by Jeff Skinner
The Sony Open was more than the first full field event of the PGA Tour season. For many players it was “the first day of the rest of their lives.” Mixed in with all the veteran faces that graced Waialae Country Club were some new ones making their debut as full fledged tour members.
Billy Hurley III is one of the new tour members that made his way onto the tour via the Nationwide Tour Money List. He was the 25th and final qualifier from The Nationwide Tour but his route to the PGA Tour took him to places few golfers frequent. Hurley joins the tour after a five year stint in the U.S. Navy where he spent time on active duty in places where golf was a distant afterthought. He sailed through the troubled waters of the Middle East and the South China Sea but while actually playing golf was a world away it never was out of his thoughts.
Hurley played college golf at the Naval Academy and as a freshman was an average player. But as he matured so did his golf game and as a senior he won six of his thirteen tournaments and made it to match play in the 2003 U.S. Amateur. After graduation through the good graces of the Navy he was able to play on the victorious 2005 Walker Cup Team with Anthony Kim, Jeff Overton, J.B. Holmes and Matt Every. But after that he had to serve his five year commitment in the Navy. There was some thought of getting a reduction in his service time as NBA great David Robinson had received but with the U.S. fighting two wars there was little chance of that happening. So Hurley served, and served with distinction aboard the U.S.S. Chong-Hoon, a guided missile destroyer and he was honored as Ship Handler of the Year for his skillful driving of the warship.
When his tour was up in 2009 he hoped to return to the game and was praying his game returned to him. He scraped the barnacles off his game and banged around the mini-tours and failed at Q-School. But the following year his Q-School finish got him privileges on The Nationwide Tour and he had his chance at earning a living playing golf. In 2011 he finished in the money 13 times and had four top tens. That was enough to earn his card to the big show and his first appearance this year was fittingly held on Oahu where he spent some time and his old ship is now stationed.
Hurley’s maiden voyage as a PGA Tour member wasn’t spectacular but certainly acceptable. He MDF’d, no that is not an obscenity that would upset the very religious Hurley, it’s when a player makes the 36 hole cut but doesn’t play the weekend because of the 70 player limit. The good news is he still cashes a check and with two boys and a wife he’ll need to keep cashing them.
The discipline Hurley learned in the military should serve him well on tour as he’ll be tested throughout this season. But after steering a 10,000 ton destroyer and living in harm’s way, the PGA Tour is easy duty.