World No 607 Billy Hurley rises from tragedy to take emotional first PGA triumph at Congressional
World No 607 completes shocking triumph in capturing the National for his first PGA title, a tribute to his late father Willard
Billy Hurley rose from a family tragedy to complete a shocking triumph on Sunday by capturing the National for his first PGA title, a tribute to his late father Willard.
Hometown hero Hurley, whose golf-teacher father died last August of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was part of a tearful family celebration at Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington after some support from playing partner Ernie Els, a four-time major winner from South Africa.
“Ernie said to me after I holed the last putt, ‘I think your dad is looking down and is really proud of you,’” Hurley said.
“Certainly my dad helped me. He started me well. I certainly wish he was here today.”
Hurley, ranked 607th, sank an astonishing 35-yard wedge shot to birdie the 15 hole and a 27-foot birdie putt at 16 to hold off Els and Vijay Singh and win the Tiger Woods-hosted event by three strokes, firing a final round two-under par 69 to finish on 17-under 267.
“Billy played well,” Singh said. “He has total control of his game and it’s good to see that.”
Singh, a three-time major winner ranked 210th, matched the day’s low round with a 65. He could have become the oldest winner in PGA history at age 53 but settled for his 28th career runner-up showing on 270 and an eight-year win drought continues.
“Came here with a good frame of mind and produced,” Singh said.
“I was calm, which was strange being in contention for the first time in a while. Never had any nerves. I feel as strong as I did when I was playing well six or seven years ago.”
One stroke back were 21-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm in his professional debut and American Bill Haas. Els, who won the 1997 US Open at Congressional, was fifth on 272 after six birdies, six pars, five bogeys and a double bogey.
“I want to still play at a high level,” Els said.
“I still have something to offer the game and maybe squeeze something out of it before I’m really over the hill. I feel physically fine and the technical side is coming back.”
At last year’s National, Hurley appealed for help to find his missing father, who was located only for him to take his own life weeks later.
“It has been a hard year,” Hurley said. “It’s nice to have something to be happy about.”
Hurley’s breakthrough came in his 104th PGA event, his best prior tour finish a share of fourth. He had not finished in the top 30 of a stroke-play event for more than a year.
“Couldn’t think of a better tournament for my first PGA Tour win. I’m thrilled I could get it done,” Hurley said. “It’s a cliche but a dream come true. Unbelievable.”
Hurley, Singh, Rahm and US rookie Harold Varner took four available berths in next month’s British Open as top finishers not already qualified to play at Royal Troon.
But Hurley might not play. His sister has a wedding on the Saturday of the event.
“Certainly not a foregone conclusion that I’m going,” he said. “Something tells me it’s going to be a pretty hard sell. We’ll have to figure it out.”
Hurley, 34, spent five years in the US Navy, piloting a 10,000-ton ship through the Suez Canal among other things, before making the tour.
Hurley had been advised not to take calls Saturday but answered for retired Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who heard Hurley was leading while on a Montana fishing trip.
“When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls, you answer,” Hurley said. “It was really special for him to think of me.”
Clinging to a one-shot lead on Singh, Hurley stunned himself by holing out from the fairway at 15.
“It totally shocked me to see that ball disappear,” Hurley said. “I kind of lost myself for a minute.”
Then he added the putt at 16 to tighten his title grip, saying: “Just trying to get it up there and somehow it got in the corner.”