BETHESDA, Md. — Before heading off to sleep on the first 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career, Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley III spoke of how his five years of service to his country readied him for his toils on the golf course.
When you’re deployed to the Persian Gulf to protect Iraqi oil platforms, and when you’re driving a destroyer, you learn mental toughness, Hurley said, and focus is of the utmost importance.
Hurley called on that experience Sunday in the final round of the Quicken Loans National, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation and honors current and past members of the U.S. armed forces. In front of a large collection of family, friends and military personnel in the galleries at Congressional Country Club, many chanting the Annapolis zip code of 21412, Hurley was calm and overcame a few moments of adversity and the pressure of playing in the final group to win his first PGA Tour title.
Buoyed by a chip-in for birdie from 35 yards on the 15th and a birdie from 27 feet on the 16th, the 607th-ranked player in the world held off two Golden Oldies and a rising star and accepted the championship hardware from Woods.
“I’m not really sure it’s all sunk in yet, but I couldn’t think of a better tournament to make my first PGA Tour victory with how much the Tiger Woods Foundation means, how the Quicken Loans National honors the military this week. It is really special to me,” said Hurley, 34, who grew up in the area and rose to the rank of lieutenant and earned a degree in quantitative economics.
Now he has a two-year exemption on the Tour, and will play the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational next week, the British Open next month and the Masters next year.
“It all happened so fast there, holing the pitch on 15 and then making the putt on 16,” Hurley said. “It’s cliché but a dream come true. This is the stuff I remember being in plebe summer at the Naval Academy telling one of my teammates I was going to play on the PGA Tour, and he kind of chuckled at me, and now to have won on the PGA Tour, unbelievable.”
With a final-round 2-under-par 69 under brilliant skies north of the nation’s capital, Hurley’s 17-under 267 total was three clear of World Golf Hall of Fame member Vijay Singh, who closed with a 65 as he tried to become the oldest winner in Tour history at 53. Another shot back were Bill Haas (68) and Jon Rahm, 21, who finished with a 70 as he tried to win his first pro start a week after being the low amateur at the U.S. Open.
Ernie Els, 46, another member of the Hall of Fame, was paired with Hurley but had an up-and-down day that included just six pars in his round of 72 to finish 5 back.
“Starting out 7 off the lead, it was a tall order,” said Singh, whose runner-up finish earned him a trip to the British Open. “But Billy played great. Obviously he’s got total control of his game and it’s good to see.”
Before turning in Saturday night, Hurley took a call from Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served as the principal military advisor to the president, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.
“We talked for maybe three or four minutes, and he told me what he always tells me. That he’s proud of me and that the military is proud of me,” Hurley said. “It was special.”
The win ended an emotional week for Hurley. He has struggled with his game the past year as he dealt with personal issues off the course. Last year at the Quicken Loans National, he broke down in tears during a news conference while pleading for help in finding his missing father, retired police officer Willard Billy Hurley Jr. While his father was found two days later, he committed suicide two weeks later.
Hurley said he often thought of his father during the tournament, especially when seeing law enforcement escorting him and others inside the ropes.
“It’s been a hard year,” Hurley said. “It’s nice to have something go well. … Certainly my dad helped me. He started me well. I certainly wish he was here today. And then my wife (Heather). She’s been by my side through the Navy, through mini-tours, through talking about quitting through thinking about retirement. And now to win on the PGA Tour, she’s the best.”
On Sunday, so too, was Hurley.