- - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Coming home to the Washington area for the Quicken Loans National — this week’s stop on the PGA Tour — is always going to be complicated for Billy Hurley III.

The 35-year-old pro, who grew up in nearby Leesburg, Virginia, is excited about defending the title — his only career PGA Tour victory — he won last year at Congressional Country Club.

But he also can’t help but remember 2015, when he played the same tournament without one of his biggest fans, his father Willard Hurley Jr., who’d gone missing days earlier — and would be found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound later that summer.

Hurley, who lives in Annapolis with his wife and children, said the memories of growing up on the links under the tutelage of his father, a career police sargeant and a former college golfer, makes it tough sometimes to keep the competitive edge he needs on the course.

“Golf might’ve hurt actually. Lots of people use golf as recreation, you get outside and get away from things,” Hurley told reporters recently. “For me it’s work. So I’m not getting away from anything. A lot of my memories with my dad were around golf and how much time we spent together with him watching me. So that was a barrier I had to break through in golf to be able to focus and be in the place I needed to be to compete.”

Playing competitively without his father watching was difficult at first, but Hurley broke through last year with his win at Congressional.

A player’s first tour victory is always memorable, but for Hurley, it was particularly special.

Hurley’s path to the PGA was an unorthodox one. Rather than enrolling at a collegiate golf powerhouse, Hurley attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he earned a degree in quantitative economics before serving five years in the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant before his commitment finished in 2009. He was deployed twice on the USS Chung-Hoon as the ship navigated the Persian Gulf and moved through the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

Even while he was on the water, he held on tightly to his dream of playing golf at the highest level, competing in seven PGA events while on active duty.

He battled on golf’s mini tours for two years before reaching the Nationwide Tour in 2011. After finishing 25th on the money list that year, Hurley earned his PGA Tour card for the 2012 season.

Although he didn’t win, Hurley made a nice living over the next four seasons. He had seven top-10 finishes and earned over $2 million.

Hurley came to the Quicken Loans National in July 2015 hoping the event’s location — it was held that year at Robert Trent Jones in Gainesville, Virginia, just 90 minutes from his home in Annapolis — would provide the spark he needed to secure his first win on the tour. Instead, he finished well back in the field, tied for 46th. In the end, he made much more of an impression with well-publicized pleas for the public to help find his then-missing father than for anything he accomplished on the course.

But last year, almost 10 months after his father’s suicide, in an event tied to so many memories, Hurley carded a two-under par 69 on Sunday to defeat Vijay Singh by three strokes.

This year, Hurley returns to the Washington area looking to defend his title at TPC Potomac in Potomac, Maryland — the tournament’s third site in as many years.

Hurley said he feels like he has as much of a home-court advantage at Potomac as he did at Congressional in nearby Bethesda.

“In one sense, you might wish we were playing Congressional again because I’ve played and competed there very, very well,” Hurley said. “And in another sense it’s great to be here at Potomac and maybe I can have a little leg up on guys because I’ve probably played the course more than anyone else on tour.”

Hurley has struggled following his breakthrough victory, his best finish in 2017 is a tie for eighth at the Wells Fargo Championship. As he returns home, he acknowledged the pressure.

“It feels like more pressure. And that’s the hard thing about golf,” Hurley said. “Everyone wants you to play well at certain times but you don’t know when it’s going to happen. I’m going to play well at some point, if you could tell me what those five weeks are, then I could shorten my travel schedule a lot.”

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