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Billy Hurley III on his path to, life on, the PGA Tour

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If you hadn’t heard of him before July of last year, Billy Hurley III likely appeared on your radar screen when he grabbed the lead at the Greenbrier Classic. In the course of that solid performance (he ultimately tied for fourth), golf fans learned a bit about the Navy grad that steered 10,000-ton warships during a five-year tour of duty after college before trying his luck as a professional golfer.

The 2012 PGA Tour rookie had his best season on Tour last year, making 17 of 26 cuts and notching four top-10 finishes in addition to earning more than $1.1 million. I caught up with him just after he arrived in Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open.

B.A.: Did you know you needed to make birdie to play on Sunday at Pebble?

B.H. Only 60 and ties play on Sunday. I figured if I made two pars I’d make the cut and get paid (MDF — made cut, did not finish). I pretty much knew where I was. I needed to make a birdie. I hit a good shot at 16…didn’t make the putt. Then I hit a good shot at 17 and was able to make the putt.

This has to be a unique situation, and I wonder if you’ve gotten used to it: You were on the officer pay scale for several years and now you’re in a position where you can make that in one week.

I wouldn’t say that my wife and my lifestyle has gone up that much since we were in the Navy. Having played mini-tours for a bit, that was kind of a step back from the lifestyle we had when I was a lieutenant in the Navy. And then Nationwide and working our way up…had a rookie year that wasn’t great. So last year was kind of the first year that we made a lot of money. So yeah, you’re right, I’ve had four or five weeks that have doubled what I made in a year in the Navy kind of thing. But it’s not really about money on Tour. You make $500,000 this year and you could go play the Web.com Tour next year.

But it is a much bigger lifestyle than most people can afford to have, and that’s one of the things my wife is constantly talking about. You know, for as long as I play on the PGA Tour, we’re going to have more money than I need to live on. And what do we do with that? How do we steward the resources we’ve been given? What do we do with excess? And how much is enough? What are we going to live on? How much are we going to give away? Who are we going to give it away to, and how are we going to give it away? That kind of stuff is a constant conversation.

It looks like you play a hodgepodge of equipment. Do you consider yourself a tinkerer? What’s your approach to golf equipment?

I am completely playing a hodgepodge of equipment. I’m basically just playing what I want to play. I don’t really change that often. I’m playing with whatever I feel like gives me the best chance to play good golf. If I got paid an extra $100,000 from some equipment manufacturer to play their club or their ball and I don’t play good golf, then it’s not worth the money. If a take an extra $100,000 in endorsement money and don’t keep my card, then I’ve lost $500,000.

I’m always interested in pre-tournament preparation. Do you feel like that’s something that’s pretty standard from guy to guy or is everyone usually doing their own thing?

I think there are some things that are standard and some things are guy-to-guy. For me, the practice round, you’re trying to get a feel for how the course is playing. How firm are the greens going to be…Speed of the greens, obviously…couple of different shots…pin positions that you know are difficult…certain putts…you want to have one in the bag for experience from this position to that pin or from this chip to that pin. Or this par-5 you can miss it over here…this bunker is fine, this bunker is bad…you’ve got to get a feel for where to hit it and how to plot your way around the golf course.

And the nice thing is now this is my third year on Tour, so it’s not learning new golf courses every time. It’s more fine-tuning with the golf course, getting a better idea what it is. Certain pins you remember…you know you just have to hit it over here, there’s no other option….that kind of stuff.

Certainly there are a number of those [things] here at Riviera. I still haven’t figured out how to play the 10th hole. It’s kind of “hit it somewhere and go figure it out.”

There are certain weeks where you feel good and just kind of do your normal drills. There are certain weeks where you’re not hitting it very good and you end up hitting a lot more balls on the range. Certain weeks I’m tinkering with equipment—I do tinker a lot, but I don’t really change that much. Some weeks you’re going to spend more time ballstriking. Some weeks you’re going to spend more time putting.

