Hurley's background makes him unique on TOURJune 28, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
BETHESDA, Md. -- Billy Hurley III's background isn't much like that of the 119 other players in the field at this week's AT&T National.
For one, he majored in quantitative economics in college.
For another, he got that degree from the United States Naval Academy before serving as a Lieutenant on the U.S.S. CHUNG-HOON.
"Nobody has ever went to a service academy and played out here," Hurley said. "But as far as fitting in out here, the background gives me a little bit of a story."
Now he's trying to author another one.
Hurley shot a 2-under 69 in the opening round and is just two strokes off the lead of Bo Van Pelt at Congressional Country Club.
A one-time U.S. Walker Cup team member who now calls nearby Annapolis home, Hurley heard plenty of "Beat Army" chants Thursday.
He's used to it. The 32-year-old rookie says he comes across a Naval Academy grad just about every tournament he plays.
At Congressional, it turns out the member of the military tending the flag as players made their way through the 17th hole currently works with Hurley's roommate from his last ship.
Small world, or at least it is now for Hurley, who landed on the PGA TOUR after finishing in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list last season.
His rookie year hasn't gone nearly as well, with Hurley missing a dozen cuts in 17 starts.
But one thing Hurley learned in the military was overcoming adversity and to never give up.
So leave it to the former Navy man to play his best golf on what will arguably be the toughest course on TOUR this season.
The scoring average Thursday was more than 2 1/2 strokes over par, and Hurley was one of only 22 players to break par.
"I think there's certainly a mental toughness that I learned from the Navy that translates well into golf," he said. "But the pressures and the life are very different."
It didn't help most of the field that temperatures were in the 90s for the opening round and only expected to get hotter the rest of the week.
Not that it mattered to Hurley. When he was stationed in the Persian Gulf, there were days when it was 110 degrees -- in the shade.
"For whatever reason," he said. "I play really good when it's hot."
Hurley was just that at Congressional. He birdied his opening hole, the par-3 10th, and added two more in his first eight holes.
His only slip-up came on the par-5 ninth, where he got in trouble off the tee left and had to scramble for bogey.
"It's certainly right up there," Hurley said when asked to rank how tough the course played Thursday. "I can't think of one that was harder."
And you'd be hard-pressed to find any player here tougher than Hurley, who wasn't a high-profile recruit out of high school and took a decade longer to reach the TOUR than most of his competitors.
It's even more impressive when you take into consideration the fact that Hurley played just five competitive rounds his last two years at sea before being "separated" (i.e. retired, for all intents and purposes) from the Navy in 2009.
His story has separated him out here, and his play on Thursday did, too.
"This is certainly a special tournament," Hurley said. "And I think that any time that we as an American public take time to pause and remember, reflect and honor the military, it's a great thing."
Hurley isn't sure why he wanted to go to the Naval Academy when he was growing up just across the Virginia border in Leesburg. He just remembers always wanting to ever since visiting the campus as a freshman in high school.
During that time, however, he never lost sight of another dream.
"I remembered standing on the putting green during Plebe Summer," Hurley said. "And telling one of my buddies that I was going to play on the PGA TOUR. He laughed and was like, good luck with that."