Billy Hurley III is not your typical member of the PGA TOUR.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Hurley was a lieutenant on a Navy destroyer. During his five-year tour of duty, Hurley served in the Persian Gulf among other places, and once spent 64 straight days at sea, many times with little sleep.
Surely, playing on the PGA TOUR seems less stressful to Hurley than the Navy. Or does it?
“It’s so hard to compare,” Hurley said during an interview last week. “Everybody wants to compare driving a ship, or going to the Naval Academy, to playing on the PGA TOUR. They’re not even close to being the same thing.
“I actually think the pressure playing on TOUR is more than driving a ship. I don’t know why that is. With the ship, I was pretty good at it. Out here, it’s just you, with nobody backing you up. If you make a bad decision on the ship, someone catches it, and corrects it. But from a mental toughness standpoint, I’ve definitely been through a lot of stuff that guys out here haven’t been through. I’ve matured a lot faster than the average guy on the PGA TOUR probably has. Just because I was put in positions where I didn’t have a choice. I think I have a mental leg up sometimes.”
That mental toughness is showing. Hurley is off to a strong start through the first two events of the 2013-14 season. He got a top-10 finish (T9) at the season-opening Frys.com Open, and last weekend he tied for 48th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
With $150,264 in earnings, Hurley has already surpassed last season’s earnings on the Web.com Tour ($146,979), and his confidence seems to be growing with each start. His family is growing as well. Hurley and his wife, Heather, are expecting their third child in February, which will obviously impact Hurley’s early-season schedule.
“After I play my first four events, I’ll sit back and evaluate where I am,” said Hurley, who still lives in Annapolis, Md. “Getting off to a good start would be great, so I can have some more flexibility to plan the rest of my schedule.”
At least Hurley has far more control over his schedule than he did in the Navy. After his 64-day stint at sea, what’s the first thing Hurley did when he came ashore? Order a steak.
“I remember watching some guys kiss the ground - I didn’t do that,” Hurley said. “I thought that was silly. The food on the ship is fine, but some meals are great, some are so-so. When you get off the ship, you really want to find something nice to eat.”
Hurley saw much of the world during his Navy experience, listing Thailand and Tokyo as two of his most interesting destinations, and he loved Indonesia because, "That’s where the dollar went the farthest."
However, Hurley never gave up on his dream of playing professional golf. He won the Virginia state amateur in both 2004 and 2005, and he was on the United States Walker Cup team in 2005. He knew playing professional golf would be difficult after his Navy obligation ended, but a commanding officer helped Hurley develop the right attitude about competing on TOUR.
“I did everything I needed to do, so that if two years after I had gotten out of the Navy golf wasn’t there, I could have gotten back in (the Navy),” Hurley said. “But I got yelled at by my commander officer for thinking that way. He sat me down, told me I couldn’t afford to think like that. You’re going to play golf against people who have never taken a day off. It’s super competitive. You can’t be thinking about a fallback plan.”
Now Hurley doesn’t need a fallback plan. He planned to spend a few days this week relaxing in Las Vegas with Heather, enjoying his fast start and a break from his hectic schedule. He deserves it. As a PGA TOUR rookie in 2012, Hurley made just eight cuts in 27 starts, sending him back to the Web.com Tour in 2013. However, a clutch final-round 68 at this year’s Web.com Tour Championship earned Hurley his PGA TOUR status for 2013-14. Now he’s making the most of it, playing solid golf.
"I’ve gotten better every year, and I’m the most complete player I’ve been,” said Hurley, now 31 years old. “The second go round on TOUR, you know where you’re going, you know what the courses look like before you get there, you know what the locker room looks like. You’ve got visions in your head of everything. It’s a lot easier."
If his children asked whether they should pursue a career in golf, or join the Navy, what would Hurley tell them?
“Good question,” Hurley said. “Both challenges are difficult, both keep you away from your family. But I will definitely encourage my two boys to go the Naval Academy. I won’t pressure them, but I’ll expose them to the opportunity. The Naval Academy has done a lot for me.”
And now, it’s nice to see Hurley’s golf game doing a lot for him.
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.