At 14, Ian Poulter described him as the 'finest young golfer' he had ever seen. Now on the European Tour, Sam Horsfield describes the up and down journey to the pro game

Sam Horsfield had a blistering amateur career and, since turning pro in 2017, has established himself on the European Tour. Though yet to make his breakthrough, the Englishman had five top-10 finishes in his debut season and 2020 started with a T7 in Australia. In this blog for NationalClubGolfer.com, Horsfield discusses his early days, college success, and goals for the future…

The first time I played golf, I played from the forward tees and I shot 167. I still have the scorecard!

I lived in Manchester but we had a vacation house in Florida right on the golf course. One day we went to Universal Studios and one of the theme parks. We got back at about 2 o’clock and we said, ‘Why don’t we go and play golf?’

It’s been a fun ride and I’m grateful for the game of golf and for that one afternoon.

God knows where I’d be without it, I may never have picked up a golf club. It’s a very interesting time right now but you’ve got to keep the positives. I’m still fortunate enough to still be able to play golf everyday while there are some people who aren’t even able to leave the house.

We used to live right by Manchester airport in the Styal area. My grandparents still live in the Manchester area now so I like going back when I have a few weeks off. Being able to play over that side of the world and go back and reconnect with my childhood is pretty cool.

One of our neighbours was Tyson Fury’s cousin, Hughie. We used to be really good friends. We used to do Halloween and stuff like that together. My mum told me some stories about how we’d go down to houses and scare people, I remember hanging out and being in the house he lived in.

I remember I was three or four years old and it was either my birthday or Christmas and I just got a new scooter, and I fell over the handlebars and knocked out a few of my teeth.

I realised I wanted to be a pro when I was around 10 years old. I just finished second in the US Kids Junior Worlds, and I knew then this was what I wanted to do.

I never really enjoyed school and the books side of things, especially as golf got more serious. I grinded every day and wanted to be the best and put all my efforts in becoming the best player I could.

Pulling out of the Walker Cup in 2015 didn’t affect me, to be completely honest. It was just two weeks into my freshman year at the University of Florida. I was with a bunch of my friends and it was a pretty tough decision that I had to make because of some stuff that had happened in the past. I really did not care.

College was the best two years of my life. I would recommend going to play college golf, because you’re living away from home and you have got to learn to do stuff. We had workouts at 5.30am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You learn how to become an adult pretty quickly.

You’re playing against really strong fields and high-end amateurs, so in college I was playing against the likes of Collin Morikawa and a bunch of guys that are on the PGA Tour now.

When you go to college you are exposed to the highest level of amateur golf and it’s a great path for a year or two. You have the opportunity to use fantastic practice facilities. At UF we had our own golf course and a couple of Trackmans. I was 17 and had never been exposed to that sort of stuff. It was really good for my game.

Being on a team with 10 or 12 really good golfers, you’re always trying to win and always trying to beat everybody’s arse. The competition level when you’re playing at the weekend in college is really high.

I played in my first major at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. It was a strange week, that’s for sure.

I remember the course being undulating and pretty crazy. When you think of a US Open, you think of narrow fairways, long rough, and speedy greens. The US Open that I played at Oakmont in 2016 was what I imagined a US Open being like, but Chambers Bay was more like a links course.

It wasn’t like anything what I have played before. I qualified at the Bear’s Club which is a typical Florida golf course in that it is pretty long with water on one side and bushes on another, and then next week I’m off across the country to play something completely different. I don’t think I really expected it, so it was strange for sure.

I’m not going to bash the USGA because I don’t have a leg to stand on. There are guys out here who have played in 20, 25 US Opens. It wasn’t something I was expecting. I will just leave it at that.

The best golf I have played was my freshman year of college. I won three times and lost in the final of the Western Amateur in 2016, and then I lost in the round of 16 at the US Amateur. I think I finished outside of the top 20 just once.

I won the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in 2016. I finished 1st, Sean Crocker was 2nd, and Jon Rahm finished 5th. I was oblivious to the field I was playing in. Now, Rahm is second in the world, Beau Hossler is on the PGA Tour, and Crocker is on the European Tour with me.

I won by four shots and looking back on it I think, ‘Damn that was some good golf I was playing back then.’

I know that I have it, I don’t think that I’ve played a tournament yet as a pro where everything has come together in a week, except maybe Q School.

My first full year on the European Tour was 2018. My highs were good but I had too many lows. I wasn’t consistent enough, though my good golf was good. I was proud of how I played in the British Masters at Walton Heath, where I finished tied for 5th.

I’m still grinding my arse off and I still believe in myself, but I haven’t been satisfied yet with the way I have played as a professional. There is definitely more to come.

I don’t really like to set goals in terms of ‘x’ amount of wins or ‘x’ amount of top 10s. I sat down around Christmas time and I wrote out 10 things on which I wanted to improve from last year and every day I’m just trying to do the best I can to achieve those goals.

I don’t want to make unrealistics goals and I don’t want to make goals where I feel like I am underachieving. With goals like trying to win five times, you try too hard to achieve them and that can be bad. You’re coming down the stretch in a tournament thinking, ‘I need to win this.’

The last thing I believe you want in golf is trying to force the matter. I’ve learnt that, as a professional, there are so many guys that are good but there are some guys that you play with that you’re just not impressed with.

You sign your scorecard later on and you’re like, ‘I’ve totally outplayed this guy but he’s beat me.’ But that’s professional golf. You get guys who skank it around for 16 holes, chip in twice, throw in a putt for an eagle having hit eight greens and you’re thinking, ‘How do you do that?’ You can hit 16 greens and get beat by four.

It’s a crazy game and I think that’s why people fall in love with it because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.

I talk to Ian Poulter regularly. We see each other at tournaments and when we are practising. He’s been very successful and I have a very good team around me. His old caddie who caddies half the events now, Terry Mundy, and Paul Dunkley, who has been Ian’s manager since day one. I’m part of that team, Terry’s been there for pretty much every step of Ian’s career and Paul most certainly has.

I was in a bit of a situation last year where I wasn’t feeling great, I spoke to Paul for about two hours on the phone and that’s when my season turned around. I made 11 cuts in a row to end the season and I had been really struggling, so I have a really good team around me.

I’m grateful that I can call either one of those guys at any moment of the day, and they’d be down to sit down and talk to me for however long it may be about how I’m feeling or what I feel like is going on.

He caddied for Ai Miyazato, who was World No 1 for a long time, and Laura Davies, so he’s been around the block quite a few times. In situations where I want to do something where you go close to a lead or close to a cut line, he’ll say some things where I think, ‘Damn, that’s pretty good.’

It makes me change my train of thought into making better decisions, even though I could pull off a certain shot. We’ve been together for almost three years now and he’s learnt my game really well and I’ve learnt his train of thought.

If we’re ever in between clubs, we always know what the other person is thinking and why. It’s really good that we have a really strong relationship.

Everybody who plays this game wants to compete at the highest level. I want to be in the mix of things coming down the stretch on Sunday at a Masters or a US Open.

So many people dream of walking around Amen corner or being at the 16th hole in contention for a major and hopefully I’ll have a few opportunities to do that so we’ll have to wait and see.

Sam Horsfield was talking to Matthew Chivers

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