournament since the Wyndham Championship last August. The travel is demanding and being away from home is difficult, but Horsfield has few complaints about life as a pro.
“A lot of 12- to 14-hour flights recently, but you get to sit on a plane and watch movies for 12 hours,” Horsfield said. “It’s not the worst thing.”
Horsfield has done an impressive job of staying positive during the past year. He missed four of six cuts on the PGA Tour last season playing on sponsor exemptions. He also made just two weekends in his first six starts on the European Tour.
But Horsfield didn’t lose confidence. He nearly won the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in Perth before falling in the semifinals of the match-play event and finishing fourth. After two more missed cuts, he earned a spot in the final group on Sunday of the Tshwane Open in South Africa.
Despite playing alongside local favorite George Coetzee – and on Coetzee’s home course, Pretoria Country Club – Horsfield shot 4-under 67 in the final round to lose by just two shots. He showed that toughness at Bay Hill, where he went from 1 over with no birdies after his first nine holes to shooting 2 under in the first round.
“Since I turned pro, I’ve really learned to grind out a round,” Horsfield said. “I played good the front nine, just things weren’t going my way, but I hunkered down and grinded my butt off. South Africa was the same thing. The final round I made a bogey early on and it sort of kick-started me to get my act together.”
It’s been seven years since a 14-year-old Horsfield beat European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter in a nine-hole match at Poulter’s home course, Lake Nona (Fla.) Golf and Country Club. After that match, Poulter called Horsfield “the best young player I’ve ever played with.”
Horsfield lived up to those high expectations as an amateur. He became the youngest player to capture the Florida State Amateur when he won it in 2013 by 11 shots. He medaled at the 2014 U.S. Junior and won the AJGA Junior Players later that summer. And as a freshman with the Gators, he collected three individual titles and totaled eight top-5 finishes while winning the Phil Mickelson Award.
He’s starting to show those flashes as a pro.
“Sam’s a great player. I’ve known him many, many, many years,” Poulter said. “… He’s got the pedigree, he’s young, he’s keen, he’s hungry, he’s a good golfer. It’s going to take him a little bit of time to find his feet, but when he does he’s going to be a permanent fixture on both tours.”