Wedges are a focus that I want to have this year: Making sure that I…have a solid practice…different trajectories, different shots…from like 30 to 130 yards.

Practice facilities drive a bit of your practice too. You go: “OK the range isn’t great this week…the putting green is really, really small…next week the range is huge, they’ve got a big putting green.”

Even if you’re there Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, there isn’t enough time to do everything you need to do, so you kind of space the pieces out over a number of weeks.

What’s similar between playing on the Web.com Tour and the PGA Tour? I know there are major differences, especially with the outside the ropes stuff. Is that true?

I think that they are similar in some respects and vastly different in others. You can pretty much say that…everything from the Web.com Tour, multiply it by 10 and you get the PGA Tour: purse size, crowd size, equipment reps, all those different people that around Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday…

The thing they have in common is they’re both really good golf. And the Web.com Tour doesn’t get enough credit for how good the players are. You think about Major League Baseball — Spring Training has started up and there’ll be over 600 guys that make a major league roster. Over 1,600 guys just got finished playing football. There’s 430 guys playing basketball right now. And there’s 144 guys playing at Riviera Country Club this week. The numbers just don’t add up.

Unfortunately, we’ve convinced the average golf fan that the Web.com Tour isn’t very good, but the reality is, if this were Major League Baseball, they’d all be on a roster, and they’d be starting if this were football.

Golf courses are a lot more difficult on the PGA Tour. The greens are a lot firmer week in and week out. You play a lot of country club courses on the Web.com Tour where 25-under wins the golf tournament. Unfortunatey, there’s not enough golf courses where 12- or 15-under wins on the Web.com Tour.

When golf courses are firmer and faster, you get away with less. On the Web.com Tour, they normally are a little bit softer…you can get away with a little bit more.

I know that you always planned on doing your service and then becoming a professional golfer. The point for me that’s interesting is: You’re done with your service. You haven’t played that much. I have to imagine that there was a little second-guessing of that plan, and you were thinking of re-enlisting or doing something else. What was that like?

I never really second-guessed the initial decision. That was kind of the plan: I was going to serve my five years, and then I was going to go try and get back into golf and see if I could make it. The plan was to give it a shot. As I was getting out of the Navy…I did everything I needed to do in the Navy…so that if, two, three years down the road golf wasn’t going to work, I would have at least had the option to get back in.

I was asking my executive officer about that:

“If I wanted to get back in the Navy, would I be able to? How would that work?”

And I guess [he]…told the captain of the ship, and he said, “I hear you were talking to the [executive officer] about getting back in the Navy?” I said, “I want to make sure I have a backup plan.” He said, “I don’t want to ever hear you talk like that again. Listen, I’d love to have you in the Navy. But with what you’re going to do, you can’t be thinking like that at all. There is no Plan B.”

There was certainly a period of time within that first year of getting out of the Navy and getting back into golf where it was like “I don’t know if this is going to work…it’s not as easy as it used to be.”

Missing cuts on the mini-tours; missing them by a shot; feeling frustrated and not making any money…My wife and I had two serious conversations about quitting golf (retiring, as we call it). And each time, I won the tournament the next week. That was kind of a little bit of confirmation that maybe we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Tom

    Mar 3, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Best wishes Billy – many of us old USNA grads are following you every week and pulling hard for your success.

  2. Steve A

    Feb 25, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Nice story…thanks. All the best Billy! I’ll be following you.

  3. Shooter

    Feb 19, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Billy and I were teammates at the Academy for all four years (2000-2004). Great dude, really smart, wicked short game. Great interview on the site. That’s about as honest as he gets. I’m only an hour away from Riveria but can’t make it to see him this week due to scheduling issues.

  4. Golfraven

    Feb 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    wow, that is the real deal. All those college boys who go straight on tour should consider themselves lucky. 5 years is a long time but guess he is making that up with his talent. Respect. Enjoy the $.

  5. Jake S

    Feb 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Tinkering with clubs a lot? Sounds like he should hit the PXG clubs or maybe the new Hogans.

