OMAHA, Neb. – There is no debate over who has endured the most hardscrabble, circuitous route to the 2013 U.S. Senior Open Championship.
Not only is Peter Horrobin the first Jamaican native to play in the U.S. Senior Open, but he survived a playoff at sectional qualifying to make it here. However, those distinctions do 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.
When Horrobin was invited to share his story with media on Tuesday, all of the emotion resulting from the ups and downs that led to him making a berth-clinching, 20-foot birdie putt in the Port St. Lucie, Fla., qualifier came out. He wept briefly as he recounted some of his travails.
“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. … I told her, thanks for all the inspiration; 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. “I didn’t know that I had a short backswing until later on when I started seeing myself.”
Horrobin attended Miami Central High School, where he became the No. 1 player on the golf team. He went on to play on a scholarship 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, got married and raised three children. In 1989, he again began to play in earnest and turned professional. He received financial backing at times from people he met through the game, including former Miami Dolphins receiver Nat Moore and Luther Campbell of the hip-hop group 2 Live Crew.
“The sponsorships never lasted long,” said Horrobin. “They’ve always been like a month or two. I was always expecting maybe a year or two where I can play competitive instead of worrying about tomorrow. I never had that opportunity with a sponsor. But I have many people that helped me through my life.”
With sponsors scarce, 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.
“There were times when I had no money,” said an emotional Horrobin. “I had to put everything on my credit card, and I was just fortunate enough to win it back within two months, and I could pay off my credit-card bills.”
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.”
Suffice it to say that the U.S. Senior Open is proud to have him.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.