Billy Hurley III went into the Quicken Loans National with a sort-of home course advantage, having played the difficult TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm layout more than any other professional golfer.
But the Leesburg native knew he had to play great golf to secure his second career PGA victory. While he started well with a 1-under par 69 in the first round, he experienced more difficulty during the second day, falling to a 4-over 74 on June 29. His 3-over total was within two strokes of the cut.
“There’s not a whole lot of tricks around here,” said Hurley, 36. “You just have to hit a whole bunch of really good golf shots to play well at this place.”
Hurley won the Quicken Loans National in 2016 when it was played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. His experience with the Potomac course dates to when he participated in skills challenges and caddied there as a golf team member at Loudoun County High.
“I actually do the bulk of my practice when I’m home here at TPC Potomac, so I’ve played it, certainly more than anybody else on tour,” he said.
For Hurley, it’s been an up-and-down climb since taking his first tour victory two years ago. After earning $1.8 million in 2016, his winnings dropped to $719,579 in 2017 with one top-ten finish. He has earned $76,447 so far this season, with his best finish 25th at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.
“It definitely hasn’t been good golf for the majority of this season, but I do feel like it’s heading in the right direction,” Hurley said.
In the first round, he made two birdies on the back nine and only one bogey, hitting 14 of 18 greens in two strokes fewer than the hole’s par. After a 275-yard drive on the 299-yard, par-4 14th hole, Hurley chipped his second shot to within seven feet. He then sunk the putt for the birdie.
His other birdie came on the par-4 16th hole when he hit a 145-yard approach shot near the pin and putted in one stroke. That hole became a nemesis in round two when Hurley hit the rough with his tee shot and bunker with his second. The bogey was one of five during that round with one birdie on the ninth hole.
Italian Francesco Molinari ended up winning the tournament in record fashion, shooting a 21-under 259. The previous lowest four-round score was 266 by Troy Merritt in 2015 when it was held at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville. Hurley tied for the third lowest score at 267 in 2016.
After a first round that saw him drop to 48th place, tournament host Tiger Woods, who is having his best season since 2013, roared back to tie for fourth at 11 under this year.
Hurley is one of the few PGA players who has done extensive military service, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Quantitative Economics. He was named an Academic All-American and rose to the rank of lieutenant while serving in the Navy until 2009. His assignments included a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf aboard the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon.
Woods, who grew up in a military family, focuses a lot of attention on armed forces in this tournament, which he helped start in 2007. The event was the first to put out a tribute wall to service members that attendees can sign, Woods said. “Now it’s one of the standards throughout the tour,” he said, adding that the tournament also provides free admission to military servicemen and women and their dependents.
Those ties made this stop on the PGA Tour especially welcoming to Hurley. “You add up all the other factors of being close to home and being a tournament that really does a lot to honor the military, it’s really special,” he said.
Woods, who has won his tournament twice, with the last time in 2013, has made $1.8 million so far this year. While he usually uses a blade putter, he has experimented with a mallet-head during this tournament.
“Most of the guys out here are using mallets now. It’s very interesting,” Woods said. “They’re using more technology in their putters…So I’m trying a little bit more of that now. It has grooves in it. It is rolling a little bit faster. I’ve gone to a little bit more swing to it, and so I have a little bit more feel so I don’t get away from my basic feel of my fingers and how I putt.”
Hurley said he switched to a new putter in 2016 a few weeks before winning the Quicken Loans event. “Sometimes just changing it up a little bit, all of a sudden you see balls start going in the hole and it’s great,” he said. “I think that there always is some adjustments you have to make and some lines that you’re not used to seeing that you now see.”
The highest-ranking golfer in the 120-player field was California native Rickie Fowler, who is eighth worldwide with $3.3 million earned in 2018. At 16th in the FedExCup standings, Fowler was also the top participant in those rankings, which take the highest-ranking 125 golfers for a playoff system in August and September. He finished the Quicken Loans event at 8-under for 12th place.
Takoma Park native and University of Virginia alumnus Denny McCarthy also missed the cut with a 4-over score. “TPC Potomac is a really great test of golf,” he said.
Detroit-based Quicken Loans did not renew its title sponsorship of this event and plans to sponsor a PGA tournament next season in the Motor City. That leaves some believing it could be the last one for the National event that began at Congressional in 2007.
“This is a tough climate right now and to ask a company for $7, $8, $9 million, it’s tough,” Woods said. “This event’s always been supported by our servicemen and women, by the local charities. It’s just trying to get a big title in here, that’s the hard part.”
While the Senior PGA Championship was held last year in Loudoun County, getting another regular PGA event in the D.C. area might prove difficult if this one ends.
“We’re certainly going to give our best efforts, but the future’s unknown,” Woods said. “That’s frustrating for all of us, not just here at the foundation, what we do, but it’s also frustrating for the community here and the people who have supported us and supported this event.”
Hurley’s benefit tournament in Annapolis July 30-31
Hurley plans to host the second annual Billy Hurley III and the Brave Golf Tournament July 30-31 at the Naval Academy Golf Course in Annapolis. The event brings together service members from 22 Navy golf courses nationwide to benefit military charities and Naval Academy athletics.
“It hosts 18 active duty service members to play in the event,” Hurley said. “That’s one of the pieces that we put into place that made it different and made it fun… I didn’t realize how much I would really enjoy and how great of an experience that was going to be for those guys.”