Hurley loses sponsor exemption after arrival

Billy Hurley III

Billy Hurley III

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Even before the first ball was struck Thursday morning in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a triple bogey had been recorded.

The fact that it was of the clerical flavor and didn’t occur on the golf course didn’t change the pain it caused Steve John or the disappointment that was felt by Billy Hurley. But thanks to John’s integrity and Hurley’s graciousness, what could have been an ugly story was averted.

Not that John still isn’t crushed by his mistake.

“I’ve never felt so bad in my life,” said John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and by extension pretty much the tournament director of this week’s PGA Tour stop. “I’m embarrassed. I cannot apologize enough.”

Here is the backdrop to John’s miscue:

When one of the sponsor exemptions came back to John late last week, he got together with his committee and agreed that Hurley was the guy they wanted to give it to. “He had written a very compelling letter (for a sponsor exemption), and he is a great story,” John said of the U.S. Naval Academy graduate and 2012 PGA Tour rookie. “So, we called him and extended him an exemption.”

Hurley, 30, who didn’t make enough in earnings to keep his card after having played in 27 tournaments a year ago, accepted and prepared to fly from his home in Maryland to California, accompanied by his wife, Heather, and sons Will, 6, and Jacob, 4.

The thing is, when someone at the PGA Tour asked John who got the spot and was told it went to Hurley, the story took on a different complexion. John discovered that because Hurley had finished 151st on the money list a year ago, he wasn’t officially a PGA Tour member and thus wasn’t eligible for the exemption that had been extended. (It eventually went to Jason Gore.)

“I called him, hoping and praying he hadn’t left, that he was still back East,” John said. “He told me he was in Carmel, having just arrived.”

That sound you could hear from one end of 17 Mile Drive to the other was John’s heart sinking.

“It was a horrible predicament,” he said. “It was bad.”

With 156 professionals, 156 amateurs, three courses, and the added quirks of this tournament (there was a rush of withdrawals, and alternates deeper than 10th on the list were put in the field), John could be forgiven for losing track of things. Plus, there was added confusion because while Hurley was 151st on the money list, he was 150th on the FedEx Cup standings, and in so many ways these days the FEC takes precedence. Add in the fact that there are 36 categories to give players their priority ranking and, well, it can get confusing.

John doesn’t disagree. But he isn’t using that as an excuse.

“I take full responsibility. I didn’t know he was ineligible. I wish I could un-ring the bell.”

Proving that this Navy man is truly an officer and a gentleman, Hurley felt similarly terrible for John. “He’s not the only tournament director to think I was a member. It was an honest mistake. He’s a new tournament director, and the rules are confusing.”

When he walked into the tournament trailer Monday, Hurley was greeted by John and given a big hug by Cindy Zoller, executive administrator of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.

“I will make it right,” John said. “We will absolutely cover his expenses, no question.”

Obviously, booking round-trip, coast-to-coast flights for four at the last minute and then booking a cottage in Carmel is not a cheap endeavor these days, so Hurley feels thankful for the offer. He also is dignified enough to look at the misfortune in another light.

“I practiced a little Monday and got a new driver dialed in, so that was a bonus deal,” he said. “Plus, we spent three days on Monterey (Peninsula). If you had said last Sunday, ‘Hey, let’s go spend three days in Monterey,’ we would have thought, ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea,’ so while it isn’t the way we would have wanted to do it, we made the most of it.”

If the time together as a family had a silver lining, it’s this: Hurley has upcoming Web.com Tour tournaments in Panama, Colombia and Chile, so it was nice to be together before the grueling stretch.

He said he has committed to the Web.com Tour as a way of getting back onto the PGA Tour – as a member whose status won’t require exemptions.

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