Billy Horschel's West Ham love gets recognized on the PGA Tour

Billy Horschel knows what's coming this weekend around Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey, England, during the BMW PGA Championship.

Songs. Lots of songs.

The hole or round may change, but the tune won't. Horschel will be serenaded with "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," the 104-year-old song that's been West Ham's anthem for about a century. It'll be a tip of the cap from the English crowd to the American golfer who has made his affinity for the Hammers widely known.

In Horschel's world, golf reigns supreme followed by the Florida Gators, for whom he played in college. If fans lining the course aren't singing to Horschel this weekend, he'll hear "Up the Hammers!" or "Come on you Irons!" like he would "Go Gators!" back in America.

For the past 15 years, West Ham has been competing with the Gators for Horschel's affection. The last two may be interchangeable, depending on the day, though they've come to learn to coexist, both in his heart and on his golf bag. This week, Horschel's West Ham support will be on display. He'll use a claret-and-blue West Ham-themed bag with the Hammers' crest, featuring the famed golden irons, displayed prominently on the sides. The Gators head will be the secondary logo on the front.

West Ham's support of Horschel will also be noticeable. In the lead-up to Thursday's first round, former West Ham captain Mark Noble and current Hammers captain Declan Rice both spent time with Horschel at the course.

The West Ham bag and his support of an English club has endeared him to not just the West Ham faithful, but Premier League fans in general. That's in part because he's an American golfer embracing European soccer, but also because he's not supporting teams like Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea or Liverpool, Horschel quipped.

"I think that there's an American that sort of gets the most attention or right now is at least getting the most attention about supporting a club is, I say, laughable in the nicest and in most sincere way, because it is pretty funny when you think about it," said Horschel, who hopes to make it to three or four West Ham matches this season. "This isn't a sport that is a top three or four sport in America, and so it's pretty unique."

Horschel's affinity for West Ham started after he watched Green Street Hooligans, in which West Ham was featured prominently. He started following the Hammers as much as he could, which difficult back then because Premier League games weren't broadcast regularly in America. That changed in 2012 when NBC won the broadcast rights for the EPL. Like other Premier League fans stateside, Horschel was then able to watch games regularly.

He kept his support quiet, but after winning the WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin in March 2021, Horschel talked publicly about being a West Ham supporter. It led to an unexpected text message from Noble, who got Horschel's number from Francesco Molinari, a fellow PGA Tour golfer (and another West Ham fan), and it also led to Horschel being serenaded for the first time during a golf tournament.

The songs began on the first hole at the Open Championship at Royal St. George's in 2021 and continued again at the BMW PGA Championship about a month later, when the tournament was played outside of London. Being sang to by fans was different for Horschel, who's used to college football fans in America either cheering or chiding him, depending on their loyalties.

"The support was unbelievable," Horschel told ESPN. "And then when I would sign autographs, take pictures, people would be like, 'Hey Billy, we love you. We love that you're supporting an English football club, we may be a Tottenham fan or we're an Arsenal fan or we support Man United,' whatever it may be, but they were so pleased that I was such a big fan and a supporter of the Premier League."

In many ways, Horschel has become the Premier League's golfer.

There are other pros on tour who support a Premier League side or other international teams, but none have been so public or vocal about it than Horschel. When he first started supporting West Ham, some of his peers on tour at the time, such as Ian Poulter, tried to convince him to ditch the Hammers and root for Arsenal. Horschel pondered it -- this was when Arsenal was one of the best clubs in the world, finishing no lower than fourth in the Premier League table over 20 years, including three league titles, and they were in the midst of a run of 17 straight Champions League appearances -- and although tempted, he decided to stick with West Ham.

As he's embraced the Hammers, they've started to embrace him back. He and Noble have become fast friends after Noble texted him last year: they even golf together and grab dinner whenever Horschel is in England. The golfer said he doesn't usually get starstruck, but before responding to Noble, he told his wife, Brittany, "This is pretty cool. The captain of West Ham just reached out to me."

Through Noble, Horschel has also become friends with Rice, whom he met after winning last year' BMW PGA Championship. They all celebrated Horschel's win at dinner after the tournament. "Dec's a really good guy, and it's unbelievable to see someone like at 23 be as good as he is already," Horschel said. "He still hasn't even come close to reaching his potential, but he is so great already at his position and as a footballer."

Two weeks after Horschel won the WGC and received Noble's text, he was approached at the Masters by West Ham minority owner Tripp Smith, who invited Horschel to a game at London Stadium in northeast London. "He knows a ton about West Ham. He's a very smart fan," Smith said. "All the English fans just really admire that. The West Ham fans love it. Even the fans that hate West Ham think it's awesome."

Heading into the Open Championship that summer at Royal St. George's, located on England's Southeast coast, Horschel didn't have a bag sponsor. That's when Mark Horton, Horschel's analytics master, an Englishman and a fellow West Ham fan, suggested a West Ham bag. Horschel found the proper colors online and his team worked with West Ham's marketing department to iron out the details. The club was intrigued because it meant weekly international exposure through the PGA Tour, and Horschel's bag arrived a week before last year's open. A West Ham bag now sits in Smith' office as well.

"It literally took off," Horschel said. "I knew it was gonna be a big thing because Noble was telling me all about it and Tripp was telling me all about it. But, it literally was something that I could never imagine how massive it became and how all West Ham fans now know who I am, roughly."

With fall settling in and with Horschel's golf season coming to a close for now, he'll have more time to watch his Hammers fight their way into contention for the top four and work with the Hammers to expand their brand into various international markets, including America, all while hoping his Gators can win another SEC title.

Through one round at the BMW PGA Championship, which postponed its second round on Friday and eventually canceled it after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, Horschel is tied for 11th at 4-under. The tournament, which was reduced to 54 holes, will restart Saturday morning.

West Ham, which currently sits in 18th place in the table with just one win and four points, will play at Everton on Sept. 18.