For golfer Billy Hurley, life on the PGA Tour remains enticing, dangling like a carrot just out of his reach. With his credentials and history, he should be a favorite to come out of this year's qualifying school with a Tour card.
But the eighth-ranked amateur in the country, according to the Golfweek/Titleist standings, won't be attending Q-School in the fall. Instead of heading to a lush golf course for a shot at the big time, he'll be bound for the USS Gettysburg in Mayport, Fla.
"That's what I signed up for," Hurley said. "I think when I get to my ship and start leading sailors, that's going to be a blast, as well. For four months I'm doing nothing but playing golf, then I go back to reality and get a job, I guess."
Hurley knew what he was in for when he applied to the Naval Academy nearly five years ago while a student at Loudoun County High School. He had sent out just one application -- to become a Midshipman -- and was accepted, without any input from the Navy's golf coach, Pat Owen.
After graduation from the Academy this May, Hurley should have gone right to his ship, but the academic all-American received a special release to play in prestigious amateur tournaments over the summer -- and he won the Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship in July. Of course, Hurley didn't get everything he had wished for when the Navy declined to let him try his hand at Q-School.
"I was thrilled to get some time," said Hurley, one of the best golfers ever to play for Navy. "My philosophy in life is that everything happens for a reason. I could have played at Q-School, gotten my PGA Tour card and the Navy could have said, 'There's your ship.' I was thrilled for the opportunity to play in these tournaments, play a full summer schedule."
Once Hurley serves the 24-month minimum aboard his ship, he intends to apply for a rare exemption from active duty. The exemption was made famous when basketball player David Robinson was granted one in the late 1980s, allowing him to serve six years in the reserves and just two years of active duty. Robinson, the last person to receive such an exemption, backed up the Navy's decision by being named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players.
Robinson "was unique in himself in how his career turned out and how he continues to [give] back to the Navy," said Lt. Mike Kafka, a Naval Academy spokesman who added that as of three years ago the policy mandates at least 24 months of service before an exemption application could be made.
Owen seemed doubtful about Hurley's shot at getting the exemption, but said that even five years away from the game would not be an insurmountable obstacle to a PGA Tour career. Golfers don't have the same limited window for competition that basketball, baseball or football players do, Owen said, and most don't see a great deal of success until they've reached their late 20s.
"He's easily good enough to make it on the PGA Tour right away," said Clemson senior Brent Delahoussaye, who has played with Hurley on the amateur circuit this summer. "In a way I admire the kid for what he's doing, but I kind of feel bad because he has so much going for him in golf right now."
Hurley's time spent training in college can't compare to life as an officer on active duty, especially once he starts his six-month deployment aboard the USS Gettysburg.
But for now, Hurley has a plan.
"I'll work out a lot," Hurley said. "The ship won't be at sea the whole time I'm there. The majority of the time I'll be going home at night and hopefully to the course for an hour. Hopefully I can get a range mat and seven iron and fill the bottom of the ocean with golf balls. I've started collecting some balls because you can only hit them once."