  6. Jeff B

    Feb 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    wow what his officer told him, teared me up a little. Still great people in the world. Would love to see this guy do well.

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Tour News

Brooks Koepka, a machine built to win majors

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Brooks Koepka is your 2018 PGA Champion. Of his 4 PGA Tour victories, 3 have come at major events, all of which have come in the past 14 months. He has won a U.S. Open that played like a PGA (Erin Hills), a U.S. Open that played like a British Open (Shinnecock) and now, a PGA that played like a PGA, at Bellerive in St. Louis. What do we make of this 28-year old, born and bred Floridian, who doesn’t appear to win often, but makes it count when he does? That depends on the units with which you choose to measure his performance. Have a look at his most recent performance, a 2-shot win over Tiger Woods at the 2018 PGA Championship.

  • Birdies: 22 in total, 13 on the front nine
  • Bogeys: 4 total, 2 on each nine
  • Double Bogeys: 1
  • Eagles: 0

Out of 72 holes, it might be said, Koepka made 5 mistakes that counted. That’s not a lot. He made two consecutive mistakes on the front nine on Sunday, but countered those two holes later, with three consecutive birdies. Koepka also bogeyed consecutive hole in round three, on the inward half. Similarly, he made a birdie soon after, to regain momentum. On Thursday, when he made double bogey on the par-3 5th hole, he made all pars before and after, until the 11th. From that point on, it was 3 birdies and 5 pars. What we see from him is an incredibly precise performance, where mistakes are minimized and opportunities, maximized.

Koepka is no fool. He knows his initial strength is distance off the tee, and he utilized it to perfection at Bellerive. After round two, he commented,

“I like the way the golf course sets up. People talk about it turns right-to-left, but you’ve always got a bunker on the inside of the turn, but I can carry most of them, so it’s not really a big deal that the holes turn right-to-left, you can kind of get away with it with my length.”

Yes, Brooks, you can, but only if you are accurate when the ball returns to Earth. After three performances where he outplayed the best from two generations, we might become believers. During the same interview, Koepka revealed a bit more about who he is, and what he does, during a major week:

“More attention to detail. More mentally focused, more every shot really, really means something. You drop a shot or two, it’s, you really put yourself back. There’s a lot more focus that I have in the Majors, the preparation, I mean everyone on my team even says I act a little different, the way I approach it. It’s very down to a routine this week and other weeks sometimes, not saying I vary from the routine, but it’s much more disciplined. Eating right, going to the gym, it’s almost timed perfectly.”

None of those things is impossible to emulate. I’m certain that Rickie Fowler does them, and I’m positive that Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and Tiger Woods do so as well. None of them hoisted the Wannamaker trophy this week, so something that Koepka does, or has, or know, continues to pay off.

It might be absolute comfort in his skin. Koepka told a story about a workout he had with perennial partner, Dustin Johnson, this week at Life Time Fitness in St. Louis. In his words,

“Today I was in there with Dustin and everybody wanted a picture with Dustin. They were talking about him as we left and I was just standing there laughing. They were like, did you see that No. 1 player in the world was here. It’s like, yeah, okay. I don’t know what to say to that. It was like, all right.”

I’d certainly be tempted to jump in and tell the ogglers who I am, but that’s not Koepka. He doesn’t have the DJ beard, the DJ bent wrist, the DJ wife/daughter of a hockey legend. It’s only about Brooks Koepka, albeit not in an egocentric way. The egotist approaches the ogglers and tells them who he is. Koepka focuses on self: I’m just focused on me. I feel like, if I do what I’m supposed to, I should win the golf tournament. That’s not arrogance, that’s not delusion. He is good, good enough to win each time he tees it up. Is he proud of his first tour win, at the Phoenix Open? For sure. Is he prouder of the three that came next? Without a doubt. The stakes continue to increase, and Koepka rises to the occasion.

