During the five years Billy Hurley III spent fulfilling his service commitment following his graduation from the Naval Academy, his duties included guiding a 10,000-ton destroyer through the Suez Canal.
The job was not necessarily on his pay grade.
"The truth is, I was really good at driving the ship," Hurley said Sunday. "And I won two ship handling awards while I was in the Navy. At my position on the ship and in my kind of age, that's not who you would have picked if I was not really good at it. You would have picked somebody a little senior to me."
Until he won his first PGA Tour event Sunday in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, navigating his golf career has not been as easy for Hurley.
While he has played well in stretches since earning his tour card in 2012, consistency had been fleeting for the 34-year-old.
Hurley lost his card twice, after missing the cutoff for conditional status in 2012 by $165 and then again last fall after making the cut in just half of the 28 tournaments he played. His father's disappearance, and the later discovery that he took his own life, sent Hurley's career in a tailspin.
His three-shot victory at Congressional was celebrated not only by his wife Heather and their three children, as well as his mother Cheryl, but by other family members, friends and his former Navy coach, Pat Owen.
CBS analyst Peter Kostis called Hurley's win "the story of the year" on the PGA Tour.
"It's unbelievable, it truly is kind of unbelievable," Hurley said in a greenside interview after receiving the trophy from injured tournament host Tiger Woods. "Coming from the Naval Academy and then coming from five years of active duty in the Navy and out here to the PGA Tour and losing my card last year and playing on a sponsor's exemption this week and to put four great days of golf together and win a golf tournament, I'm kind of struggling for words a little bit but it's really special."
There's a much larger family that celebrated Hurley's breakthrough victory – The Brotherhood at the Naval Academy.
Hurley said he received a call Saturday night from retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, congratulating him on his performance. On Sunday, Hurley was introduced on the first tee by a Navy officer as part of the PGA Tour event that most recognizes the military.
"I couldn't be prouder to represent the Naval Academy and the Armed Forces in general," Hurley said. "I'm just honored and privileged to be the Navy guy out here on tour."
Said Owen, who has coached Navy for 26 years: "It's an incredible association with the Naval Academy to have Billy representing us on the PGA Tour. He's such a class individual and espouses all the values that the Naval Academy teaches young men and women. He's a real patriot and we're thrilled that he's doing well."
Two former Midshipmen who are now professional athletes in Baltimore said Sunday that Hurley's victory is important for other athletes at the Naval Academy – as well as those who are considering applying for an appointment – to realize they can dream about continuing their careers, too.
"I think it's huge," Orioles relief pitcher Oliver Drake said at Camden Yards before Sunday's 12-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, and before Hurley closed the deal on his win. "A lot of people are like, 'Oh, if you want a chance to play in any pro sport, the service academies, you can't do that.' But a couple guys have shown you can.
"And now Keenan Reynolds...it just attracts more attention to the Naval Academy, which is such an amazing and special place. A lot of people don't even realize it's all D-I athletics. There are a lot of really good athletes there. So it's really cool. That type of attention is just great."
Reynolds brought even more attention to the Naval Academy during his four-year career as the school's record-setting quarterback and the 2016 co-winner of the Amateur Athletic Union's James E. Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. Reynolds will attempt to play for the Ravens this season after being a sixth-round draft choice.
"Guys like Billy Hurley paved the way for what people like myself and Chris Swain [currently trying out for the San Diego Chargers as a free agent] are doing," Reynolds said Sunday from his family's home outside Nashville.
Drake spent only two years at the Naval Academy before being drafted by the Orioles. Reynolds will serve eight years in the Navy Reserve. Both acknowledged that Hurley had a tougher road than they did with the five-year post-grad commitment that he and most other Midshipmen serve.
Asked if his victory could help Owen and other Navy coaches recruit, Hurley smiled.
"Absolutely," he said. "We've got two great coaches, Pat Owen and Mike Burke. The athletic program is growing in the right direction and producing some really fine athletes. And above and beyond that, we produce really fine humans and really fine men and women, officers in the Navy and Marine Corps."
Howe Burch, president of TBC Advertising in Baltimore, acknowledged that most high schoolers aspiring to have professional careers opt to go elsewhere, and few Navy graduates make careers as professional athletes. But from an exposure perspective, it can't hurt, Burch said.
While Navy has had graduates go on to become high-level athletes throughout the school's history, it raises the profile of the athletic program each time someone like Hurley makes a headline.
"From an advertising perspective, it's free exposure, in a big PGA Tour event, on network television," Burch said. "It's huge. … I think it certainly is beneficial to the Navy athletic program, and just the Naval Academy in general, to be associated with a feel-good story like Billy's."
Though Reynolds wondered whether Hurley's five-year post-grad commitment hurt his PGA Tour career, Owen believes that his former star might not have earned his first PGA Tour victory without that experience.
"He gives a lot of credit to the Navy and the five years he served with the skills that he needs to succeed on the PGA Tour," Owen said. "A lot of young folks who get out of college at 21 or 22 don't have a direct path to the PGA Tour and they find it hard, they don't have the guidance or the wherewithal to make it. Billy took the slow path, but it's paid off in the long run."
Jake Lourim contributed to this report.