When Billy Hurley III lined up a seven-foot putt on the 18th green at Woodmont Country Club on June 3, he had no idea just how important that stroke would be.
“I don’t see much to it,” caddie Clay Duerson told his boss.
Hurley agreed and did not give away the hole, sinking the birdie putt to complete an afternoon round of 71 on the North Course of the venerable country club in Rockville, which was founded more than 100 years ago.
That score was necessary for Hurley to tie for first place in the sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open. He and Web.com Tour player Connor Arendell both shot 36-hole scores of 141 (3-under) and earned automatic berths into the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at Pebble Beach.
“In the days leading up to the qualifier I was thinking I would really like to play in a U.S. Open at Pebble. I mean, you don’t want to miss that one,” Hurley told The Capital in a telephone interview last week. “I really wanted to be part of a U.S. Open at Pebble. I think that is a pretty cool thing to have done during my career. I’m really looking forward to the experience from that perspective.”
Hurley had shot a 2-under 70 in his morning round and was the clubhouse leader after posting the 71 in the afternoon. The Annapolis resident is quite familiar with the North Course at Woodmont Country Club, which has hosted U.S. Open qualifying for 32 of the past 33 years.
“This will be Hurley’s fourth U.S. Open and he’s gone through sectional qualifiers each time. In previous appearances at the U.S. Open, Hurley made the cut at Pinehurst (2014) and Chambers Bay (2015) while missing at Oakmont (2016).
Following a two-year absence from the prestigious event, Hurley is happy to be back.
“I’m seven years and seven majors into my PGA Tour career so it’s not such a ‘Wow’ moment anymore. I feel like I belong at the U.S. Open,” the 2004 Naval Academy graduate said. “It’s hard to get into the U.S. Open so I’m certainly excited about qualifying again.”
Hurley got a double dose of good news last week. One day after qualifying for the U.S. Open, the Leesburg, Virginia native was informed he had been granted a spot in the RBC Canadian Open.
“Obviously, it’s good to get to play a PGA Tour event. I’ve been off the last three weeks,” Hurley said following a practice round at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. “The way they’ve got this golf course set up this week, it sure looks like a U.S. Open. You definitely don’t want to hit it in the rough. It will give you a good sense for what you need to do next week at the U.S. Open.”
Hurley has competed in the AT&T Pro-Am Tournament at Pebble Beach several times with his best finish coming in 2015 when he shot 9-under par through 72 holes.
“Pebble just seems like a proper place for a U.S. Open. I remember Tiger winning there in 2000 when I was graduating high school,” Hurley said. “I’ve only played Pebble in February. To be able to play it firm and fast and set up for a U.S. Open … I think that’s how that course was meant to be.”
Despite a four-month difference in timing, Hurley believes his past experience at Pebble Beach will be advantageous. “I think Pebble should play very, very fair. Having played Pebble before, I kind of know the general idea of where you can hit it and where you can’t, which should help me,” he said.
“It’s really about patience at a U.S. Open. You’re going to make bogeys here and there. What you can’t do is make doubles,” he said. “That’s what happened when I missed the cut at Oakmont. I made too many doubles. You can’t give that many strokes back to the field.”
This is Hurley’s seventh season as a professional golfer after completing his five-year service commitment to the United States Navy. The 37-year-old has played 171 events on the PGA Tour and piled up $5,045,390 in career earnings.
Hurley lost his PGA Tour card following the 2018 season, bringing an end to a two-year exemption earned by winning the Quicken Loans National in 2016. He has been playing selected PGA Tour events this season based off sponsor exemptions or invitations resulting from previous finishes at certain tournaments or the fact he is a past winner.
Some wondered why Hurley did not play the Web.com Tour this season as a way to regain his PGA Tour card. Actually, the retired lieutenant was not eligible to play on the Web.com Tour.
“I didn’t have any status on the Web.com Tour. I have better status on the PGA Tour than I do on the Web.com Tour,” he said. “I really didn’t want to go to the Web.com Tour qualifying school because I knew I could get into enough PGA Tour events to play my way back on if I performed well enough.”
Hurley expects to get into somewhere around 15 events this season and said “that’s enough to have a decent year and build off that going forward into 2020.”
Hurley’s strategy seems to be working fairly well as he is currently No. 193 in the FedEx Cup rankings and has made the cut in four of seven events. He tied for ninth at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event held in late April at TPC Louisiana.
“So far what I’m finding is there is not a great rhythm or flow to the year. You’re in and out and that makes it tough to get any momentum going,” said Hurley, who is currently in a stretch of playing six straight tournaments.
Obviously, because of the limited schedule, Hurley must cash whenever possible in order to achieve his goals. Finishing in the top 125 of the FedEx Standings would result in Hurley regaining his PGA Tour card. A top 200 placement would advance him to the Web.com Finals, which offers another avenue for earning the card.
“Every tournament really matters when you’re only playing 15. It puts a little more pressure on each week because you know you’re not going to get as many starts,” Hurley said. “We’ll see where the rest of my career goes, but for the foreseeable future I’m a professional golfer and I’m going to play a certain number of events for the new couple years.”