“I remember during Plebe Summer 12 years ago telling one of my classmates that I was going to play on the PGA Tour. He laughed and was like, ‘Good luck with that,’ ” Hurley recalled. “I didn’t know if I’d be good enough. Then all of a sudden my senior year I took a couple of steps forward and became good enough to try.”
However, he had to wait five years, something he relished, hard as it was. “Five years of sleep deprivation,” said Hurley, asked to sum up the worst of the Navy life. For him, the best has always far outweighed the huge cost.
“I took a tour of the Academy after my freshman year of high school with a retired admiral who was a family friend and fell in love with it,” Hurley said. “It was the only place I wanted to go, the only place I applied. I just fell in love with everything the Naval Academy stood for: honor, courage, commitment, traditions, [everything] that embodies the place and the Navy.” This was before 9/11, an event that spiked applications at the academies.
It’s unlikely Hurley’s fellow pros have an inkling of where most 30-year-olds with his background — in “math and economics merged” — are right now. He reluctantly concedes that “Wharton or Harvard,” and eventually Wall Street, is a not-unlikely path after five years of service. I’ve lived in Annapolis for years and our family has sponsored midshipmen, one with a similar academic profile. Here’s my semi-educated guess at an exam question for an economics-quant-game-theorist at Navy: “Three continents are destroyed, two in economic ruin. You command Earth’s last nuclear submarine. Save the world and stock market simultaneously. You have 10 minutes.”
For now, Hurley would just like to save some pars, finish as high as possible and survive a course of which he says, “I can’t think of one that was harder.” He can use all the help he can get, and he’s gotten some. “There was a lot of military, a lot of ‘Beat Armies’ getting thrown around there,” he said, grinning. “Somebody said, ‘Go Army.’ We had to correct him.”
In a world of pro athletes where it’s sometimes hard to find good example, Hurley may ultimately fail by some exalted standard, like future U.S. Open champion. Sometimes all those mental tools he has acquired can be a golf burden. “It’s very easy to overanalyze in this game,” he says.
But Hurley’s rank on the money list, or his performance the rest of this week, can’t be our only standard, can it? His wife, Heather, works with an orphanage in Ecuador. They have a biological son, Will, 5, and an adopted son from Ethiopia named Jacob, 3. Hurley works with a children’s camp in Honduras. And, good works aside, gradually he feels he’s gaining on this new alien life as a golf itinerant. “Getting comfortable out here,” he says. “I just want to get better — at everything. It’s all progress in little increments.”
That sounds like good game theory. Where does an opening 69 at Congressional fit into the picture? “Lets talk on Sunday,” Hurley said, “and we’ll see where it fits.”
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell