The USGA added 13 players to its roster of national champions in 2013, but some of our favorite stories of the year weren’t necessarily about the winning putt or the turning point in a match. This is the third in a six-part series that reviews some of the compelling stories that you might have missed in our 2013 championship coverage.
There was no debate in July over who had endured the most hardscrabble, circuitous route to the 2013 U.S. Senior Open in Omaha, Neb.
Peter Horrobin survived a playoff in sectional qualifying to become the first Jamaican to play in the championship. However, that distinction does not begin to describe the hardships overcome by the 52-year-old, who started playing golf as a child in Kingston using a broken club affixed to a PVC pipe.
Horrobin had also wept earlier in the week, when all of the emotion of the ups and downs that led to him making a clinching birdie putt in the Port St. Lucie, Fla., qualifier came out during an interview.After an opening round highlighted by a birdie-eagle combination that briefly gave him a share of the lead, Horrobin admitted that he had battled his emotions all day. “I’m just a crybaby. I still can’t believe I’m here playing alongside the best senior players in the world. I played 18 holes today, drying my eyes from tears.”
“The first person I called [after qualifying] was my mom,” said Horrobin. “She’s 89 years old, and she’s always said to me, son, stick to your dream. I would like to see you on television one day. … She brought up seven of us without a dad. So I’m always, always looking to my mom for all type of encouragement.”
Horrobin grew up near Constant Spring Golf Club in Kingston, and he quickly became enthralled with the game.
“Jamaicans generally play soccer or cricket, but I said, ‘I think I want to learn this sport,’” Horrobin recounted. “I went across to the golf course, and I found a broken club, and I thought, maybe I can be creative and practice with this club. So I got a PVC pipe and put some nails to it, and I would hit probably 10, 20 balls before the head would fly off, and then I would do it again.”
Horrobin became a caddie at Constant Spring, where a member loaned him her full set of clubs. He was able to break 80 by age 11, and when his family obtained a visa, he moved to Florida in 1976.
“I learned from watching players hitting balls, and that’s the way I developed my skills,” said Horrobin.
Horrobin attended Miami Central High School, where he became the No. 1 player on the golf team. He went on to play at Miami-Dade Community College and planned to play collegiately for two more years at Florida International University, until the golf team was disbanded.
Horrobin left the game for a while, getting married and raising three children. In 1989, he began to play in earnest, and turned professional. Horrobin often put up his own money to compete, and he suffered a couple of major financial losses when mini-tours he played on went under, taking his money with them.
Over the years, Horrobin made ends meets by working as a handyman and a freelance electrician. He earned a conditional card on the European Senior Tour in 2012, but played in just three events, his best finish a tie for 51st.
“I've been through some sad times, but this is my dream,” he said. “I don’t want to give up my dream. I’m so proud of myself. I’m going to try to play good this week, and whether I play good or not, I’m so proud to be here, to be the first Jamaican to make the U.S. [Senior] Open.”
The support and encouragement that Horrobin received from the gallery throughout the week touched him greatly.
“Hello, Omaha,” said Horrobin after his opening round. “You guys showed me so much love. I appreciate it. I mean, everybody knows my name out here. … I feel like I was born right here.”
His first round of even-par 70 left Horrobin tied with major champions Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Steve Elkington, but he faded with a second-round 80 to miss the cut by five strokes.
“I played pretty good,” said Horrobin after the first round. “But this is golf. You never know.”
Indeed, you never know when a player’s score will become far less important than the path he took to the championship.