For someone who had not won on the PGA Tour entering the Quicken Loans National, Billy Hurley III summoned championship mettle when it mattered most, birdieing consecutive holes on the back nine Sunday to pull away for a cathartic triumph at Congressional Country Club.
The 2004 graduate of the Naval Academy and Leesburg native collected his first winner’s check in 104 career starts since turning pro in 2006, a year before he began serving on a destroyer as part of his military commitment. The win also came less than a year after Hurley’s father died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“It’s been a hard year. It’s been a really hard year,” Hurley said while holding back tears just off the 18th green, where his family gathered along with supporters holding Navy flags. “It’s nice to have something go well.”
Hurley carded a final-round 2-under-par 69 to finish 17 under for the tournament, three strokes clear of Vijay Singh , who at 53 was seeking to become the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event. Jon Rahm and Bill Haas tied for third at 13-under 271 on a course that played the second longest among non-majors this season and has hosted three U.S. Opens and one PGA Championship.
The victory is life altering for Hurley on several fronts. First, the two-time honorable mention All-Met at Loudoun County High earns full exempt status on the PGA Tour for the next two years. Hurley had been splitting time between the PGA and Web.com tours. Other perks include a spot in the year’s final two majors — the British Open and PGA Championship — as well as a berth in next year’s Masters.
Hurley entered the tournament No. 607 in the world golf rankings and had missed the cut in four out of his past six events. His highest previous finish this season was tied for 41st at the Byron Nelson in late May.
“You know, I’m not really sure it’s all sunk in yet, but I couldn’t think of a better tournament to make my first PGA Tour victory,” said Hurley, whose home course is just down the road at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, the venue for next year’s Quicken Loans National.
The dramatics began for Hurley at the 490-yard, par-4 15th, where a 294-yard tee shot wound up in a right-side fairway bunker. Hurley blasted out roughly 35 yards short of the green. With a gap wedge in his hands, he pitched onto the green and watched as the ball landed, rolled and disappeared into the cup, much to the delight of the surrounding gallery.
Hurley pumped his right fist in the air several times and celebrated with caddie Peter Cunningham, but that unlikely birdie was only a prelude to another masterful hole.
At the 579-yard, par-5 16th, Hurley launched his ball 286 yards off the tee and sent his second shot some 190 yards. Hurley’s approach settled a little more than 27 feet from the pin. An aggressively struck putt rolled on a perfect line and into the hole, again drawing raucous cheers audible throughout the grounds.
“You know, it all happened so fast there,” Hurley said. “Holing the wedge shot, the pitch on 15 and then making the putt on 16. Yeah, it’s cliche, but a dream come true. This is the stuff I remember being in plebe summer at the Naval Academy telling one of my teammates I was going to play on the PGA Tour, and he kind of chuckled at me.
“Now to have won on the PGA Tour, unbelievable.”
Hurley began the day with a two-shot lead and promptly made a birdie at the 402-yard, par-4 first. His tee shot sailed 291 yards, quite a rip for one of the shorter hitters on tour, and his approach came to rest inside of 14 feet. Hurley sank the putt to jump-start the most memorable round of his career, one that included four birdies and two bogeys.
Ernie Els, who was Hurley’s playing partner in the final pairing, also made birdie at No. 1 but was battling his swing for much of his round, which included a double bogey at the par-3 10th. There, the strapping South African, who was seeking his first win since 2012, deposited his tee shot into the water, took a penalty drop and two-putted.
A member at Congressional and a fan favorite, Els, 46, won the U.S. Open here in 1997 for the second of his four major championships but finished five shots back after shooting 1 over in the final round.
“I love the game, you know,” Els said. “I want to still play at a high level. I still feel like I still have something to offer the game and maybe squeeze something out of it before I’m really over the hill. But I feel physically fine, and the technical side is coming back, and my mental side’s a lot better, so I can start enjoying it again.”