The top of the U.S. Open leaderboard is loaded with notable names, but for most casual golf fans, Billy Horschel is not one of them. While viewers were busy following Phil Mickelson or the group of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, Horschel was busy turning in the round of the day on Friday.
Horschel shot a 3-under 67, dropping him to 1-under overall, good enough for a share of the clubhouse lead when play was suspended on Friday. Prior to his second-round performance, Horschel may have been best known as the player planning to wear pants with octopuses -- yes, octopuses -- on Sunday. It's not unusual for a relatively unknown player to take briefly take the lead at the U.S. Open -- hello, Beau Hossler -- but if you've been following the PGA Tour this season, you probably know Horschel is no flash in the pan. The 26-year-old isn't likely to hit all 18 greens in regulation again like he did on Friday, but he certainly has the game to win at Merion.
Playing in a major tournament for just the second time in his career, Horschel may not have the major experience of some of his counterparts, but few have played better this season. He's 10th in scoring average this season and has made more birdies than anyone on Tour. He was a three-time All-American at Florida but struggled to stay on Tour earlier in his career. After successfully earning his Tour card through Q School for the third time, it's all come together for him this season. He won for the first time on Tour in April and has six top-10 finishes in 15 events.
His performance on Tour earned him a spot in the U.S. Open field, and he's certainly taken advantage. Early in his career, Horschel struggled to control his emotions. As an amateur, his on-course behavior was to the point where McIlroy called him "loud" and "obnoxious." Horschel began seeing a sports psychologist last year and his game has risen to another level since. The days of club-throwing episodes are gone, and now he has patience to go along with his picture-perfect swing.
"Patience is something that has always been a struggle for me," Horschel said, via the Golf Channel. "I'm doing a really good job of it this week, staying patient and just taking what's in front of me. I'm trying to keep a smile on my face and be happy with anything I do. If I can execute every shot, that's all I can try to do out there this week."
Patience is an excellent thing to have when playing in U.S. Open, but it doesn't matter how much patience a player has if they don't have the game to handle the tough course conditions. Horschel has been extremely efficient off the tee this season and has been excellent on the greens, two traits which bode well for his chances to stay in contention. He is fourth on the Tour in driver efficiency and has excelled on putts between 10 and 20 feet.
It will take more than one solid round to make Horschel a household name, but if he keeps playing like he did on Friday, it may not take him long to get there.