Billy Hurley III got more than just his first PGA Tour victory Sunday in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. The 2004 Naval Academy graduate also got some closure on the most painful period of his life and some much-needed financial security for his future.
A year after Hurley sent out a tearful message during the same tournament trying to find his missing father, who later took his own life, and two months after he seriously thought of retiring, the 34-year-old journeyman celebrated a win that could change the direction of his up-and-down career.
With a final round of 2-under par 69 that was punctuated by a 35-yard chip-in for birdie on the 15th hole and a nearly 30-foot putt for birdie on No. 16, Hurley held off Hall of Famers Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, as well as 21-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm to win.
Singh, 53, who was looking to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history, shot a 6-under par 65 to finish three strokes behind. Rahm, trying to win in his PGA Tour debut, shot a 70 to finish tied with Bill Haas (68), four strokes behind.
Hurley's victory, worth $1.2 million, gives him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, with invitations to his first PGA Championship this summer and his first Masters next year.
"Last year's been really hard, no two ways about it," Hurley said. "Not a lot of good's happened, personally or professionally in the last nine, 10 months or so. This was a huge step personally and professionally, career-wise for me and my family and my team and everybody who surrounds me and loves me."
Surrounded by friends and family from Leesburg, Va., where he grew up, and Annapolis, where he and his wife Heather now live with their three children – including a son they adopted from Ethiopia – Hurley admitted he struggled to keep his father's tragic death out of his mind while he was on the golf course.
"I didn't really think about him that much, which is probably good, to be honest with you, because it would have been a lot harder to keep it together," Hurley said, his voice about to choke with emotion. "I thought about him this morning and I kind of had to step away in the lockerroom by myself. Thankfully I was able to put that aside on the golf course and just play golf."
Typically a player who doesn't show much emotion, Hurley let out a primal scream after his chip-in for birdie helped give him a two-shot lead over Singh and Rahm. The lead grew to three when he made a nearly 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th.
Talking about the chip on the par-4 15th hole, which came after his tee shot settled near the lip of a fairway bunker, Hurley said, "I didn't know how good it was and the crowd got really excited. It totally shocked me to see the ball disappear. I kind of lost myself for a minute there, didn't know what to do. Probably looked that way on TV, too."
After missing an 8-footer for birdie on the par-4 17th, he finished out the round with a routine par. Els, who had started the round two shots behind and was looking for his first win since the 2012 British Open, put his arm around Hurley.
The 46-year-old four-time major champion, who won the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, faded on the back nine Sunday to finish five shots behind.
"He said something like, you know, 'Your dad's looking down really proud of you,'" Hurley said, again close to breaking down.
Asked earlier how golf has kept him going, Hurley revealed that he nearly retired after losing his card last year and not playing well earlier this year.
"The game of golf does nothing but beat you up and make you want to stop," he said. "To be completely honest with you, it wasn't eight weeks ago when I was seriously thinking about retiring. Not much was going well and it was hard, and that's golf. Two weeks from now, it will probably be hard again. But for one special week it was easy."
Hurley said he had to cancel a plane ticket for a tournament in Reno, Nev., because he can now play in the small field event in the Bridgestone Invitational at fabled Firestone in Akron, Ohio.
Bigger future plans might be affected now, too. One of his sisters is getting married in Leesburg the weekend of the British Open.
"Something tells me it's going to be a pretty hard sell," he said. "We'll have to figure it out. Some of my team kept telling me, if you get in the Open, you're going. I said, 'I don't know.' It's definitely not a foregone conclusion that I'm going, to be honest with you."
Heather Hurley said she didn't notice anything different about her husband during the week, even going into the final round. They packed up the kids and made the hourlong drive on the Beltway. When the kids got a little rowdy in the clubhouse, Hurley's wife told him, "If you can overcome this situation, you can overcome anything."
Hurley said that his first PGA Tour victory should help other fellow pros who are struggling.
"I've said this game always beats you up, but it only takes one week — that's the best thing about golf, and honestly that's the absolute worst thing about golf, " Hurley said. "It keeps you hanging on, it keeps you hanging in there. Every week's a fresh start and you keep thinking, 'Maybe this is the week, this is the week.' And more often than not, it's not the week. It's crazy that this was the week."
After receiving congratulations from injured tournament host Tiger Woods and taking pictures holding the trophy, Heather Hurley took the kids over for a photo.
"Can you believe we get to go home and sleep in our own bed?" she said excitedly.
"We're going to get to go to a lot of places now," Billy Hurley said with a smile.