BETHESDA -- As he made the long walk from the ninth green to the 10th tee Saturday at Congressional Country, Billy Hurley III noticed the security detail following him as the third-round leader of the Quicken Loans National.
"I've never really had a whole lot of police officers following my group," the 34-year-old professional golfer from nearby Leesburg, Virginia, said. "You know, I'm not, like, that cool."
It was a poignant moment for Hurley. The security officers weren't just signs of his growing profile and the fact he was inching closer to the pinnacle of his career. They also reminded him of his late father, Willard, and the work he once did.
"You know, obviously, I think about my dad a lot," Hurley III said.
Last year's Quicken Loans National was one of the worst tournaments imaginable for Hurley, and it had nothing to do with playing golf.
In a tear-filled press conference at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia, Hurley announced that his father had gone missing and pleaded for him to return home.
Willard Hurley, who served as a police officer for 25 years and helped provide security at golf tournaments, was found three days later in a public library in northeastern Texas, watching his son play at the Quicken Loans National on a computer.
Roughly two weeks later, he was found dead at 61, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been married for more than 30 years and had no history of mental illness, according to the Hurley family.
Almost a year later, with security officers following his every move, Hurley III thought, "Hey, this is what my dad did. He walked inside the ropes and did this at Presidents Cups and stuff."
What will run through Hurley's mind today if he can claim his first PGA title only a short drive away from his childhood home?
After his bogey-free 67 Saturday at Congressional, he takes a two-shot lead into the final round of the Quicken Loans Nationals at 15-under par.
"Can't think of a better one for me to win," said Hurley, who resides in Annapolis with his wife, Heather, and three children. "It would probably be the best one of the regular season Tour events for sure."
After his 66 on Thursday and 65 on Friday earned him a share of the lead, Hurley showed no signs of buckling.
He opened his third round with a birdie on the 402-yard, par-4 first hole and betrayed no signs of nerves the rest of the way, sprinkling in three more birdies at Nos. 6, 9 and 14.
"I'm probably making it look a little easier than it is, but I'm also probably a little more relaxed than I have been in the past, too," Hurley said.
There will be no shortage of challengers in the final round.
Veteran Ernie Els, 46, the 1997 U.S. Open champion at Congressional, sits only two shots behind after his bogey-free 65 Saturday.
Rookie Jon Rahm, 21, is three back in his professional debut, and Bill Haas, 34, the 2013 AT&T National champion at Congressional, and Webb Simpson, 30, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, are both five back at 10-under par (203).
Els, seeking his first win since the 2012 British Open, snapped a string of 114 consecutive rounds with a bogey. His 65 Saturday included, perhaps, the shot of the tournament when he dunked his approach shot from 157 yards away on the 471-yard, par-4 12th with a 9-iron.
"You know, I'd be very cocky to say I'm trying to hole it from 160," Els said of his eagle on 12. "But I was just trying to give myself a look at birdie. Just one of those things, you know. When the game gives you something, you know, there's a lot of excitement, and that was really one of the more exciting moments."
Rahm, the first-round leader and second-round co-leader, ran into early trouble with bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4. At times, he looked like a rookie playing his first professional tournament, especially after he shanked his drive badly to the right on the par-3 13th, leading to his fourth bogey of the round.
But Rahm kept himself in it with four birdies, including one at the 16th, and still finished under par with a 70.
"First thing I told my caddie was, 'How did I shoot under par today?'" Rahm said. "I could not explain it. That's just golf. It's not just how. It's how many."
Taking the championship from Hurley will be no small feat, however. The graduate of the Naval Academy is well-versed in mental toughness.
"You either learn it at the Naval Academy or you're not there very long," Hurley said.
"So, that definitely helps in adversity on the golf course. Then, focus, too. You just always have to be [locked in]. When you're driving a ship, it is, you know, driving a ship through the Suez Canal, it's like all eyes ahead, focused exactly on what we're doing. You know, land on each side, you're trying to keep it in the middle. Focusing on the task at hand is definitely something I have learned well."
This article was written by Greg Swatek from The Frederick News-Post, Md. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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