We're at the halfway point of 2016. With all due respect to what may be coming in the rest of the sport's calendar, I think we've already seen the best moment that sports will have to offer this year.
Billy Hurley III's win at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., June 26 was not only his first career PGA Tour victory in 104 tries, it was also one of the most emotional moments in recent golf history.
Hurley graduated from the Naval Academy in 2004, pausing his golf career to serve his country for five years, including a stint aboard the USS-Chung Hoon. He was able to return to golf in 2011, battling to make the PGA Tour and qualify for events. Before his hometown tournament, the Annapolis, Md., resident had missed six of 11 cuts on tour this season alone.
As if his service to the country and battles to get his career going weren't enough to make the win emotional, Hurley was less than 12 months removed from losing his father to a self-inflicted gunshot wound last August.
All of that combined to leave many golf fans (and even those who only sort of follow the sport, like your humble columnist) to be overcome with emotion while watching Hurley clinch his breakthrough victory.
"That was probably one of the most unexpected things that I've heard from you and from a lot of other people," Hurley said on
Glenn Clark Radio June 29
. "That people were watching golf with tears in their eyes. That never really occurred to me as I was playing or anything like that, but it's been touching, to me, to hear that from so many other people."
Hurley wasn't certain the three-stroke victory would actually happen. He's had leads in tournaments before, so the two-shot lead after three rounds near D.C. did not inspire overwhelming confidence.
"To be honest with you, I played the front nine on Sunday and kind of felt like, 'man, this isn't going to happen,'" the 34-year-old said. "I just couldn't quite get a putt in the hole, and I was like, 'we need to get something to go right.' I just felt like this is going to be such a bummer if this doesn't actually happen right now.
"But [I] just kind of hung in there, and then when the
chip went in on 15
, that was the moment where I was like, 'holy cow, this
going to happen.' The next thing I thought of after that chip went in, I mean, after I blacked out and came back to the world, but the next thing I thought of was just 'if I can keep it out of a fairway bunker off the 16 tee, I think I win this golf tournament. If we can just hit in the fairway off 16 tee, then I should be able to get it done from there.'"
The 35-yard chip in for birdie was the shot of Hurley's life but not one he expected to make.
"When I hit it, I knew it had 'check' on it, and it was going to be OK," Hurley said. "But it totally shocked me to see the ball go in the hole. It never crossed my mind that it was going to go in when I hit it."
An ESPN.com profile in early 2016 explained that as a "cruel irony," Hurley most thinks of his late father when he's on the golf course "
because that's where they spent the most time together
." Fortunately for Hurley, he was able to overcome what could have been overwhelming emotions during the event.
"I didn't think about him much on the golf course," the first-time winner said. "And it kind of sounds weird to say, but it actually was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. For whatever reason, I didn't really think about my dad that much on the golf course. I don't know if I would have been able to hold it together there on the back nine if I had. I did think about him in the morning before I went out to play and kind of got choked up by myself in the locker room there. And then afterwards, Ernie [Els] (his Sunday playing partner) said some nice stuff to me. 'I think your dad would be really proud of you; he's watching you right now' or something like that on the 18th green, and that was certainly special. Ernie was great throughout the whole thing."
Trying to move forward from the devastating loss is something Hurley is continuing to do in lock-step with his family. In fact, while his win at Congressional clinched him a berth in the upcoming British Open, the Quicken Loans National winner will actually not be making the trip because he has somewhere else to be -- his sister's wedding.
"It really was a 'no decision' kind of thing at the end of the day. There's other Open Championships in years to come, and my little sister is only going to get married once," Hurley said about the event in which he is scheduled to be a groomsman. "At this point, with all that's happened to my family in the last year, there's not a place that I'd rather be. It's really important for me to be there to support her and her new husband. It's going to be, I think, one more step towards closure for our family as we go into that weekend of her wedding."
For more from Hurley, listen to the full interview here: