Cleat Geeks

The 19th Hole: Score one for the Navy

Someday maybe they’ll make a movie about it. For now, written words like these will suffice as a way to celebrate Billy Hurley III and his first PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Quicken Loans National.Billy-Hurley-III-wins-the-2016-Quicken-Loans-National-golf-tournament_1_1

Hurley’s story is unlike pretty much every other professional golfer out there. He’s the first-ever Naval Academy graduate and then commissioned officer to earn a PGA Tour card, which he’s battled for during the last six seasons.

That first career led him to time as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in his hometown of Annapolis prior to two tours piloting a ship in the faraway waters of the Persian Gulf, in all five years of service as an officer from 2004-09.

As tournament host Tiger Woods said during Sunday’s broadcast, “I guarantee this golf stuff is a lot easier than what he used to do. Let’s put it in perspective.”

This week’s stop was played at Congressional Country Club, just outside Washington, D.C., and annually celebrates military service and veterans more than any other event on the tour. It couldn’t have had a more fitting champion.

“Couldn’t be a better tournament to win from all the facets of it,” Hurley said. “From just being close to home, being close to the Academy, close to where I grew up.

Billy-Hurley-IIINavalMen“It’s just perfect.”

Hurley’s top challenge came from two grizzled veterans and a PGA Tour rookie who figures to be seen a lot more.

First the rookie – Jon Rahm was a two-time NCAA player of the year who turned pro at the start of the week. He was largely unflappable in his first start, leading after 18 holes and making a push on Sunday before eventually finishing four shots behind Hurley in a tie for third with Bill Haas.

Vijay Singh, gunning at age 53 to be the oldest player ever to win a PGA Tour event, made a big run Sunday with a bogey-free 65. He ultimately finished alone in second place. And 47-year-old Ernie Els played in the last group with Hurley and was right in it until a double bogey at the 10th hole put him in too big a hole, eventually dropping him to fifth.

And he got to be there every step of the way on a special Sunday for Hurley, showing his usual class.

 

The win secures Hurley full playing privileges the rest of this year and all of the next two seasons, allowing him a much better chance to set his schedule. It also gets him into the next four majors, including the British Open next month – although he may not go, as his sister’s wedding is scheduled for Saturday of tournament week.

And as if that, and the story about Hurley’s military background and winning at home wasn’t enough of a good one, there also was an emotional family back story here.BillyHurleyIIICrying

A year ago, at this very tournament, Hurley sent out a public appeal for information on the whereabouts of his father, who had gone missing. Mr. Hurley was found but in the coming weeks committed suicide.

Sunday, while his father wasn’t there to celebrate in victory, seemingly hundreds of friends and family were at Hurley’s side as he scored his biggest triumph in his golf career.

“Ernie said to me after I holed the last putt, ‘I think your dad is looking down and is really proud of you,'” Hurley said. “Certainly my dad helped me. He started me well. I certainly wish he was here today.”

“It’s been a hard year,” Hurley continued after a pause. “It’s been a really hard year, so it’s nice to have something go well.”

Picks

Aaron Baddeley – Our sleeper pick had one of his best finishes in quite a while, but it wasn’t enough to make a threat at winning. 6-under, tied for 12th

Justin Thomas – The youngster just couldn’t find consistency on the Congressional greens, yet still had enough game for a solid showing. 6-under, tied for 12th

Jim Furyk – For a second straight week, the veteran closed with a solid final round to improve his standing. 4-under, tied for 21st

Marc Leishman – The big Aussie had a solid first two days but couldn’t muster enough birdies on the weekend. 2-under, tied for 39th

Up next

It’s a two-tournament week for the PGA Tour, with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational having a limited field of many of golf’s elite players, and the rest of the tour going to Reno for the Barracuda Championship.

Those are the last outings before the British Open July 14-17, as the PGA Tour announced Saturday that the Greenbrier Classic, scheduled for July 7-10, has been canceled due to the catastrophic and deadly flooding in that part of West Virginia. The golf course itself has suffered heavy damage from the floods, which have led to at least 24 deaths and the destruction of dozens of homes in the area.

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