Thursday, November 23, 2017
Golf

Naval Academy grad Billy Hurley wins Quicken Loans National

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BETHESDA, Md. — Billy Hurley barely celebrated after his final par putt fell into the 18th hole to win the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club on Sunday. Perhaps, if he had let himself go, he had no idea what he would do.

Few have won an event that wove together more powerful personal emotions, more conquering of self-doubt and more vindication of a still-grieving family.

Perhaps others might even have taken a dive into Congressional's lake to celebrate their first PGA Tour victory, especially after torching the legendary course with four days of 66-65-67-69 for 17-under 267, including a 35-yard chip-in at the par-4 15th and a 28-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th that put him in a commanding three-shot lead Sunday, and even prompted a modest double-fist pump.

"Probably the most emotion I have ever shown in my life," he said.

The $1.2 million win vaulted Hurley from the fringes of the sport, a fellow stuck at No. 607 in the world with half of his career spent in golf's minor leagues, to the secure status of a tournament champion. Now he is exempt on tour through the 2018 season. He probably will play in the British Open next month and the Masters next year. He will get to do it all. And without the weight of the world, of trying to keeping his tour card with a short-hitting game, always on his shoulders.

"Getting to Troon for the British Open in two weeks, that may be tough," Hurley said. "My sister is getting married that weekend. Seriously, I'm not sure about that."

To beat Vijay Singh, who finished second after shooting 65, Ernie Els and 21-year-old Jon Rahm, Hurley showed the poise he developed at the U.S. Naval Academy and during his five years of service, twice deployed to the Persian Gulf. Rahm, 34, the former Arizona State star from Spain, wrapped up his pro debut with 70 to tie for third with Bill Haas (68) at 13 under. Els (72) was fifth at 12 under in Tiger Woods' annual tournament.

While hugging his wife, three children and mother on the final green, Hurley might have burst into tears of joy at the win, mixed with the sadness that he says never fully leaves when he thinks about the suicide of his father last July.

A month before his dad's death, Hurley gave a news conference at this same tournament, which was then played at Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, to ask for help because his father had gone missing for nine days — just got in his truck and drove away. "I'm just hoping that there's a story — that maybe he goes to pgatour.com to check my tee time or check my scores — and sees this and understands that, Dad, we love you and we want you to come home," Hurley said at the time.

Contact was made, but within weeks Hurley's father, a police officer for 25 years and a golf pro for 30, had died of a self-inflicted wound. For the rest of the year, at least, Hurley and the rest of the family tried to get their minds around an event that seemed to bear no relationship to the rest of a life they had known so well.

"I think now more than ever, we have a better understanding medically of how traumatic events affect your brain," he said last winter in an interview with ESPN, reflecting on his father's life as a cop. "Sometimes we don't understand the impact that stuff like that has on us."

As soon as Hurley sank his final clinching putt, playing partner Els came to the winner, put his arm on his shoulder and said, "I think your dad is looking down, really proud of you."

The military training and background certainly didn't hurt. After that final putt, Hurley might even have felt an impulse to show his gratitude for the toughness under pressure and ability to focus when surrounded by distractions that he learned as a graduate of the Naval Academy.

"So mental toughness is kind of a big thing in the Navy," Hurley said dryly. "You either learn it at the Naval Academy, or you're not there very long.

"Then focus, too. When you're driving a ship through the Suez Canal, it's like 'all eyes ahead,' focused exactly on what we're doing."

"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."

Hurley maintained his focus in the final round with galleries supporting the local boy who proudly sports Navy colors. 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 had met and talked to Hurley about golf and service.

LPGA: Lydia Ko won the NW Arkansas Championship for her third win of the year, closing with 3-under 68 for a tournament-record 17-under total and a three-stroke victory in Rogers. Ko, 19, has 13 career tour victories

CHAMPIONS: Kirk Triplett rallied to win the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wis., for his fifth senior title. Triplett, 54, shot 7-under 65 to finish at 17-under 199.

 
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