WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – There were a few things that Billy Hurley III learned during his five years enlisted as a U.S. Navy lieutenant that have helped in his second career as a professional golfer.
One has been useful in getting him into his current position as Greenbrier Classic leader through 54 holes.
“I think that mental toughness and timing are two keys,” he explained. “They’re both very similar and very important in both jobs.”
The other should come in handy now that he’ll be sleeping on the lead for a second consecutive night.
“I slept fine last night. A benefit of the Navy is you learn to sleep anywhere. I think I'll sleep fine tonight, too.”
Following a lead by the PGA Tour’s only active military veteran on the Fourth of July, another lead one day later doesn’t quite fit the same patriotic narrative.
Of course, that doesn’t make it any less substantive.
A third-round 3-under 67 once again has Hurley atop the leaderboard, holding a two-stroke advantage over two-time major champion Angel Cabrera. That could sound like a daunting task for any player seeking his first career victory, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“Sometimes you kind of can look at a guy like that who has won a bunch and two majors, kind of like, ‘Oh, he does that pretty nice,’” he explained. “It will be a new experience, [but] I've played with a major winners a couple times before.”
It also helps that Hurley is looking at the situation as if he’s playing with house money.
“I feel like I have my card locked up for next year, which is kind of a big piece of playing the last couple weeks for me,” he said. “So at this point, a win is kind of a bonus. I'm going to give it my best and try to win tomorrow, and try to hit shots and just have fun doing it. I haven't really thought about it too much.”
Maybe it’s his background having been deployed in far outreaches around the globe; maybe it’s his elevated status as the 80th-ranked player on the FedEx Cup points list. Either way, Hurley doesn’t seem intimidated by the moment. He doesn’t seem like the situation will be too big for him, like the pressure of the stakes will engulf him.
He maintains that he’ll just try to emulate his first three rounds on Sunday afternoon.
“I'm going to try to keep doing what I'm doing,” he said. “I just want to put my mind in position so that I can play well.”
He doesn’t want to keep doing what’s gotten him into the 54-hole lead. He wants to improve upon it.
“I figure if I shoot the lowest score tomorrow, I can't lose. So we're just going to go out there and play nicely. If I play well with a two‑shot lead, I'm going to have to play really, really well.”
If he does, it will be the culmination of one of the longer and undoubtedly the most circuitous route to the winner’s circle we’ve seen in a long time.
From Navy lieutenant to competing on mini-tours, from the developmental Nationwide circuit to the PGA Tour and back again, Hurley will focus on just being himself.
“I just tell myself to be Billy Hurley,” he said. “I just kind of tell myself and I've been telling myself the last couple of days, just be Billy Hurley. He's doing pretty well.”
Hey, it’s gotten him this far already. On Sunday, it just might get him a first career victory.