With a spot on the PGA Tour, Billy Hurley III stands among the most accomplished Patriot League alumni in professional sports. His path to that success was undoubtedly more challenging than most as the Naval Academy graduate served his country before embarking on a career on the course.
Hurley showed that he had the ability to excel professionally with a dominant college career. He arrived at Navy for the 2000-01 campaign, and in his freshman season helped the Mids win the Patriot League title while earning first-team All-League honors. Hurley would win All-Patriot League honors again in 2002 and in 2003, when the Mids rolled to the title at the Patriot League Championship by 31 strokes.
Hurley capped his career with an amazing senior season that saw him win the individual title at the Patriot League Championship, take home the League’s Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year award and earn Academic All-America recognition along with All-America status. He qualified for the NCAA Regionals and had an impressive showing with a 14th-place finish.
“I birdied my first three holes of my first-ever college tournament at the Naval Academy, at our home course, so that was a pretty cool way to start off my career right there,” Hurley said. “Winning the Patriot League title by such a wide margin was a great experience, we had a really good group that won multiple tournaments and probably had one of the better teams in the history of the school that 2002-03 season. I shot 61 as a senior in college (still a Patriot League record) and I won six of 12 tournaments as a senior. Winning the Patriot League individual title my senior year was almost anti-climactic because if I didn’t win it would have been one of the bigger upsets, but it was a great experience when I was able to come through.”
Hurley’s amateur career also featured major tournaments and even competitions representing his country. He gained exposure heading into his senior year by finishing second in stroke play qualifying at the 2003 United States Amateur, then was selected to represent his country at both the 2004 Palmer Cup and 2005 Walker Cup, helping the U.S. to a victory in the latter event which matches the Americans against top amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland.
“The Palmer Cup was a goal to get selected in my senior year and certainly the Walker Cup was a big goal, so to be able to play on those two teams was certainly a highlight of my amateur career.”
While future pros like Anthony Kim and J.B. Holmes also competed on the United States Walker Cup Team, Hurley had to wait for his professional career to begin. He earned his degree in quantitative economics from the Naval Academy and was commissioned as an Ensign in 2004. Hurley was able to continue his golf game as he played tournaments while teaching at the Naval Academy for two years, but then did a tour of duty on the USS Chung-Hoon from 2007-09. Hurley was stationed at Pearl Harbor and deployed twice during his time on the destroyer.
“I probably averaged playing once a month during those last two years, so at that point in time I wasn’t really able to continue working towards my golf game.
“I loved being in the Navy. I loved being at the Naval Academy and I really enjoyed my service time too. If I didn’t want to play golf and that was not an aspiration for me I might still be in the Navy. I never seriously considered that because I wanted to give golf a shot. I got to do a lot of things in my time in the Navy that a lot of people just don’t get to experience. I traveled a lot to Southeast Asia to Japan, Signapore, Hong Kong and a lot of really cool places and gained a lot of life experience just traveling around to a lot of different places. The coolest thing I did was drive the ship to the Suez Canal, which was one of the last things I did within the Navy.”
Once he left the Navy, Hurley began to get back to work on his golf game. It wasn’t easy, but he started with daily practicing and worked his way into playing tournaments that summer.
“I turned pro in 2006 while I was active duty and played a couple of tournaments while I was teaching at the Naval Academy, and tried to apply for some reserve time but did not get accepted to that so I spent the next two years back on the ship. I got out of the Navy right at the end of June in 2009 and just started practicing and working on my golf from there. I started doing the golf job for five, six, seven hours a day just to get back into it. I played my first couple of tournaments in August and I wasn’t really ready, but knew I had to try and do it some time. I think I played three tournaments in 2009 and missed every cut by a shot and it was quite frustrating to get back into it that way. It took a little while to come back, probably nine months to a year to really get there. I thought it would take about six months so those extra six months or so were really tough.
“The toughest part was just putting 18 holes together and reacting to what would happen when I have a double bogey or three birdies in a row. I had to re-learn the flow of a round of golf. I had all the shots but putting 18 holes together and going through the ups and downs was the most difficult.”
After he just missed getting into the PGA’s qualifying school in 2009, Hurley spent the next year on mini tours. He won an event in the spring of that year, which Hurley said made it feel like “things were going in the right direction.” His next step was playing on the Nationwide Tour in 2011, where Hurley had four top-10 finishes with a second-place showing at the Chiquita Classic in July. He entered the 2011 Nationwide Tour Championship in late October needing a good performance to earn his PGA Tour card, and did just that with an 18th-place finish.
“I just got into a good flow that summer. I had conditional status to start the year so I didn’t really know what would happen, but I was fortunate enough to make cuts and based on having accumulated earnings was able to keep playing throughout that year. I just got on a really good run where I finished in the top 20 pretty much every week with some top 10s in there. I played good consistent golf throughout that summer and was able to hang on in the end and finish 25th to earn my tour card right on the number.”
Hurley played on the PGA Tour in 2012, competing in 27 events with the highlight coming in a tie for fourth place at the AT&T National in early July. He finished 150th in the FedEx Cup standings, but finished 151st on the money list to miss conditional status for the following year by just one spot.
“The PGA Tour is really hard, and in that year I just did not do anything good for the better part of the first half of the year. I finally did something really good for a couple of weeks in a stretch, but I didn’t really finish the season that well and missed a couple of cuts. It was kind of ironic to finish 151st to miss my card after coming in 25th on the number to get it the previous year.”
Hurley went back to the Web.com Tour (formerly Nationwide Tour) in 2013, knowing that this time around he was more of a veteran and had a full year to play to get his PGA Tour card back. He made 15 cuts in 24 events on the Web.com Tour with his best finish a playoff loss at the United Leasing Championship in late June. Hurley played in the Web.com Tour Finals and finished 26th to earn his PGA Tour card for 2014.
“It was tough to go through the tour again, but I knew I could play any tournament that I wanted to play for the most part. I didn’t have a great year, and it kind of had all the makings of going back to the Web.com Tour for another year. But I played a couple of nice tournaments in the middle of the Web.com Finals and I knew I needed a great one at the last one and was able to do it. It was really good to know you have to finish in the top 10 to be able to get your card back and to go and pull it off.”
Hurley turned the strong finish in 2013 into a fast start on the PGA Tour that fall. He continued the following spring and finished in fifth place at the Honda Classic in early March with a streak of three straight top-40 finishes in late May. Hurley qualified for his first major and placed in a tie for 48th at the U.S. Open, and followed it up with consecutive top-10 showings at the Quicken Loans National and Greenbrier Classic. His tie for fourth place at the latter tournament qualified Hurley for The Open Championship in mid-July where he again made the cut and finished 64th overall. Hurley finished the year with over $1 million in earnings and made 17 cuts in 26 starts.
“That season was kind of a big steppingstone in my game. It was a bit of a year in proving it to myself, and making the cut at two majors was awesome. I had the chance to win a couple of times and even though I didn’t get it done, I had good finishes and kind of went forward in the game. It was my first year of keeping my card so it was a big step forward.”
Hurley continues to play on the PGA Tour in 2015, and is using his platform as a professional golfer to give back. Hurley is involved with Birdies for the Brave, a military outreach initiative sponsored by the PGA Tour, as well as the SEAL Legacy Foundation, which provides support to families of wounded and fallen Navy SEALs.
“The PGA Tour is an exemplary organization for charity as far as professional sports go, and obviously the military is something that my wife and I want to be a part of still, even though we are not serving actively. The SEAL Legacy Foundation is one of the big ones I’m involved in and wear their logo on my hat when I play on the tour. We do some things individually on a smaller scale as well.”