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Billy Hurley III & the Brave Golf Tournament provides 'experience of a lifetime' for 18 active duty servicemen

August 2, 2017

By Chris Smith, PGA TOUR Staff

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Billy Hurley was comfortably in his element as he rode around the U.S. Naval Academy’s century-old golf course where he once excelled for the Midshipmen and still frequented to practice and play. As the noisy gas cart negotiated the rolling tree-lined fairways, he stopped to visit with each of the 18 groups, shake hands and thank every golfer for participating, then pose for a team photo.

This was the easy part, the culmination of an ambitious, and frantic, 10-week exercise to pull together his personal vision for a charity tournament. The hard part was everything else. But in the end, his first charity tournament included all the elements he wanted: staged in his hometown of Annapolis, Md., on the golf course that helped propel him to an unlikely post-service PGA TOUR career. An opportunity to host and recognize 18 active duty service members, while raising money for three causes important to Billy and wife Heather.

This was new to him, and he joked how strange it is to hear his name attached to any event, something he figured is more commonly reserved for more prominent names on TOUR. But one thing he said that memorable victory at the 2016 Quicken Loans National did for him was to give him an elevated voice, both on TOUR and within the Navy, and this was one important way he chose to use it.

The Billy Hurley III & the Brave Golf Tournament, held on July 31, was destined to be different when he and business manager Jana Smoley of Sunrise Sports Consulting seriously began contemplating an event that would address his and Heather’s commitment to help active duty families.

It was Smoley, in fact, who suggested hosting 18 active duty members to lead the teams, a departure from the traditional pro-am format. But how to select them? The idea was hatched to hold raffles with service men and women simply having to play a round of golf at 10 Navy golf courses to qualify for the drawings.  

That still left two critical components: beneficiaries and funding. Hurley had learned about the Anchor Scholarship Foundation just months before, but it was a program that checked an important box by awarding college tuition for family members of surface warfare personnel – a direct connection to Hurley’s own five years of active service. That would become the primary beneficiary. He also wanted to support Naval Academy Athletics, specifically the planned restoration of the golf course, a short, scenic layout designed by William S. Flynn dating back to 1916 that has long needed updating, especially agronomically.

The third element, they determined, would be the creation of one boy’s and one girl’s golf scholarship, a further nod to Hurley’s commitment to junior golf underscored by the 36-hole Billy Hurley III Junior Championship, held at the Academy course in conjunction with the charity event (July 31-Aug. 1).

As for financial backing, the time crunch put significant pressure on finding sponsors quickly, and several of his own stepped up including Leidos, a defense company that took the role as presenting sponsor (and would present Hurley with a ceremonial oversized check for $60,000 on the day of the event).

With these elements finally in place, it was actually coming together. “I could have written a $15,000 check to a charity and it would have been much easier,” Hurley said. “But we were trying to think of something that wouldn’t be typical and involve active duty service members, normal guys who are just doing their job serving our country and who love golf. It was such a natural fit, and it’s really unbelievable how it all happened so quickly.”

Hurley maintained an active role throughout the process, devoting by his estimation more than 50 hours while maintaining his fulltime job on TOUR. “I just wanted to be sure the event was at the level the Navy deserves,” he explained. “I was concerned about all the little details.”

That included one final matter of navigating protocol to hold the tournament at the Academy course. But this was particularly important to him; the course and members have meant so much to him over the years and are a source of so many great memories.

This connection started when Hurley, who grew up in Leesburg, Va., “self-recruited” himself to the Naval Academy. An all-state golfer, he never considered another school after seeing the campus for the first time. In fact, if there was any question about his intentions, he regularly wore a Navy cap through his final two years of high school competition, pretty much the equivalent of a signed commitment. Once there, Hurley immediately played his way into the starting lineup as a plebe, virtually unheard of for the golf team. His first collegiate tournament was hosted by the Academy and he promptly birdied four of the first five holes, including perhaps his most memorable competitive shot on the course, on his very first hole. After over-shooting the green, he faced a treacherous shot on a downward slope toward the pin … and promptly holed the lob shot. His final score that day? Two over par. His ability as a closer in college would come later.

