Billy Hurley III enjoying the spoils of a PGA Tour champion

Billy Hurley III enjoying the spoils of a PGA Tour champion

PGA Tour

Billy Hurley III enjoying the spoils of a PGA Tour champion

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KAPALUA, Hawaii – Journeyman Billy Hurley III and his wife, Heather, always joked that when Billy finally did win on the PGA Tour, finally qualified to play in the circuit’s winners-only SBS Tournament of Champions, the family would do it up right.

They’d make the long trip from Annapolis, Md., to Hawaii very early, right after Christmas, giving the Hurley clan enough time to enjoy the pool, the sandy beaches, maybe a sunset boating excursion and all the spoils of paradise.

Instead, there they were on Sunday – two parents and three children ages 2-9, frantically dashing through airports to make their next connection on the long trek to Maui. Any thoughts of getting to Hawaii early were dashed as Heather’s younger sister got married on New Year’s Eve in frosty Syracuse, N.Y.

“So you’re kind of like, ‘Shoot, how am I going to enjoy this place?’ ” Hurley said, jokingly, after getting his first look at Kapalua Resort’s sprawling Plantation Course mid-Monday afternoon. “I mean, I have to play in a golf tournament!”

He laughs, because he knows life does not always adhere to a strict plan. His path to the PGA Tour took a lengthy detour as he fulfilled a five-year service commitment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004. (That said, there aren’t many PGA Tour pros holding a degree in quantitative economics.)

Golf-wise, there had been trying late-summer evenings, usually in August, often when Qualifying School entry was due, when the checks from mini-tour starts weren’t stacking too highly and he and Heather soul-searched and wondered whether golf was the best avenue for the family’s future and well-being.

Billy Hurley III, pictured after his victory at the 2016 Quicken Loans National (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Billy Hurley III, pictured after his victory at the 2016 Quicken Loans National (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

In June, validation arrived in the form of Hurley’s three-stroke victory at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in the nation’s capital, not far from where the Virginia-born Hurley was raised. At 34, the former midshipman finally was a PGA Tour winner, ready to enjoy all the perks that victory delivers: A two-year safety net in the form of a Tour exemption; a berth in the Masters at venerable Augusta National; a New Year’s date in Maui.

Champions only.

There was great symmetry to Hurley winning when and where he did. For one, victory came in his own back yard. And secondly, it was at the Quicken Loans one year earlier that Hurley had made an emotional plea for people to help him find his father, Willard Hurley Jr., a former police sergeant who’d experienced bouts of depression and had been missing for nine days.

Hurley Jr. was spotted in Texas and made his way back to Virginia. But two weeks after his son’s plea, Hurley Jr., who played college golf and passed his love for the game along to his son, was found dead near the Potomac River, His death was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot. He was 61. So when Hurley III broke through to win last summer, and the man whom he’d have loved to share the moment with wasn’t there, grown men were reduced to tears.

At 34, Billy Hurley III never stops learning, and there were two lessons that emerged from losing his dad and winning a PGA Tour event. The first was this: he had never experienced anything really bad in his life. He grew up in a terrific family, got accepted and excelled at the Naval Academy, and followed a dream out to the PGA Tour.

“And so that opened my eyes to how many people go through some really bad stuff, whether it’s suicide or unexpected death, or cancer, whatever it is,” Hurley said. “There is so much hurt and pain in our world, right? And that opened my eyes to some of that. I thought, yeah, this sucks, what my family is going through and dealing with, but there are so many people going through the same thing.

“We’re not special, in that sense. My eyes were opened to that.”

Secondly, when a lifetime of work and practice and dreaming came to fruition as he cradled the Quicken Loans trophy, this revelation arrived: It was OK to celebrate, to have joy back into his life again.

“It was a breakthrough for me in the sense that I can remember how good of a dad that he was now, as opposed to remembering how tragically it ended,” Hurley said. “And so that was a big turning point for me. That led me into more gratitude, just in life.

“We are really fortunate to play on the PGA Tour. We play golf courses that are in condition that nobody else gets to play them in. We get spoiled in that regard. It’s just the little things of gratitude, of what I’m privileged to do, and what my family is privileged to do.”

David Maloney, an exercise physiologist and golf biomechanist from Virginia, has known Hurley since Hurley was an amateur at the Naval Academy, and works with him today in helping make sure his body is ready for the grind of a long Tour season. When Maloney looks back to Hurley winning last summer, he feels a sense that in a large way, justice prevailed.

“What happened with Billy’s father impacted so many people who knew him,” Maloney said. “He was a great man. Everything (at Quicken Loans) just made it perfect. There was a little bit of justice after getting smacked in the face by life. He was able to pull himself up and out of it. He worked really hard at that. It wasn’t easy.”

Hurley’s gratitude is something he has carried with him to the beautiful shores of Maui, and the overwhelming beauty of Kapalua, where players will compete in a no-cut, guaranteed-money event this week as whales breach in the distance in Kapalua Bay.

Winning means new opportunities, and Hurley, who has just begun his fifth full season on Tour, said he feels like a rookie all over again. He can control his schedule and play where he wants. Next week, the Hurleys will bounce over to Oahu so that dad can play in the Sony Open. It’s a homecoming for him. Hurley was stationed for two years on Oahu, and the ship on which he served a tour in the Persian Gulf, the Chung-Hoon, is there.

When he served his five-year hitch, there were no guarantees that he’d be able to fit back into golf, even as he watched those he competed alongside during his college and amateur days – Anthony Kim, Jeff Overton, J.B. Holmes – taste success.

Over the Christmas holidays, Hurley received his invitation to participate in the Masters in April, another first.

Last month, after showing up in the Bahamas to participate in the pro-am at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge, Hurley made a detour on his way home, stopping at Augusta National. He’d made a vow that he would not go there until the day he knew he had a tee time in the tournament proper. He spent a night on property, played with former U.S. Amateur champion John Harris, and was enthused about his first visit. He came away with a good feel for the greens. He cannot wait for April to get here.

“It’s amazing how, in this game, one week can change things so much,” Hurley said. “I played in a World Golf Championship (in Akron). I get to play in the Masters. I’m here on Maui this week.

“Being here, the main feeling is that you want to do it again.”

It’s been a long and sometimes tough road, and now that he’s here, Billy Hurley III is going to enjoy it. He is deserving. Even if his window is a little tighter than he and his wife always dreamed it would be.

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