Remember, too, that Koepka lost a sizable chunk of this season. He shut his game down after injuring his wrist. A late-2017 surgery kept him out of action through the Masters, an event that now seems tailored to his style of golf. Not a large muscle that heals quickly, but a part of the body with so many moving parts. A part of the body so essential to the execution of every golf shot. If that threat doesn’t give one pause, and later, gratitude, then one has missed the point.

In 1986, Greg Norman and Severiano Ballesteros were the two best golfers in the world. Jack Nicklaus was not, a relic from another era, whose most recent win had come six years prior. When the Golden Bear began to make noise at Augusta National, Norman and Ballesteros folded. Fast forward 32 years, to the footsteps of another forest creature, Tiger Woods. Woods posted 8 birdies for 64 on Sunday at Bellerive. He reached the number (-14) that I suggested yesterday would be enough to win, except it wasn’t. Why not? Koepka, unlike Norman and Ballesteros, rose to the challenge.

Brooks Koepka has joined a small group of golfers with three major victories. He now has two distinct major titles on his resume, and will certainly be one of the favorites at all four majors next year. From 1903 to 1905, Willie Anderson was the only man to raise the unnamed trophy. In 2019, Koepka might join him at at Pebble Beach. He might put on a green jacket in Georgia, in April. He also might grasp a trophy named for a specific wine, at Royal Portrush, in Northern Ireland.

See Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB

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Photos from the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur

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GolfWRX is live from the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, a venue which most recently hosted the 2006 Tennessee State Open.

The USGA fielded a record 1,468 entries for the competition, in which Kristen Gillman, Kaylee Benton, Laren Stephenson, and Jiwon Jeon are still alive in match play.

From WITB looks to shots of the superb Fazio course to some high art calligraphy (see below) we have it all.

Friday’s photos

Related: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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Tommy Fleetwood is down to his last set of Nike irons

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If you’ve seen any recent Tommy Fleetwood WITBs, you’ve seen Nike VR Pro Blades in the Englishman’s golf bag.

Fleetwood, a Nike staffer, has been working through the sets VR Pros the company made him before it left the hard goods business in 2016.

Now, according to a Golf Channel report, Fleetwood is on his last set of Nike-made clubs. So, while it’s unclear how long the irons will last, it is clear Fleetwood is close to needing replacement weapons.

“It’s not that big a deal if I do happen to break a club this week, then I will be one club down for the week. So I’ll have to be careful. But it’s not like a massive concern.”

Interestingly, Fleetwood damaged the hosels of his 7 and 8-irons at the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this year, which compelled him to put his last set of irons into the bag at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

While it’s unclear exactly what kind of hosel damage would be irreparable, the point remains: Fleetwood needs to figure out his next move.

He doesn’t seem worried, however.

“Once this set goes, I’ll quite happily change into something else,” he said. “It’s just that I have the ability at the moment to play with a set of irons that I’ve loved and played with for so long. [But] absolutely playing a different set of irons would make life easier in terms of all the trucks that are out on Tour every week, and it’s easier to get one fixed or easy to get one sent out.”

Adding an interesting wrinkle to the story: Fleetwood’s countryman and former Nike staffer, Paul Casey, has a new set of VR Pro Blades in his possession, which he is unwilling to part with.

Per a PGA Tour report, Fleetwood said

“[Paul’s] got a brand new set and he won’t give them to me. Shame on Paul. He’s pretty set in his ways, so I don’t think I’ll be getting those.”

Casey, for his part, said, “They are as rare as rocking horse poo. And I will not sell them to him. Or put it this way, he hasn’t offered me enough money. They look beautiful, by the way, and I haven’t used them. They’re the kind of clubs you could hang on the wall. I love the fact that Tommy is running around telling everybody. But I haven’t found any gifts in my locker or handwritten notes. He’s gotta try harder.”

Regardless of whether he can purchase Paul Casey’s irons, Fleetwood will soon need new weaponry. Maybe he’ll give Mike Taylor and Artisan a call? Or maybe he’ll opt for one of the major OEMs and the associated convenience of a tour truck?

We’ll keep an eye on the World No. 11’s bag.

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