POTOMAC, United States: Defending champion Billy Hurley III has endured an emotional roller coaster the past two years at the US PGA National, from a missing father to a breakthrough victory.
So it’s no wonder the 35-year-old home-region favorite feels a bit strange about the $7.1 million (6.2 million euro) event that begins Thursday in suburban Washington.
“It’s kind of weird. The last two years have been quite a ride,” Hurley said Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila). “When you think back, sitting in the media center and not knowing where my dad was to then sitting here a year ago having just won the tournament, now coming back and defending.”
Hurley’s father, Willard, went missing for nearly two weeks in July 2015 and Billy made a public appeal for help at the National. Police in Texas discovered the elder Hurley unharmed three days later, but two weeks after that Willard Hurley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Last year, in the wake of that tragedy, Hurley captured his first US PGA title at the National. He was ranked 607th in the world and playing on a sponsor exemption but finally won in his 104th tour start.
Hurley qualified for last year’s British Open with the victory but skipped it instead to attend his sister’s wedding.
Now he seeks back-to-back titles but again there’s an unusual element. Hurley won last year at nearby Congressional Country Club but defends at TPC Potomac, the renovated former Avenel course that hosted PGA events from 1987-2006 before the National debuted at Congressional in 2007.
“I don’t feel any extra pressure,” Hurley said. “It’s a different golf course, so I’ve got that excuse going for me.
“I certainly wish it was at Congressional because I finished first, fourth and eighth there. There are courses for certain players and that’s one of mine. But this is a familiar place to me. I practice and play out here when I’m home. It’s a great spot.”
The 7,107-yard, par-70 layout underwent major upgrades and hosted seniors and developmental tour events before getting a one-year look by the PGA again this season.
“They did a good job,” Hurley said. “What they’ve really done here, I think, is elevated the condition of the golf course.
“There are no low scores here. It’s a hard golf course. You’ve got to be in the fairway. The rough’s really thick and definitely going to be penal this week, moreso than other weeks on tour.”
Asked what the winning score might be this week, Hurley replied, “I’ll sign 10-under and sit in the clubhouse for four days.”
Hurley, ranked 125th, has one top-10 showing in 20 events this season, a share of eighth at last month’s Wells Fargo Championship.
“I’ve played consistently mediocre this year,” Hurley said. “Made a lot of cuts but only one top 10. Just trying to kind of get back consistently in the top 10.”
Hurley is the lone US military veteran on tour, spending five years in the Navy until 2009 before launching his golf career.