If you think that driving a huge 10,000-ton Navy warship through the Suez Canal or serving aboard destroyers in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea or the South China Sea would well equip someone to deal with the stress and rigors of life out on the PGA TOUR, you’d be right on the money.
Billy Hurley III, a 2004 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and current PGA Tour player, relies heavily on the life lessons and skills he mastered during his five years of service.
I was fortunate to be able to connect with the former U.S. Walker Cup team member and winner of the 2004 Byron Nelson Award recently to ask him about his Navy experiences, the challenge of finding his game after his service, role models, friends on Tour, Navy’s dominance of Army on the gridiron and his goals for this season.
Would you talk about your time in the Navy and how your experiences there impacted the man you are today?
BH: The Navy and the Naval Academy taught me mental toughness and time management. These two skills I use today on the PGA Tour. I am very regimented and extremely precise with my time and that comes from the Navy in me. I loved being in the Navy and wouldn’t trade my path or change a thing about it.
Did you ever consider making the Navy a “career”?
BH: I never seriously thought about making the Navy a career because I always knew I wanted to get out of the service and give it a shot at professional golf. So my wife and I never really had a serious conversation about staying in the Navy. I did, however, do everything I needed to do (advanced qualifications, etc.) to be competitive in the Navy in case golf did not work out and I wanted to get back in the Navy.
What was your greatest moment during your service?
BH: Driving the ship through the Suez Canal. I was Officer of the Deck for this evolution. The Officer of the Deck is the one who is overall in charge of the safe navigation of the ship. This was quite a large responsibility and one that I relished having. Driving the ship was one of my favorite things to do. Another highlight was when the Captain let me get the ship underway from the pier without using tugboats. Normally, we use tugs to help pull us off the pier and then once in the middle of the basin, we drive the ship out of the harbor. On this occasion, I asked to do it without the use of the tugs and the Captain said yes. He was a bit hesitant because it is much safer to do it with the use of the tugs but he let me. We, of course, still had the tugs tied up in case we ended up needing some “help.” But we didn’t use the tugs at all and it was a fun experience to get the ship underway from the pier without the use of tugs. Driving the ship was one of the things I loved most about the Navy and one of the things that I miss most about the Navy.
When you finished your service, how difficult was it to get your game back up to speed?
BH: It took much, much longer than I thought to get my game back after my time in the Navy. I thought it would take about six months but it took closer to a year. And while six extra months doesn’t seem like a long time, it was a tough period of not knowing whether my game would come back to form or not. I played three mini-tour events a few months after getting out of the Navy and I missed all three cuts by one shot. That was very tough to deal with. I didn’t do anything special to get back into form. I just kept working hard. The hardest thing about coming back to competitive golf was putting 18 holes together – re-learning how to deal with a double bogey or how to react to three birdies in a row. It sounds funny, but that was the hardest part about getting back into competitive golf and it took some time to get that part back.
How’s your game right now?
BH: My game is solid, but not great, right now. I have missed four cuts this “season” (dating back to October) and all by one shot. So I obviously want to play more weekends going forward and be more consistently in the mix in the rest of the season. I am working on being more creative on the course and using different shots to get the ball closer to the hole. I have spent the last 4-5 years really working on my swing and now it is in a place where I can just go play and use what we have built (with my swing instructor, Mitchell Spearman) without too much “work” on the swing. That said, we are constantly refining and trying to polish the edges of all parts of my game.
Where can we find you when you aren’t on the course?
BH: In the gym or hanging out with my family.
What are your goals for 2015?
BH: Every year I want to be a better player than I was the year before. I want to keep improving. If I improve, then everything else will take care of itself. Obviously, I want to keep my Tour card and secure another year on the PGA Tour. This may sound like a “silly” goal and not very lofty, but there are so many great players on the PGA Tour that just keeping your card is a good accomplishment. Above that, I want to play in at least three of the FedEx Cup playoff events this year. So finishing in the top 70 is something I am striving for this year.
Thoughts on slow play?
BH: Slow play will continue to be an issue until penalty shots are assessed on a regular basis. Right now with one shot being worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, fines are not enough to deter taking extra time on a shot. But you do have to understand that by its nature golf takes a very long time to play. Playing a round of golf in threesomes on the PGA Tour in four hours feels like running around the golf course. Little things like making sure not to step in anyone’s line or standing in the right place during a fellow competitor’s shot take extra time and those little bits of time add up over the course of 18 holes.
Who are your role models?
BH: Jesus Christ is a big role model in my life. I am continually trying to learn from His life and His Word to grow and become a more complete and mature man.
BH: We recently were discussing this exact question in a practice round and my caddie came up with the best answer I have ever heard for this. He said his three people would be, “Tiger Woods: past, present, and future.” I think this is a great answer as it would be really cool to see Tiger close up in each of the kind of “eras” in his career. As far as my own foursome… I would want to play with my brother Dan (an All-Conference player at George Mason in his college days), maybe Seve (it would be cool to see him up close as I only know about him in legend) and someone from the early days of golf, Bobby Jones or Harry Vardon (it would be cool to see how they did it with the equipment of that time). If I had one last round, I would probably just go play with my brother though. I don’t really care where we play as long as the course is in great shape. My favorite course is Quaker Ridge G.C. in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Who are some of your closest friends out there on Tour?
BH: Mark Wilson is my closest friend on the PGA Tour. Two of my other good friends, Peter Malnati and Matt Davidson, are on the Web.com Tour this year. Mark and I play some practice rounds together and our families get together for dinner every now and again. Mark and I also are reading through the Bible together this year. So, we have a chat about what we have learned and how we have been encouraged through the Bible every week or so. With Peter and Matt, it is generally text messages throughout the year to let each other know we are watching and rooting for each other.
Navy has now beaten Army 13 straight times in football. Bragging point for you?
BH: It is certainly a feather in our cap. I answer every person who tells me that they went to another service academy with a jovial “that’s too bad.” It is fun to have a rivalry but we are also all a part of a big brotherhood and the support that I get from Navy grads and Army grads alike is wonderful and something that I treasure.