By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
7:18 PM EDT, June 28, 2012
— Billy Hurley III might be in his element at steamy Congressional Country Club for the AT&T National. Not only is the former Navy golfer playing close to where he grew up in Leesburg, Va. and where he now lives in Annapolis, but the triple-digit temperatures that are expected this weekend could be to Hurley's advantage given his military training.
"It was 110 in the shade in the Persian Gulf, that was maybe as hot as I've ever been," Hurley said Thursday, when the temperature barely reached the mid-90s. "So yeah, I've definitely dealt with it a lot. I think I know how to deal with it. And for whatever reason, even last year, I play really good when it's hot."
A 30-year-old PGA Tour rookie who completed his military service commitment three years ago, Hurley has had a difficult transition from the Nationwide Tour. He has missed the cut in 12 of the 17 tournaments he has played — including six straight in one recent stretch. After narrowly missing a hole-in-one on his first swing at Congressional , Hurley found himself leading the tournament for a chunk of his round.
A bogey on his last hole — the par-5 ninth — was Hurley's only blemish in a round of 2-under par 69, leaving him tied with Pat Perez, two strokes behind first-round leader Bo Van Pelt. Former three-time major champion Vijay Singh, Jimmy Walker and Brendan De Jonge of Zimbabwe are one shot off the lead. Tournament host and pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods shot 1-over par 72.
"It was a pretty good grind out there," Woods said.
The same could be said for Hurley's career since he graduated from the Naval Academy in 2004. Like other Navy athletes pursuing a pro career, Hurley tried to get the Navy to allow him to finish his commitment in the reservesbut was unsuccessful. He got to play quite a bit his first three years, including for the U.S. Walker Cup team (the amateur version of the Ryder Cup) in 2005.
But after being stationed on a ship at Pearl Harbor for two years, Hurley said he "became a recreational golfer for a couple of years." It was not exactly a traditional launching pad for a long and successful PGA Tour career, but Hurley earned the last automatic berth from the Nationwide Tour by finishing 25th on the money list last year.
"I'm 30, but I think in golf years I'm 25," Hurley said. "I mean, in a sense, because not many guys have taken time off like that. I have a lot more life experience just with living life in the Navy, and I am married, I have two kids, so I've got a lot of other things going on in life that maybe your average 26-year-old rookie doesn't have. I don't know that that gives me an advantage, it just sort of is what it is."
In truth, Hurley was thinking about a career in the Navy long before he was considering playing on the PGA Tour. Though his father had been a local golf pro before Hurley was born, all Hurley remembers is that Bill Hurley Jr. was a police officer. The younger Hurley took a tour of the academy with a retired admiral who was a family friend after his freshman year in high school "and fell in love with it."
It was the only school that recruited him.
It was also the only school to which Hurley applied.
Eventually his two dreams intersected.
"I remember standing on the putting green (at the Naval Academy golf course) during plebe summer and telling one of my buddies that I was going to play on the PGA Tour," Hurley recalled. "He laughed and was like, good luck with that. It was something I knew I wanted to try. I didn't know I'd be good enough to try. And then all of a sudden my senior year I took a couple of steps forward and became good enough to try."
TheU.S. Navyhad other ideas.
After getting his degree in quantitative economics and spending time in Jacksonville and teaching at the academy, Hurley eventually was shipped out to Pearl Harbor, where he first worked setting up security while in port and later as a first lieutenant training "20 guys and 20 girls whose average age was 20 and we did everything from launch and recover helicopters to drive the ship's small boats to anchoring, mooring, pain the side of the ship."
Not exactly chipping, putting and working on playing a draw or a fade.
"They're very different," Hurley said of his two careers. "I think there's certainly a mental toughness that I learned from the Navy and the Naval Academy that translates well into golf, but the pressures and the life are very different."
Given the late start to his career, Hurley's story is closest to former PGA tour player Larry Nelson, a Vietnam War veteran who turned pro at 27, won the first of three majors at 34 and eventually was selected to the Hall of Fame. Golfers tend to take months off, not years. But somehow Hurley has made it to the PGA Tour and could be in contention with a similar round Friday.
"I think I just need to keep getting better," he said. "That sounds a little strange, I'm sure, or not very quantified, but I don't really feel like there's a glaring weakness in my game. I have not hit the ball very well this year, but I hit the ball well last year and I've hit it well so far this week. It's also just about getting comfortable out here."
Hurley said that the key is not thinking about too much about the game.
"Sometimes I think you're better off not being super intelligent," he said. "You can overthink the game."
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