The day after Billy Hurley III earned the first PGA Tour victory of his career at last year’s Quicken Loans National, he was in line at a coffee shop not far from his Annapolis home. Beside Hurley were several customers discussing that tournament without recognizing the winner standing immediately next to them.
This past April, again while waiting for his morning joe, Hurley, wearing a Masters shirt, had another customer politely ask whether he actually had been at Augusta or simply received the souvenir as a gift. Hurley, in fact, had participated in the first Masters of his career, his invitation by virtue of the Quicken Loans National triumph.
Then, earlier this month, Hurley arrived at the Naval Academy to visit his alma mater. Pulling into the parking lot at Ricketts Hall, he spotted a sign bearing his name in front of a space reserved for the 2004 graduate.
It was occupied.
“Yeah, I think those are funny,” Hurley said Tuesday afternoon from TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, where he will begin defense of his title Thursday in the first round of the PGA Tour’s annual stop in the national capital area. “I’m not Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler. I’m not top 10 in the world like really, really recognizable players, and I’m fine with that.”
Embracing anonymity has been routine for Hurley, 35, since his time as a midshipman and later as a surface warfare officer. In that second capacity, Hurley served on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf as one of more than 300 sailors protecting Iraqi oil platforms.
Several months ago, Hurley, to much fanfare among fellow players, debuted a golf bag adorned with images of the USS Chung-Hoon, one of the ships on which he served during his five years of active duty. His military career also included a pair of ship-steering awards.
As the only military veteran currently on the PGA Tour, Hurley’s breakthrough at the Quicken Loans National was all the more significant given the tournament’s many initiatives honoring America’s servicemen and servicewomen. On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, Hurley took part in the Shot for Heroes, hitting three balls at a flagstick some 90 yards away.
Hurley placed two balls within the target area to secure $650 for veterans and their families. An ace would have sent a charitable donation of $5,000 each to Operation Homefront and the Tiger Woods Foundation. Woods, the host of the Quicken Loans National since the event’s inception, will not attend this week.
“I always love getting to talk to service members and veterans throughout tournament weeks,” Hurley said. “I see somebody every week kind of with a Navy hat or military or whatever it is. More and more, I get a lot of ‘Beat Army’ cheers on the course. It’s something that I take really seriously, honoring and really representing the military well on the PGA Tour.”
Hurley enters the 11th annual Quicken Loans National having missed the cut in his past two events, most recently shooting a 2-over-par 73 last week in the second round of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. Before that tournament, Hurley last played competitively at U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, failing to earn a spot at Erin Hills.
Hurley’s last made cut came in the final week in May at the Dean & Deluca Invitational in Texas, where he finished tied for 41st at 2-over 282. His best result this year was a tie for eighth at the Wells Fargo Championship last month, netting him a sizable chunk of the more than $690,000 he has claimed on tour this year.
“That’s the hard thing about golf,” said Hurley, still seeking his second PGA Tour win. “Everybody wants you to play well at certain times, but you don’t know necessarily when it’s going to happen. I’m going to play well at some point. If you can tell me what those five weeks are, then I can sort out my travel schedule, but you just don’t know what that is.”
Hurley holds a considerable advantage in local knowledge over the field at the Quicken Loans National. The Leesburg native counts TPC Potomac as a home course, frequently having played the layout once known as TPC Avenel both before and since a two-year renovation that commenced in 2007.
As a student at Loudoun County High, Hurley participated in a Drive, Chip and Putt skills competition at TPC Avenel. He also caddied while in high school during a pro-am at the course in what was then known as the Kemper Open.
Hurley is set to play in Wednesday morning’s pro-am for a final walk around TPC Potomac before competition begins in earnest at a course that last hosted a regular PGA Tour event in 2006. Hurley, it just so happens, was in the field that year as well.
“When I played [TPC Potomac] the last couple weeks leading up, the rough was really, really penal, so it depends on the weather,” Hurley said when asked to guess the winning score. “I haven’t looked recently, but I think it’s supposed to be pretty good. That means that we can make the winning score whatever we want to make the winning score.
“So I think yeah, I’ll sign 10 under and sit in the clubhouse for four days.”