Horsfield, 14, aiming high after strong summer
With a 4-shot victory in the Florida Junior Tour’s stop at The Vinoy Club in St. Petersburg, Sam Horsfield capped off what has been a virtually flawless summer of tournament golf.
Rounds of 64-69 helped him cruise to his seventh win in the past two months, a stretch that included record low scores in three events. He may not yet be a household name, but the 14-year-old from Davenport, Fla., seems to be one of the next elite juniors in the making.
Since the age of 6, Sam has been dominating tournaments at every level of junior golf. At just 11 years old, he shot a 62 at the Highlands Reserve Golf Course outside of Orlando, setting a record from the forward tees. His on-course achievements will likely make him one of the top-ranked players in the 2015 class, but Horsfield says that’s not what he plays for.
“I don’t pay attention to the rankings,” says Sam. “I play against myself and against the course – what the other kids do doesn’t matter to me.”
Being so young, Horsfield says he gets better with each round he plays. As he matures and gets stronger, his game continues to change. Where Horsfield was once hitting 3- and 5-woods into greens, he is now hitting 6- and 7-irons. And he is taking full advantage of his recent surge of birdie opportunities.
“I’ve been leaving myself 10 to 15 foot birdie putts, and making a lot of them,” he said.
On Sept. 4th in a Premier Junior Tour event at the Reunion Resort in Reunion, Fla., Sam followed an opening round 68 with a course-record 10-under par 62. He made eight birdies, including five in a row on Nos. 8 through 12, and added an eagle at the 15th. In his last five Premier Junior Tour events, Sam is 64 under par.
Though he is only a freshman high school, he feels he is ready to take his game to the next level.
“I want to play on the 2013 Walker Cup team, that’s my two year goal,” said Horsfield.
The Walker Cup, a Ryder Cup-style amateur event between The United States and Great Britain and Ireland, is notoriously one of the most difficult tournaments to earn a spot in. Sam will be 16 during the event, and if he is able to play his way on to the United States’ 10-man roster, he would be the second youngest player in the history of the tournament behind Oliver Fisher, who in 2005 was several months younger than Sam would be in the fall of 2013. Sam will now compete for his high school team, but he has also set his sights on competing for next summer’s U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur titles.
While his goals may seem lofty, Sam has a reason to believe he is ready for that level of competition. He has already tested his game against highly-ranked professionals. In a nine-hole match with PGA Tour star Ian Poulter, Horsfield came out on top, defeating the 46th-ranked player in the world. Though they both shot even-par for 9 holes, with Sam playing from one tee marker forward, Sam defeated Poulter in match play, 1-up.
“We just had fun,” said Sam. “We weren’t taking it too seriously, he just told me about life on Tour.”
Sam has had several other practice sessions with Poulter since their match.
“Sam plays quite a lot with Ian,” said Sam’s father Tony. “He calls Sam his sparring partner.”
It’s too early to start predicting just how good Horsfield may become, but with his tireless commitment to the game and extraordinary natural ability, he just might find himself playing against Poulter on a slightly bigger stage.
One thing that makes Sam such a unique talent is his ability to instantly correct flaws in his swing, a process that takes many players weeks or even months.
“In 10 minutes he can pick up anything, technique wise,” says Jason Bell, Horsfield’s swing coach. “He can fix any problem in just a few shots.”
Discrediting the idea that hours on the driving range equates to success, Sam does nearly all of his work on the course, as opposed to the driving range or putting green.
“Sam is a feel player,” said Bell. “He spends about 90 percent of his practice time on the course.”
By consistently putting himself in shot-making, on-course scenarios, Horsfield says he has become uncommonly comfortable in tournament situations. This allows him to ignore pressure and nerves, factors of tournament golf that often inhibit other junior golfers. As he turns his attention to bigger tournaments against more skilled players, his comfort in the spotlight will surely be tested. But those close to him know that Horsfield is not easily intimidated, and always want to improve.
“Nerves haven’t been a problem so far,” said Bell. “He gets to 2 or 3 under, where a lot of players would just want to get into the clubhouse, but he wants to get to 6 or 7 under. He just does it automatically.”