Sports and its combination of drama, suspense and the unknown ending has been called the best reality TV, but Sunday at the Quicken Loans National provided a script worthy of a Hollywood hit.
The star: Champion Billy Hurley III. He spent five years in the U.S. Navy before turning professional. He would capture his first PGA Tour win at the event that is closest to his home in Annapolis and almost a year to the date that he spoke at his press conference during this event to make a public plea for help that his father was missing.
Although there were clues to his whereabouts in places such as Texas and Minnesota, his father would never return home, taking his own life.
The setting: Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. One of the most iconic and treasured courses on the PGA Tour. Ranked as the second longest course on Tour behind only Torrey Pines, Congressional is a par 71 that measures 7,569 yards. It has hosted hosted five major championships and is now the site of this tour event every other year.
The supporting players: Tiger Woods, the biggest star in golf and one of the most recognizable faces in the world, who has been sidelined by numerous injuries, but was on hand as he hosts the annual event that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation and supports the military. This is the 10th edition of this tournament and the 20th year of the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Ernie Els, winner of the U.S. Open when it was played at Congressional in 1997, playing with Hurley III in the final pairing of the day. Els, was looking for his first PGA Tour win since the 2012 Open Championship and was in the midst of a magical weekend that included a slam dunk shot from 157 yards out in the middle of the 12th fairway during Saturday’s third round.
Vijay Singh, the 53 year-old who once unseated Tiger Woods from the No. 1 ranking in the world, was looking to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history.
Jon Rahm, a 21 year-old who was a week removed from being the low amateur at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, was playing in his first PGA Tour event as a professional. For his first tournament as a pro, Rahm finished in a tie for third with a check for $400,200 and, by virtue of the Open Qualifying Series, he now has a spot in the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
The finale: Hurley III was playing in his 104th PGA Tour event with no wins to show for it and had received one of the event’s two sponsor’s exemptions to even get into the Quicken Loans National (the other went to Rahm) field. Playing alongside Els and with Singh breathing down his neck to try and make history, Hurley holed out from 35 yards out in the fairway for birdie on the 15th and followed that up with a 27-foot birdie putt on the No. 16 to seal the deal on the $1.242 million first-place prize and a spot in the upcoming British Open as well as next year’s Masters and other prestigious events.
“This is definitely the one,” Hurley III said. “Being so close to home, close to the academy, close to where I grew up and being a part of the event on the PGA Tour that does the absolute most to honor our military here at Quicken Loans National, you couldn’t script a better one for me to win for my first Tour win.”
In winning Tiger’s tournament, Hurley III held off the two members of the World Golf Hall of Fame including his playing partner for the final round, Els.
“It was special to play with Ernie today,” Hurley III said. “Ernie’s always been really nice to me, especially the last couple of years. He’s a great champion, great player, great person and he was really gracious in playing the last three-four holes when I was going to win and he wasn’t … Ernie said to me after I holed the last putt, ‘I think your dad is looking down and he’s really proud of you.'”
The critics: Peter Kostis of CBS Sports, in the post-round interview with Hurley: “I’ve already called this the story of the year. I don’t really care what happens the rest of the year. From my perspective, this is the story of the year. What you’ve had to overcome personally and professionally, you served your country for five years and you do it in your hometown basically, all I can say is congratulations and well-earned.”
Doug Ferguson, AP Golf writer: “Billy Hurley was serving in the Navy when this tournament was created in 2007 to honor the military. That was something special to watch.”
Closing credits: Full leaderboard here.