Hurley’s first three years of competition were solid if not spectacular, collecting one victory and a bunch of second-place finishes. But he was driven to succeed and spent countless hours on the range. “I can’t even guess how many hours I put in honing my game on that course,” Hurley said. “The golf course was my escape from academics, from college. I was there when no one else was there. I mean, Friday and Saturday nights, hitting balls underneath headlights.”

Pat Owen, longtime Navy golf coach and head professional at the course, remembers it well. “While the others would go off after playing 18 holes and have some fun, Billy would stay and practice. The only real free time a cadet has is Friday and Saturday nights, and he would be here hitting balls ‘til dark. He would be the only one there.”

Then came the breakthrough his senior year. Hurley says he really isn’t sure how or why it happened, though undoubtedly wearing out the practice facility had something to do with it. But he won six of his 12 tournaments that season, including his one home victory that featured a course record 61. And the awards followed: eventual Walker Cup member; 2004 Patriot League Player of the Year; the 6th -ranked amateur in world; academic All-America; captain of the American Palmer Cup team vs. European college players; and becoming the third recipient of the Golf Coaches Association of America’s Byron Nelson Award as the graduating senior who excels not only in competition, but – perhaps more telling –  demonstrates the highest character and integrity while in college. 

Those who have known him say that’s simply who he is to this day.  

“Billy is just a terrific guy,” Owen said. “His core beliefs are unimaginable. Every single day, that’s what drives him and motivates him.”

That includes his desire to excel, while remaining grounded and humble. In fact, he never mentioned that “other” round at the Academy course, back in 2011 while a member of the Tour. Someone else brought it up: a friendly game that saw Hurley make nine birdies and an eagle for a 58. Meaning, between his 61 and 58, Hurley holds both the competitive and non-competitive records on a golf course that’s 101 years old.

He still heads over at least once a week when he’s at home and maintains those longtime friendships at the golf course. While it typically means taking two hours to do an honest hour’s worth of practice, he doesn’t mind. Those lasting bonds within the community and Navy were evident by the number of longtime friends and service members who supported his inaugural event.

And while most of the 18 raffle winners had only just met him the previous day as special guests at a Washington Nationals baseball game, there was an instant commonality and bond.

“Billy’s a guy from our world,” said CDR Thomas Korsmo of NSA Midsouth, the son of an Academy grad whose name was drawn at Glen Eagle Golf Course in Millington, Tenn. “The military definitely is a different culture; we share a lot. Billy is someone who fulfilled his obligation and then for him to come back and to do what we could only dream about is amazing. It says a lot about him, his morals and commitment.”

“We have virtually all areas of the Navy represented here, and Billy easily relates to all of us,” added LT Ben Hayes from NAS Jacksonville, a former Naval Academy golfer himself who once competed in the PGA TOUR Champions’ First Tee Open (now the PURE Insurance Championship) at Pebble Beach with J.C. Snead.

It’s an obvious source of pride for Hurley. “I speak their language,” he said. “A lot of guys support the military, which is awesome, and it is part of DNA of the PGA TOUR. But I’m in a unique situation in that I can talk the talk. I did it at that level for nine years, between attending the Naval Academy and serving for five years. I can have a whole conversation with these guys in acronyms.”

Collectively, the 18 raffle winners represented 399 years (and counting) of military service, ranging from several years to 28-year veteran Ion Revak of NAS Mayport. The one thing commonly heard throughout the day was how this all-inclusive trip was an opportunity and experience of a lifetime for them.

“These guys here are so humble and gracious,” Smoley said. “While I wanted to thank them for their service, they were thanking us for doing this for them.”

In the end, despite all the challenges, the event came off as well – or better – than hoped. “And that was after 10 or so weeks,” Hurley said. “We now have a strong base moving forward. I can’t wait to see what we can do with 10 months to prepare for the next one.”

And provide another memorable experience for his next 18 special guests, whoever they might be. 

READ MORE ABOUT: Billy Hurley III , Military
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