Sam Horsfield WITB 2020

From Manchester to the PGA Tour: Meet Poulter’s protégé

Mark Townsend sits down with Sam Horsfield, the Manchester-born rising star of whom Ian Poulter speaks very highly

Setting up a chat with a golfer generally involves a load of faff with a manager and then either a late arrival or low-lying disinterest from the player. Sam Horsfield is co-managed by Ian Poulter’s caddie Terry Mundy and anyone who knows Mundy, or has listened to his on-course advice, will tell you he keeps things as they should be.

One email, one quick hello and an hour was set aside for a chat with both player and manager where the pair of them were engaging, honest and interesting throughout.

Lots has already been said of Horsfield given his undoubted skills and his rapid rise through the ranks. The 22-year-old breezed through Q School and then made it to Dubai after a strong finish to his rookie year.

This week he’s got a partner and a half in Poulter, who has helped mentor him since he was 13, at the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour. Expect to hear a lot about the protege in the coming years…

How do you win Q School by eight shots, shooting 63 in the final round in 2017?

Q School was a good week, I had the wedges going and the last round was nice to get out the way and set up what I did last year.

I did an interview after the third round and you normally have one to go so you assess where you are and come up with a game plan but you are only halfway through the tournament.

Q School is different and weird but I enjoyed it, the more holes you play, the more settled you are and I got in a good rhythm.

Five of you came through all three stages, how much harder does that make the whole thing?

Not a lot of people know this but I birdied the last hole at Second Stage to get into a play-off and then birdied the second hole in the extra holes. I would have had no status so god knows where I would have ended up.

Did you know anyone in Spain?

I didn’t know anybody, I played with Jig (Jonathan Thomson) in the first two rounds at First Stage and then two rounds at Lumine so I got to know him pretty well. He’s such a nice guy.

Growing up in the States and being a member at Lake Nona I know a few guys on the tour.

You were born in Manchester, how long did you live there?

Until I was five. I went to Styal primary school and I remember bits of it. We had a vacation house in the States and went back one February and when we came back to Manchester the heater had broken. My dad said, ‘Let’s move to the States for a year.’ I don’t think I’d be where I am had we not moved there. It’s pretty crazy how journeys in life take you to different places.

And how did you end up back playing in Europe?

I did two years at the University of Florida and then turned pro. I played in a few PGA Tour events off some invites and then came over here. I was ranked second in the amateur rankings and I was about to do my major so it then gets harder and I knew wanted to play golf. I thought really hard about leaving after one year but they had some really good freshman coming in, Andy Zhang, who is a really good friend so it was good to spend a year with him.

Another big factor was Nike getting out of the industry. I heard about it when I was coming off the 18th green having lost in the Western Am final in August 2016.

I didn’t want to be out in the professional world with some new clubs so I went back to school and did a bunch of club testing. I had played Nike since I was 11 so it was a learning curve.

Did you know they were getting out?

I had heard a whisper that it might happen, somebody had told me that Nike hadn’t showed them any product for 2017 so that was a big red flag so I had a little suspicion that it might be coming.

What was it like to play in two US Opens, at Chambers Bay in 2015 and Oakmont the year after, as an amateur?

I had a practice round with Ian in 2015 and we were on 15 and the 18th green was 400 yards away. Phil Mickelson was there and I guess he was messing around and the crowd was going crazy. And it was a Tuesday.

It is so different. At Oakmont the rough was brutal. I had a practice round with Henrik Stenson and we landed our shots short of one green and they didn’t even get a sniff of stopping.

Thank god it rained on Tuesday. I’ve got a photo on my phone of the 9th green and the entire green was flooded, it was so tough.

Chambers Bay was firmer and linksy and the fairways had mounds to the side so they had a lot of people. On the par-3 9th there is a back-left tee box and, looking down over water, the view was incredible.

And you nearly made it through last year at Walton Heath…

Don’t talk to me about that, I was leading there with six holes to play and finished bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey-double-par to miss the play-off by one.

I really like the course, there’s nothing like it in the States with the heather.

As regards Walton Heath there was some chat about you getting stuck over the ball at the British Masters which you explained on Twitter…

What made you decide to speak out?

I felt like it was the right time to do it. Some people on Twitter think they know a lot about golf but they don’t. I won’t mention any names but I’m not doing it on purpose. I look at Twitter but I don’t read too much so I just scroll through it.

When did you first realise that people were talking about it?

Someone posted a video and I woke up and had 100 notifications and thought what the heck? I didn’t say anything as the tournament was still going on and I was in a good position. I shot my lowest round of the week on the Sunday and finished 10th and people were thinking I was doing it on purpose and affecting my playing partners. I played with Danny Willett and he and a few others came to my defence. It’s so funny how people think they know everything from behind their computers and can say whatever they want.

Where are you now with it?

I saw someone when I was back in the States and we’ve worked on some good stuff. I’m still working on it and it’s a lot better now. People don’t realise it’s nothing to do with pressure. It didn’t happen at Wentworth when I was paired with Rory in the final group on the Saturday, it happened at college a little bit and it went away and then came back. It doesn’t affect me as much as it bothers me. Some people don’t understand how I can still hit a shot doing it, and I don’t either, but I can.

What was it like playing with Rory on such a big stage?

Paul Dunkley, who manages me with with Terry, said to me in the car that I would never forget this day so to cherish it. Rory’s obviously played a lot with Ian and is a good guy so he understood the situation a little bit and was chatty.

It wasn’t uncomfortable at all, I birdied the 1st which settled the nerves and it just felt like another round of golf. We had the same security guy the next day with Alex Noren and Branden Grace and he told us there were 20,000 watching us. We had to wait on the 18th tee and there was nowhere to move, it was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that image. It was a special day.

Is the goal to eventually play on the PGA Tour?

I’m just going to try and take care of my stuff and then think about the PGA Tour somewhere down the future. I’m still only 22 and things have happened quickly – and it all goes back to the Second Stage of Q School and the birdie at 18.

How did you make the birdie?

It was an 8-iron, from 172 yards into a left-to-right wind to a back-left pin. I knew where I was standing and my caddie said I needed to catch all of this or it would be 50 feet short, I hit it to three feet. I think about that shot a lot.

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Mark Townsend

Been watching and playing golf since the early 80s and generally still stuck in this period. Huge fan of all things Robert Rock, less so white belts. Handicap of 8, fragile mind and short game

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