BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Billy Hurley III held the club in his left hand and fist pumped with his right. The ball disappeared into the hole in front of him as the crowd roared, and Hurley let loose the emotion he’d been holding in.
“That’s probably like the most emotion I’ve ever shown in my life,” Hurley said.
An hour later, not far from his Annapolis home and the Naval Academy he graduated from 12 years ago, Hurley became a champion. He shot a 2-under 69 on Sunday to win his hometown Quicken Loans National at Congressional for his first PGA Tour victory.
“Couldn’t be a better tournament to win from all the facets of it,” Hurley said with the trophy in front of him. “From just being close to home, being close to the Academy, close to where I grew up. It’s just perfect.”
The 607th-ranked player in the world finished at 17 under in Tiger Woods’ annual tournament, three strokes ahead of three-time major champion Vijay Singh, who said it was nice to see Hurley play well and not lose it at the end.
Hurley didn’t lose it. He only got better as it went along.
To beat Singh, Ernie Els and 21-year-old Jon Rahm, Hurley showed the poise he developed at the Naval Academy and during his five years of service. Mental toughness and focus he said help with adversity on the course, and that showed through in his 104th PGA Tour start.
With the 53-year-old Singh closing on him, Hurley was at his best. He holed out from 35 yards on the fairway for birdie on the 15th, a shot worthy of celebration and one Woods himself called “impressive, really impressive.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Hurley made a 27-foot putt on the 16th to seal the tournament and wrap up the $1,242,000 first-place prize and a spot in the British Open. Hurley the family man said it wasn’t a foregone conclusion he’d go to Royal Troon because his sister is getting married that weekend in Leesburg, Virginia, where they grew up.
Open or no Open, this is a career-altering victory for Hurley, who served five years in the Navy and showed he could master drives off the tee as well as he mastered driving ships through the Suez Canal. Before now, he had never finished higher than a tie for fourth in a PGA Tour event.
Hurley celebrated on the 18th green with wife Heather, daughter Madison and sons Will and Jacob. His children held miniature American flags as they watched their father win.
“To have a serviceman actually win the event, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Woods said. He’s actually truly one that did serve his country, and for him to win an event that honors the military more than any other event, it’s very apropos that he did it here.”
Singh closed with a 65. Rahm, the former Arizona State star from Spain, wrapped up his professional debut with a 70 to tie for third with Bill Haas (68) at 13 under. Els was fifth at 12 under after an eventful 72 that included five bogeys and one double.
Hurley, Singh, Rahm and Harold Varner III qualified for the British Open as a result of the tournament and Smylie Kaufman got in through FedEx Cup points.
Future tournaments weren’t on his mind this week, but his father was. Willard Hurley Jr. died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound 10 months ago.
Hurley thought of his dad, a police officer, when he saw officers following his group Saturday.
“It’s been a hard year,” Hurley said Sunday. “It’s been a really hard year, so it’s nice to have something go well.”
Hurley maintained his focus in the final round with Woods watching in his trademark Sunday red and with galleries full of fans supporting the local boy who proudly sports Navy colors including a club head cover of the academy’s goat mascot.
All week, Hurley heard chants of “Maryland” and “21412,” the zip code for the Naval Academy. The honorary starters on the first hole Sunday were Naval officers Georges Labaki and Matthew Cook, who both had met and talked to Hurley about golf and service.
“He served, for one,” Labaki said. “He did his time and he’s also representing the Navy. I’ve had a talk with him, personally, also, a few years ago. He said it’s been an honor to serve, but he wanted to follow his passion, golf.”
Memories of his time at the Naval Academy came back amid the birdies that peppered his round. They came flooding back once Hurley won the tournament.
“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,” he said. “And now to have won on the PGA Tour, unbelievable.”