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The Best Player Not In The U.S. Amateur

DAVEN PORT, FLORIDA | For the past couple of years he has been a myth, an urban legend, like the barefoot kid who throws a 100-mph fastball or the field hand with world-record speed. Everyone with an ear to the game has heard stories about this out-of-nowhere 16-year-old boy from a tiny Florida town, the son of a working-class English glazier, who is shooting in the low 60s and beating world-class players twice his age. But until recently no one had seen Sam Horsfield up close. He was the Corvette in the chicken house, Bigfoot, the priceless antique at the yard sale – the story everyone wanted to believe but no one could confirm firsthand. In some ways, that still is the case. Even though there were sightings this summer and a few minutes of television time, Horsfield remains something of a ghost. He certainly is the best player not in the field at this week’s U.S. Amateur, the result of a scheduling error his father takes full blame for making. With a mop of hair, a boyish grin, pink cheeks still months away from meeting a razor and a golf swing that has every expert who has seen him sitting up a little straighter, the Horsfield legend first went viral on June 17 when the rising junior at Ridge Community High School shot a course-record 61 at Fox Hollow Golf Club during U.S. Amateur Public Links qualifying in New Port Richey, Fla. Six days later, Horsfield became the youngest winner in the 96-year history of Florida’s State Amateur Championship. He won by a whopping 11 shots at Jupiter Hills Club. Prior to that, Horsfield was known by only a handful of people in the game – the U.S. Kids Golf officials who saw him shoot 63 at age 9 during the World Championship at Pinehurst, and some famous people in Orlando who couldn’t turn away when they saw him swing – guys like Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, the last of whom has become the kid’s biggest cheerleader. Using Twitter (one of his favorite media), Poulter called Horsfield, “The best young amateur in the world.” So, how did this happen? In a mediasaturated sports world where 12-yearolds have YouTube channels and middle-school kids get college-scholarship offers, how did one of the best young prodigies since Rory was ripping up Royal County Down slip through the cracks? Part of it has to do with his background. Tony Horsfield, Sam’s father, is as far from the prototypical golf parent as you can get. A glass-window specialist, Tony brought the family to Florida on vacation in 2001 when Sam was only 4 years old. “I bought him a small set of clubs, and while I had played a little bit growing up, I didn’t play much,” Tony said. “When we got back home Sam told me that he wanted to play golf. That’s been it ever since.” The Horsfields moved to Florida not long after that initial trip, setting up residence in Davenport (population 2,888) southwest of Orlando. “Our house backed up to three holes,” Tony said. “Sam would go out and play on those. He could fly the ball 100 yards when he was 5 years old.” Golf was a nice way to spend time with his son, but Tony wasn’t sure how seriously he should take the whole thing. Then one afternoon something clicked. “Sam was watching TV and saw Phil Mickelson hit a flop shot,” Tony said. “Then he disappeared for a couple of hours, came running in and said, ‘Watch this!’ He hit one flop shot after another. He had taught himself after watching Phil. That’s when I thought we might have something going on.” Neither parent took the game seriously. Tony raced motorcycles in his youth and gave up golf completely to, in his words, “ferry Sam around.” But they knew enough to expose their son to people who could help. Jason Bell, the former director of instruction at Orlando’s Grand Cypress Resort, began teaching Sam when he was 9. The Poulter connection was a little more convoluted. “I was out in a golf cart watching Sam play a junior tournament when I offered this fellow a ride,” Tony said. “It turned out he was one of Ian’s old schoolmates. He watched Sam play a few holes and offered to call Terry (Mundy, Poulter’s caddie) and set up a meeting. Terry called and he and Sam played golf. Then Terry introduced us to Ian.” When it comes to junior golfers, pros can be a little jaded. But as a favor to his caddie, Poulter invited Sam out to Lake Nona for a nine-hole match. Sam played one tee forward and beat Poulter handily. He was 13 at the time. From that day forward, Poulter took up the Horsfield cause, lobbying the powers that be in Great Britain to add him to the Walker Cup team and challenging any and all to come to Florida and see the kid. “He didn’t say anything that day, but I could sense that he liked me and wanted to see me do good,” Sam said in an accent that sounds more Montgomery, Ala., than Manchester, England. Still, he insists, “I am English. I lived there till I was 4 and I’ve been back, I think maybe four times, the last time when I was 11 or 12.”


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