Rabalais: With his win, Billy Horschel turns the page

As pro golfers go, Billy Horschel definitely plays against type.

Most golfers are seen as robotic, more Vulcan than human. Jason Dufner won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans here last year and didn’t crack a smile until Wednesday. Horschel’s friends describe him as antsy. Perhaps it’s because he admits he believes in Bigfoot and UFOs.

Most golfers would have been irritated to the point of distraction by the three-hour weather delay that brought Sunday’s final round to a sloshy stop. Horschel found the break relaxing, so much so that he went back out and starting throwing darts at the softened TPC Louisiana greens, seizing control of the tournament with six straight birdies on Nos. 7 to 12.

A second shorter rain delay as he was trying to negotiate the water-menaced par-5 18th hole didn’t faze him, either.

Turns out Horschel needed a birdie on 18 to avoid what would have been a third straight playoff at the Zurich, this with playing partner D.A. Points. He got it, sinking a 27-footer for birdie and a one-stroke victory.

His first victory. A win that earned him bear hugs from fellow Florida Gators Chris DiMarco and Matt Every. A win that had Horschel in tears afterward as he spoke to his parents by phone back in Florida.

First-time wins are becoming a specialty for the Zurich. Perhaps they should rename the otherwise nondescript Lapalco Boulevard outside the course entrance the Boulevard of Dreams. (OK, maybe not.) Horschel is the 11th first-time winner here in the past 16 years.

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or the food. Horschel is one of those players for whom New Orleans is a favorite stop, with a well-prescribed restaurant schedule like the rota at the British Open. Places like Besh and Impastato’s, Desi Vega’s and Mr. John’s.

With a gastronomic tour like that, it’s a wonder Horschel could make it around the course without a daily siesta. Maybe the desire to break through into the winner’s circle was the trump card.

“I’ve always felt I was good enough to win here,” said Horschel, who played at Florida for former LSU golf coach Buddy Alexander. “I just felt I had to check every box. Some guys get out here and win right away, and then they struggle.”

Horschel had struggles. He had a chance to win the 2011 McGladrey Classic but imploded on Sunday, letting his emotions get the best of him. He had to return to PGA Tour qualifying school that year and again in 2012.

He could have beaten Points in Houston last month but finished a stroke back.

“McGladrey hurt the most,” Horschel said. “I didn’t play very well. But what hurt the most was the way I handled myself on the golf course. It was pretty pathetic. I got called out on it from family and friends.

“That was a big turning point.”

Now Horschel is a winner on the PGA Tour.

With his talent, there may be no turning back.