A Quick Study, Horsfield Seeks to Build on U.S. Open Debut
By Bill Fields
OAKMONT, Pa. – There isn’t a trace of England in Sam Horsfield’s voice, which isn’t surprising given that he was only 5 years old when his father, Tony, moved the family to the United States from Manchester.
“It was the weather in England, pure and simple,” Tony said, explaining the move. “We’d gone back after a vacation in Florida and the heat had broken down. We said, the heck with it, we’ll move to America for a year and see what’s what. My son got into golf, and here we are 14 years later.”
Where Tony, a glazier, was late Wednesday morning was the practice range at Oakmont Country Club as Sam warmed up for a practice round in his second U.S. Open – he shot 75-76 to miss the cut at Chambers Bay last year. Tony is not above occasionally grousing about how hot it can get in the Orlando area, but has no complaints about how his son’s golf career is coming along.
Sam is No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) and is coming off a fine freshman year at the University of Florida. He won three tournaments and had a slew of top-five finishes thanks to a game that has been progressing since he picked up golf not long after relocating to the U.S.
“We live on a golf course [Highlands Reserve], and I got him a little set of clubs and he’s played about every day since,” Tony said. “Obviously, it was on a very short course, but he shot 41 for his first nine holes at a U.S. Kids event when he was 6. It seemed like there was something special there.”
It wasn’t the last time Horsfield turned heads with a low score. He shot 62 at Highlands Reserve when he was 11, 59 when he was 13 and 58 two years ago, after the club had added a set of back tees to challenge him.
Horsfield arrived at Oakmont with a lot of USGA championship experience in addition to his maiden Open in 2015. Co-medalist in the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur, Horsfield advanced to the semifinals. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links three straight years (2012-14), making it to the Round of 16 in 2013. He advanced to match play in the U.S. Amateur the last two years, losing in the Round of 32 in 2015.
“The USGA events are awesome, and I’m glad to be playing in another one,” said Horsfield. “Last year [at Chambers Bay], I was a little intimidated by the name players and played bad. This year, nothing is really fazing me. This is a pretty hard track, but it’s sweet. I’m excited to play my game and see where I stack up against the field.”
Horsfield already has a good sense of top-shelf golf. He is friends with, and has been mentored by, Englishman Ian Poulter, who also lives in the Orlando area.
“He matches himself against Ian,” Tony said, “and he has also spent quite a bit of time around Henrik Stenson. And he doesn’t get with those guys and go, ‘Well, that’s how you play golf.’ There’s no difference.”
JC Deacon, the second-year men’s golf coach at Florida, believes Horsfield could play well this week.
“It’s no surprise that he’s already played in a lot of USGA events,” Deacon said. “That’s going to really help him be calm out there and be himself. Last year’s U.S. Open was kind of an eye-opener, but this year it’s a little more about business and coming in here to compete.”
The way Horsfield’s father was taken with Sam’s game when he was a boy, Deacon admires his grown-up skills now.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Deacon said. “He had a tremendously consistent year. He’s got every part of the game, and he’s worked really hard on his attitude, patience and wedge game. Sam doesn’t have to think about it. If his mind can picture what he has to do, his body will create that for him. That’s a special gift that he has. It’s so much fun to watch.”
While Horsfield pounded some drivers to the deep end of the Oakmont range, his father recalled the time when six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson was hitting a flop shot on a golf broadcast and it got the attention of his son, who was 7 or 8 at the time.
“Sam ran outside and was gone for about 90 minutes,” Tony said. “Then he ran back inside and asked us to come watch something. He’d taught himself how to hit that kind of flop shot.”
As the education of a talented golfer continues this week, Horsfield will have another opportunity to show off.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.