Taking into account the patriotism surrounding the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club, it might as well be July 4 already. There are the 30,000 complimentary tickets to the United States Military; the Lockheed Martin Military Pavilion off the 17th green, a “We Salute Our Heroes Tribute Wall,” near the 18th; the military care package tent that has sent more than 25,000 care packages since 2009 and the patriotic opening ceremony on the first tee yesterday; and the military caddies and starters adorning camouflage bibs.
There was still one more salute to be had, and that came from Billy Hurley III.
The 30-year-old Naval Academy alumna fired a 2-under-par 69 at Congressional for the AT&T National on a course that most in the field agree is playing tougher than it did for last year’s U.S. Open.
“I can’t think of one that’s harder,” said Hurley, a Leesburg, Va. native, after the round. “I’m trying to — Torrey [Pines] was pretty tough for sure, especially being sort of cold and early in the year over there, the ball is not going very far. But it wasn’t half as firm as this.”
Hurley’s path to the Tour was one less traveled by. After graduating from the Academy in 2004 as the nation’s top collegiate golfer, he served in the Navy for five years, teaching Econ 101 for two years before being shipped off to Hawaii aboard the guided missile destroyer USS CHUNG-HOON (“ship names are in all capitals,” he added), based in Pearl Harbor. He would make his final deployment with the CHUNG-HOON in the Persian Gulf.
While the Navy declined his request to grant him the same reduction it had given to David Robinson in the late 1980’s, it still allowed him to play on the Walker Cup team in 2005.
“I played a lot for the first three years,” said Hurley, who now has two children. “But then the last two years I was on the ship in Hawaii and I played very little, probably averaged once a month. I played five competitive rounds in two years out there…I became a recreational golfer for a couple years.”
Despite his age, Hurley is still a rookie in a sense, making a rocky transition from naval officer to professional golfer. He had missed six straight cuts before finishing tied for 47th at last weekend’s Travelers Championship. But his scorecard at the opening round here at Congressional had red all over it, beginning with a birdie on the 10th — he teed off on the back nine — adding two more at the 17th and 18th and never relinquishing a bogey until a few unlucky breaks on his final hole that included laying up into a divot and a par putt hitting a spike mark finally knocked him down to 2-under where he currently sits tied for fifth.
“I hit it really well overall today and had a lot of good looks,” he said. “I mean, even at this place you hit quality shots that end up with not a good look at birdie sometimes.”
Hurley was paired with the most recent Tour sensation, Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old high-schooler from California who displayed every shade of California-cool in the dry, 93-degree heat, firing an even-par 71 that left him tied for 23rd.
“It was a good day out there, played well, hit it pretty well,” said Hossler, who has committed to the University of Texas. “I hit a lot of good shots that I just felt like — the ball seemed to be going a little bit longer than normal, so I was airmailing some pins.”
Their third playing partner, Kyle Reifers, finished 4-over tied for 77th.