European Tour

Billy Horschel pulls off a stunning win at the BMW PGA, makes history in the process

September 12, 2021

Billy Horschel compared winning the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour to winning the Players Championship on the PGA Tour.

Richard Heathcote

VIRGINIA WATER, England — It was wild. It was wonderful. And it was ultimately ironic. As the endless intricacies of the European Ryder Cup qualification played out in the background, the BMW PGA Championship was claimed by an American, Billy Horschel. He won it well, too. The wedge Horschel hit to Wentworth’s par-5 18th green finished so close he didn’t need to take a proper stance before tapping-in. It was the Floridian’s 24th birdie of the week, closing out a seven-under 65 and took him to 19-under 269, just good enough to beat a trio of runners-up, Laurie Canter, Jamie Donaldson and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Horschel is the first American to win the European Tour’s most prestigious title since Arnold Palmer in 1975. His winning smile was matched only by those on the faces of Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood. The Austrian and the Englishman clinched the last two automatic qualifying spots on the Old World side that will defend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in two weeks.

But that is for the future. This was a day belonging to Horschel, whose distant devotion to London soccer team West Ham United guaranteed him plenty of encouragement from the sizeable galleries roaming the Burma Road course.

“The crowds are absolutely unbelievable here, and they supported me when I came over in 2019 and they supported me this year,” he said. “This is a huge event. In my mind, it's equivalent to the Players Championship. I would love to win that one. But I have this one under my belt. I’m very happy.”

Still, that Horschel should play so well over the iconic West course at Wentworth—and move up to second place on the European Tour's season-long Race to Dubai standings—is no real surprise. Two years ago, Horschel made the trip across the Atlantic to the European Tour’s flagship event and was rewarded with a T-4 finish. Two rounds of 65 were the highlights of a 15-under-par 273 that left him alongside compatriot Patrick Reed, five shots behind the winner, former Masters champion Danny Willett.

There was one discordant note. On the back of a mediocre run of form after winning the WGC-Dell Match Play title earlier in March, Horschel wasn’t expecting a call from U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Steve Stricker to tell him he had made the team. But he didn’t get a call to tell him he wasn’t in either. Which was disappointing.

“It sucks not making the team,” Horschel said. “I didn't play consistent enough and well enough after I won the Match Play to warrant a pick or to get enough points to be an automatic selection. But I was a little gutted I didn't get a call this week. I didn't think the call was going to say I made the team, but I was a little gutted that I didn't get a call to say, ‘You didn't make the team.’ I thought I would at least get that. There was a little more added motivation this week after that.”

As for the men in second place, all three will leave much encouraged by their performances. Aphibarnrat, once a mainstay in the world’s top-50, arrived in England on the back of a horrendous run of form. In 12 PGA Tour starts this year, the 32-year-old missed the cut in nine and had a high finish of T-37. His play in Europe wasn’t much better. In five events before this week his best effort was T-39. So a week book-ended by eight-under par 64s was a glimpse of how things used to be.

Donaldson was just as upbeat. The 45-year-old Welshman, who clinched the winning point for Europe in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, has endured some tough times since the clear highlight of his career. But recent signs have been promising—he was third in last month’s Cazoo Classic, a trend he more than continued with his best finish since the 2020 South African Open.

“Am I disappointed?” Donaldson asked. “No. I played really well for four days. There's not many shots, really, that I would want to play again. I've had a great week. I really fancied my chances today. I really felt great going out. But I've shot six-under. I can't do much more, so quite happy.”

As for Canter, this was confirmation that a first victory on the European Tour can only be a matter of time. Many are the 31-year-old’s admirers.

“There is no questioning his talent,” says fellow pro Richard Bland. “He is just a really good player.”

“Laurie is awfully good,” agrees Eddie Pepperell. “For years he has looked like a quality player. It has taken him a bit longer to break through because he lacked a little bit of belief. He doubted he is as good as other people think he is. He just needed to get some evidence of that, which he has now.”

Still, for all those encouraging words, there was obvious disappointment in Canter after coming up one-shot short. The chip he thinned through the putting surface at the 71st hole will clearly live with him for a while.

“It was a good day,” he said. “I’ve been working so hard on my chipping. But it let me down. I was trying to play the right shot, hopefully stiff it and win the tournament. But I executed poorly. At the moment, I am disappointed. Probably more disappointed than I imagined after coming second. I would love to have the opportunity to win a huge event.”

A common refrain. But this victory belonged to another: Billy Horschel.