Former Navy Lt. Hurley leads on Fourth of July

By Jason SobelJuly 4, 2014, 5:41 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Inside the front gates of The Greenbrier which were draped in red, white and blue bunting, past the lampposts each adorned with two small American flags, nestled amongst this little slice of nostalgic Americana, a patriotic tale unfolded on this Independence Day.

At the eponymous PGA Tour event that bills itself as “America’s Resort,” there is a real American hero atop the leaderboard. Not one deemed as such simply because he’s popular or owns a nice smile or has earned lots of money, either.

Billy Hurley III is the only current player who has served military duty, attending the Naval Academy, then commissioned in the Navy for five years. He’s also the only player to successfully traverse this course in a mere 131 strokes so far, giving him the tournament lead on a perfectly fitting day.

“Anytime you play good, it's great,” says Hurley, who followed an opening 68 with a 63. “But certainly, there's special days of the year for our country. … Fourth of July has always been a special day for me just growing up, and kind of what it means for our independence. So it's kind of pretty cool, I guess, to shoot 7 under on the Fourth of July.”

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From a young age, Hurley knew two things about his future: He wanted to attend the Naval Academy and he wanted to play on the PGA Tour. The problem, of course, is that those two things weren’t always intertwined; one doesn’t seamlessly lead to the other. The truth is, they were two very separate, independent dreams.

None of which stopped him from trying.

He applied to only one school and was admitted to the Naval Academy in 2000. He graduated in May of 2004, having won Patriot League Player of the Year honors and becoming one of the world’s top amateur golfers, then spent six months on the U.S.S. Gettysburg in Mayport, Fla., in between representing the United States in the 2004 Walker Cup and 2005 Palmer Cup.

Hurley turned professional in 2006, and while still on active duty competed in seven PGA Tour events on sponsor’s exemptions and through Monday qualifiers over those next two years. During that time, he submitted paperwork to be transferred to the Navy Reserve – “kind of like David Robinson,” he says of the ex-NBA center – but his request was denied.

And so he continued serving full-time. He spent two semesters teaching an Intro to Economics class. He served for two years on the U.S.S. Chung-Hoon, twice deployed during that time. In the Persian Gulf, off the coast of the South China Sea, through the Red Sea.

“[That was] probably the highlight of my days on the ship,” he beams. “I was actually the officer of the deck driving the ship through the Suez Canal, which was awesome.”

As you can imagine, driving a ship through the Suez Canal isn’t exactly conducive to honing a golf swing.

“Not working on the game that much, no,” he admits. “I tried to just kind of work out as much as I could, which wasn't even as much as you want to. It's completely a 60-70 hour a week kind of job.

“I was a recreational golfer. I probably averaged one round a month.”

Upon fulfilling his five-year commitment in the summer of 2009, Hurley set out to fulfill that other childhood dream. He played mini-tour golf for a year-and-a-half, then reached the Nationwide Tour in 2011, claiming the 25th and final spot for a promotion to the PGA Tour the next season.

As it turns out, maybe those two dreams weren’t so independent after all.

“The PGA Tour was the goal for me pretty much the entire time I was in the Navy,” explains Hurley, who still makes his home in Annapolis, Md. “That said, golf was completely a secondary kind of thing. I was a Naval officer first, and if you ask the people that I served with, they'd say that's for sure.”

They’d also probably say there’s a lot of pride in watching one of their own, a former lieutenant who once drove a ship through the Suez Canal, not only enjoying a successful career as a professional golfer, but leading on a day that means so much to the country.

During his round on Friday, he never stopped to realize the connection between his own patriotism and leading the tournament on the Fourth of July. He never allowed himself after any of his seven birdies to consider the significance of his performance.

It wasn’t until after the round was over that Hurley gave himself a chance to think of these things and the journey which has gotten him to this place.

“I don't have any regrets about the way that I did it,” he says. “I'd do it all over again the same way.”

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting a competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show in which he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing> Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a tournament.

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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.

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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.