Make no mistake: this week’s Advocates Pro Golf Association Billy Horschel Invitational is huge for the 18 players in the field, given the venue at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, a record purse for an APGA event of $125,000 and a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am June 9-12.
But it’s more than the golf. It’s a week to give players the opportunity to learn about the world of professional touring golf outside the ropes and how to obtain the many resources that are necessary to make it to the highest levels, such as coaching, equipment and sponsorships.
As Horschel said, “one week can change a career.”
That could be true in more ways than one as the players will compete on the Stadium Course on Thursday and Friday, but network with business executives during the pro-am Wednesday, participate in a business leadership discussion sponsored by Cisco and have a club-fitting session at the PGA Tour Superstore.
First Coast hat trick? Willie Mack III goes for his third area victory at Billy Horschel Invitational
Among the companies represented, in addition to Cisco, the presenting sponsor of the tournament, are Body Armour, Farmers Insurance, Polo Golf Ralph Lauren, Spartan Investment Group, Titleist and Velocity Global.
“For our guys, and as a tour, the business sessions are as important as the golf,” said Ken Bentley, the APGA CEO. “They get a chance to meet prospective sponsors but the time they get with Billy is also an amazing experience. Just hanging out with them on the practice green, playing putting games but at the same time talking to them about how to be a professional, how to get to the next level … he’s done all those things they want to do and you can’t put a price tag on the value of those guys hanging out with Billy.”
Willie Mack III is the defending champion. He won the first Horschel Invitational last July, then added a victory at Queen’s Harbour in a full-field event in March.
Two other 2022 APGA winners are in this week’s field, Michael Herrera and Kamaui Johnson.
The APGA was launched in 2010 as a non-profit golf tour with the mission of bringing greater diversity to the game. The APGA board hosts 17 tournaments per year with more than $500,000 in prize money but also has a player development program, mentoring programs and works to bring the game to more underserved areas.
The PGA Tour began providing support in 2020, allowing APGA Tour members to practice and play at TPC courses and providing resources from its marketing, public relations and social media departments.
The highwater mark for the APGA Tour came Jan. 29-30 when its Farmers Insurance Invitational was played at the same courses the Tour used at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open, with the second round on Monday played at the South Course, and aired on Golf Channel.
“That was invaluable for us,” Bentley said. “That opened up a lot of the guys’ eyes to what it was like to play in a PGA Tour atmosphere but to show them they could if they had access to the kind of resouces PGA Tour members have had.”
Bentley gave an example. The APGA surveyed its 70 members and found that 90 percent had never been fitted for clubs.
“They were playing with clubs off the rack, clubs they had borrowed, and they were trying to play a professional tour,” Bentley said. “Many of them were practicing on First Tee courses. They weren’t getting high-level coaching and we were expecting our guys to compete at the highest level without those kind of resources?
The APGA is already reaping the benefits of support from the PGA Tour and corporate America. Cisco has been the Horschel Invitational presenting sponsor for the last two events and this week announced it would be the title sponsor for the APGA event Aug. 11-13 at the famed Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey and would sponsor four additional APGA players, Kevin Hall, Aaron Beverly, Troy Taylor II and Olajuwon Ajanaku, in addition to a previous relationship with Johnson.
Cisco also sponsors Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang on the LPGA Tour; and Viktor Hovland, Brendon Todd, Keith Mitchell, Chez Reavie and Maverick McNealy on the PGA Tour.
Hall had previously signed with Velocity Global.
“My goal last year was to create a tournament that not only gave these young players an opportunity to compete on a world-class golf course for a substantial prize but to also connect them with leaders in the business community,” Horschel told pgatour.com last month.
“With the vision and support from Cisco, we hoped to help support each player’s journey, provide them with resources, and create an experience that I hoped would benefit each player on their path in the professional game. What I didn’t expect is how much of an impact the event would have on me, on the players and on the attendees. The success of year one has only fueled my desire to do more and this year’s event is going to be even better.”
Billy Horschel APGA Invitational
Where: TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
First place: $40,000 and an exemption into the Korn Ferry Tour BMW Charity Pro-Am.
Tee times: Begin each day at 8:50 a.m., six groups of three players off No. 1 tee.
Defending champion: Willie Mack III.