Growing up in Grant, Florida, Billy Horschel didn’t come from a lot of money. He and brothers Chris and Brian were taught by their parents, Bill and Kathy, that if someone needed help, you helped them, which often meant offering a friendly hand cleaning up debris from a hurricane that passed through the rural town along the Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
As he got more interested and involved in golf, a young Horschel would play Brevard County courses at discounted rates thanks to the county’s junior golf program. Even though he’d save money on greens fees, he still missed out on some opportunities other rising golfers and their families were able to afford.
“My parents may not have had money to always buy me new equipment, clothes, shoes or golf balls all the time; that’s why I still only play with one sleeve of balls each round,” Horschel said. “I’m used to making a ball last as long as it possibly could because we couldn’t always afford golf balls.”
Thanks to a standout career at the University of Florida, the former All-American was able to continue to ascend through golf’s ranks, reaching its apex in 2011. With six PGA Tour victories and a 2014 FedEx Cup to his name, Horschel continues to lend a helping hand, providing the next generation of golfers with an opportunity to hopefully have the same success he’s had.
Together with Cisco, Horschel is hosting the inaugural Billy Horschel APGA Tour Invitational from July 29-31 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The event will feature an 18-man field with nine players from the APGA Tour Player Development Program, five graduates from the APGA Collegiate Ranking, the current top-ranked player in the APGA Collegiate Ranking, and three sponsor’s exemptions.
It isn’t all just about golf though. The event will also have an initial day of a pro-am, roundtable, seminars and other development opportunities all with key partners and industry leaders. The competition will challenge the players with 36 holes at The Players Stadium Course, home of The Players Championship.
“Our guys hear all the time that, ‘It’s not possible. You need to get a job. Guys where you come from can’t make it,’ but you see a guy like Billy who grew up similarly to how they grew up and had to struggle and still fights for everything he gets, so they see him and the possibilities out there,” APGA CEO Ken Bentley said. “The other part that I try to get through to them is once you go through a door, you have to open it wider so more people come through.
“When you have a guy like Billy who financially is set for life and he’s taking his time to help them, it reinforces the message we’re trying to get across to our guys: you have to constantly reach back to help those who need the help. He’s an example of a guy who’s made it, is successful and his road is one they can emulate, but he’s also a guy who wants to give back and help others.”
Horschel was introduced to APGA golfer Willie Mack III during a First Tee clinic with Rickie Fowler in San Diego in 2020. The two chatted about the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour, a non-profit organization established in 2008 with a mission to bring greater diversity to the game of golf.
Thinking about the obstacles golfers face along their journey to the professional ranks while learning more about the APGA Tour, Horschel began to take action. Not only is he fulfilling a dream of his to hold a professional golf event—he has the Billy Horschel Junior Championship on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA)—he is providing opportunities for up-and-coming golfers to not only find success on the course, but off it as well.
Despite not having a prior personal connection or relationship, he reached out to the team at Cisco to see if they would be interested in being part of the event; they joined as presenting sponsor. Horschel also got good friend and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who is also chairman and owner of the PGA Tour Superstore, as well as Concession Golf Club owner Bruce Cassidy on board.
“The great thing about golf is you connect with so many different people in this game and they’re willing to help,” Horschel said. “With connections that we have on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, if golf doesn’t work out, here are people we connected with to help us transition and mentor us in our next journey in life. That was a big thing to me—to hold this event and give these guys a chance to chase their dream, see if they can succeed and ultimately get to PGA Tour, but if it doesn’t work out, I want to connect them to people I’ve come across that I know would love to help these players in their next journey in life.”
Technology giants Cisco have been involved in golf for a number of years. They have been a global partner of the United States Golf Association (USGA) since 2018, were partner of 2020’s The Match: Champions for Charity, and sponsor nine pro golfers including the APGA’s Kamaiu Johnson, so supporting Horschel’s APGA event was a no-brainer.
“At Cisco, our purpose is to power an inclusive future for all, and if you think about what the APGA is doing and what Billy is trying to do with this particular tournament, I think it intersects quite well in terms of really driving more inclusivity,” said Mark Patterson, Cisco senior vice-president and Chief of Staff to the Chairman and CEO.
Invited players to the event include: Ryan Alford, Marcus Byrd, Jarred Garcia, Michael Hererra, Kamaiu Johnson, Willie Mack III, Joey Stills, Davin White, Rovanta Young, Mulbe Dillard, Andrew Walker, Mahindra Lutchman, Cameron Riley, and Prince Cunningham.
Dillard, who recently concluded a record-setting collegiate career at Florida A&M University where he finished atop the APGA Tour Collegiate Ranking, made his professional golf debut at the REX Hospital Open on the Korn Ferry Tour on June 3.
“Golf is definitely a sport I feel needs to be a little bit more diverse,” Dillard said. “Events like this definitely help in terms of people who may not have the funding because funding is definitely one of the leading reasons why people don’t continue their golf career as far as they want to. Events like this definitely give people an opportunity to be exposed to sponsors and for people to see what they can actually do.”
Added Johnson: “I always preach that if you make these connections and meet these CEOs, you can never go back to where you used to be because they’re going to make sure you’re successful. It’s important for us, especially for me. I never want to go back to where I used to be.”
Not only does this event offer the invited golfers a chance to make business and sponsorship connections to further their careers, it also gives them an opportunity to play on a championship-style golf course.
Bentley said it was a priority of the APGA to put their players in situations on courses they’d play if they were on the PGA Tour or Korn Ferry Tour. This season, the APGA has events on two courses that have hosted PGA Tour major tournaments (Valhalla and Torrey Pines) as well as six others on TPC courses.
In order to achieve the five-year goal of placing a golfer on the PGA Tour, the APGA Tour also began a player development program that assists with lessons, equipment and entry fees, while top golf coaches and instructors including Todd Anderson, Sean Foley, John Graham and Jon Hardesty have donated their services to help APGA golfers get to the next level.
“What we’ve been able to create is a village of people and companies that really support this whole idea of giving more people an opportunity and that’s what this is all about—just giving guys the opportunity,” Bentley said. “No one is guaranteeing you make it to the PGA Tour, but you change a life if you 1) say, ‘I believe in you,’ which is what they’re saying by supporting this and 2) ‘I’m going to give you the opportunity to realize your dream.’
“They might not make it to the PGA Tour, but I’m 99% sure they’ll be successful in life.”
The 34-year-old Horschel, who has raked in more than $28 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour, understands that making golf more available and accessible whether in the United States, Mexico or China can lead to more opportunities within the ropes and outside of them not only for the players, but everyone involved.
It’s also why he proudly confirmed that the Billy Horschel APGA Tour Invitational won’t just be a one-off event, saying the focus is to build the foundation for this event that will ensure long-term success.
“I want to help anyone I can and have an impact,” he said. “If I help one person in this life and I made a difference in that person’s life, then my life’s been a success.”