Billy Hurley III called winning the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club last July "storybook."
Hurley's first career victory on the PGA Tour came less than an hour away from the town where he grew up and the one in which he currently resides, on a course he knew intimately and in a tournament that honors and supports the military.
"You really could not have written it any better," said Hurley, a Naval Academy graduate. "Couldn't be a better tournament to win from all facets. It was just perfect."
Winning the Quicken Loans National earned Hurley the largest single paycheck of his professional career -- $1,242,000 -- and also came with some serious side benefits. By far the most notable was a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, enabling the Annapolis resident to pick and choose the tournaments he played.
"It changed everything for me and my career," Hurley said during a lengthy interview at TPC Potomac last month. "It feels like I truly belong on tour. Even though this is my fifth season, this is the first time when I feel like it's really my tour."
Hurley talked about the career-changing win with a select group of media members following a May press conference to promote this year's 2017 Quicken Loans National, which begins Thursday at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
Having the luxury of playing any event on the PGA Tour schedule is not as easy as it sounds. As a 2016 champion, Hurley is more in demand and courted by tournament organizers.
"I still play the tournaments I want to play. Getting to pick and choose is great, but there are so many ones I like and respect. How do you not play Jack's tournament or Arnie's tournament?" Hurley said. "I actually wasn't going to play Wells Fargo, got talked into it and finished eighth. So that turned out to be a good decision."
That tie for eighth at the Wells Fargo Championship, held at Eagle Point Golf Course in Wilmington, North Carolina, is Hurley's best finish this season and earned him $210,000. The Leesburg, Virginia native tied for 15th at the Shriners Golf Classic and received $92,840.
For the year, Hurley is No. 102 in the Fed Ex Cup standings with 326 points and has earned $692,920 in prize money. He has cashed checks at 13 tournaments this season and missed the cut at six others.
"You still feel pressure to play well and earn Fed Ex Cup points. The money is the money. I'm not really worried too much about that. I'm going to make a fine living over the next couple years," Hurley said. "Right now, the focus is finishing as high as possible in the Fed Ex Cup. I'm holding off for July and August to see what we need to and what events we should play."
Hurley knows he must improve his Fed Ex Cup ranking and is hoping to make progress in that regard this week. Following the final event of the regular season, the top 125 players participate in the first event of the playoffs.
Earning the two-year exemption has produced a side benefit that Hurley has come to appreciate this year. He was able to attend the Media Day event at TPC Potomac to promote the 2017 Quicken Loans National on a Tuesday without worrying about getting to the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas for the Byron Nelson Classic.
"What has been nice, having finished high in the Fed Ex Cup standings, is that I'm in all the pro-am events. That allows me to be here today and not have to worry about rushing to Dallas to play a practice round," he said. "I'll play the pro-am tomorrow and figure out the course then. That allows me to come home Sunday night and go back out on Tuesday. It has really helped improve the balance of family time."
In fact, Hurley tries not to think about the fact he's on a two-year exemption. The 35-year-old does not want to lose the hunger that comes with needing to post results in order to stay on the PGA Tour.
"The two-year exemption really only gives you one year off. No matter what happens this year, I get to play next year. But next year, I've got to re-qualify," he said. "In one sense, you have that in your back pocket. In the other sense, you have to keep in mind that it's only a temporary benefit."
One would think a player with a PGA Tour victory to his credit would have no problem landing sponsorships, but Hurley still has not received an offer he deems worthy. As a result, the 2004 academy graduate routinely wears a Navy hat and carries a golf bag that pays tribute to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) on which he served. Designed by caddie Clay Duerson, the bag is the same dark gray as a Navy vessel and bears the No. 93.
"You become a winner, the number goes up," said Hurley, indicating that no sponsor has met the monetary figure he is seeking. "We just haven't found quite the right fit. I don't want to throw a logo on things just because."
Hurley noted that accepting a sponsorship from the likes of Bridgestone, Dunlop or Titleist comes with some requirements he is not willing to accept.
"Normally, a hat and bag sponsor is tied to equipment, and I made a conscious decision that I'm going to make more money playing good golf than I am playing any one company's clubs or balls," Hurley said. "I probably have half a dozen different manufacturers in my bag. It wasn't worth taking a contract just for the insurance money. I'm not interested in just cashing checks. My brand is important to me and I want to be associated with companies that are doing the right things."
It would seem the ideal sponsor would be a defense contractor such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumann, General Dynamics or Boeing. That would dovetail with Hurley's oft-stated goal of promoting the military.
"That's one of the things we've consciously tried to do, and it's something I take very seriously as the only veteran on the Tour," said Hurley, who is active with the Birdies for the Brave program and routinely makes appearances at military facilities or hospitals.
Hurley and his wife Heather are particularly supportive of charitable causes that help the spouses and children of military members. He recalled being deployed aboard the Chung-Hoon just a few months after the birth of his son Will.
"Military families are something my wife and I think about a lot," he said. "There's a lot more that goes into serving our country than most people think about. I feel it's important to honor military families."
Hurley originally turned pro in 2006 and played in the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club that year. However, service intervened and he did not pursue professional golf full-time until being discharged in July, 2009. Former Lieutenant Hurley believes the time spent as a surface warfare officer helps with his current vocation.
"I have a lot more life experience than most of the guys on Tour. I drove a cruiser and a destroyer and had leadership and management experiences," he said.
Hurley was asked to compare driving a destroyer through the Straits of Malacca with trying to sink a five-foot putt to save par.
"The feeling of pressure is similar, but the way it manifests itself is different," he said. "Most of the pressure in golf is self-inflicted. I want to do well because I'm a competitor and this is how I make money. In the Navy, that pressure comes from your commanding officers. I want to do well at my job because it's what is best for the ship, not for Billy."
Billy and Heather Hurley recently built a new home in the Annapolis area, where they are raising three young children. Hurley plays regular practice rounds and avails himself at the driving range at the Naval Academy Golf Course because of its convenience. He has a putting green and practice tee in the basement of his house for winter work.
"It's kind of an ongoing conversation about whether we live in the right place. If you play well, you think it doesn't matter. If you play poorly, you wonder if you should be practicing more in the winter," Hurley said. "Right now, I feel like Annapolis is home and that's where we want to be. Florida is not that far away in the grand scheme of things. I go down there to practice as well."
Hurley developed a friendship with Arnold Palmer before the legendary golfer's death. Palmer admired Hurley for his service to the country and gave him a membership to Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Hurley travels frequently to Orlando, Florida during the winter months to practice at the renowned club founded and owned by "The King."
With just one career PGA Tour victory and only a few Top 10 finishes, Hurley is still a relative unknown with regard to professional golfers. He has joked about walking into a coffee shop in Annapolis wearing a Master's polo shirt and being asked if he's ever attended the renowned tournament in Augusta, Georgia. He recalled another coffee shop visit when two men were talking about Billy Hurley winning the Quicken Loans National and not realizing the golfer himself was standing right there.
"I find those interactions kind of humorous. I guess it's humbling," Hurley said. "I'm not, you know, Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler. I'm not Top 10 in the world, like a really recognizable player and I'm fine with that. I'm perfectly happy being under the radar."
This article is written by Bill Wagner from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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