Billy is a professional golfer, the first Naval Academy graduate to earn a PGA TOUR card, which he has done for the last seven years. The more I learn about Billy’s journey, the more I’m blown away by what he achieved. In a field that is crowded and incredibly competitive, Billy has succeeded despite having five years where - instead of focusing 100% on golf like his peer set - he was serving in the military.In this interview we talk about cultivating a mindset of excellence - even though serving as a Surface Warfare Officer didn’t directly relate to his aspirations as a golfer - he focused on it 100% and did the best job he could. We talk about making sacrifices and how to balance that with being present with one’s family. We talk about what life is like on the PGA Tour and more.
Billy Hurley III was a member of the victorious American team in the 2005 Walker Cup and served as captain of the 2004 Palmer Cup Team. He won seven collegiate golf titles at the Naval Academy, was named 2004 Patriot League Player of the Year and was ranked the #6 best amateur in the world. Billy was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Surface Warfare Officer for five years. After his Naval service, Billy turned his focus to golf. He earned his place on the Web.com Tour in 2011, finishing the season in 25th place and becoming the first Naval Academy graduate to earn a PGA TOUR Card. He has continued to be a strong competitor on the TOUR, winning the 2016 Quicken Loans National – a Tiger Woods-hosted tribute to military personnel. With the win, Billy qualified for his first PGA and Masters Championships."
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Information about Bill
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Annapolis, MD is Billy Hurley III. Billy Hurley III was a member of the victorious American team in the 2005 Walker Cup and served as Captain of the 2004 Palmer Cup Team. He won seven collegiate golf titles at the Naval Academy, was named 2004 Patriot League Player of the Year and was ranked the #6 best amateur in the world.
Billy was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Surface Warfare Officer for five years. After his Naval service, Billy turned his focus to golf. He earned his place on the Web.com Tour in 2011, finishing the season in 25th place and becoming the first Naval Academy graduate to earn a PGA Tour Card. He has continued to be a strong competitor on the TOUR, winning the 2016 Quicken Loans National – a Tiger Woods-hosted tribute to military personnel. With the win, Billy qualified for his first PGA and Masters Championships.
Where did your love of golf come from?
I grew up around the game. My dad played in college and was also a very good player. My earliest memories of golf are riding around in a cart with my dad while he was playing with his friends. So it started for me as a family thing with my dad and brother.
How were you able to maintain your golf skills while serving on active duty?
I really didn’t. The Navy is a full-time job and when you go to sea there really isn’t an opportunity to practice. So there were periods during my time in the Navy where I was able to practice a lot and then many other times when I wasn’t able to practice at all. Even when I was at sea, I would try to work out as much as possible to stay in shape.
Was it always your plan to return to golf after military service?
I always dreamed about playing on the PGA Tour. At 18 years old going into the Naval Academy ,that wasn’t a reality for me so I just tried to keep getting better and better. My senior year was when I started to have a lot of success. That’s when it became more of a reality for me that professional golf could be a possibility for me. So when I graduated, I had it in mind that I would do my five years in the Navy and then give golf a shot.
During your time at the Naval Academy, what was your practice routine like?
At the Naval Academy, I woke up, went to school, when to practice, did my homework and then went to bed. I was a pretty good student and enjoyed my classwork. Still, golf was really what I put my time and energy into. I spent most of my free time playing golf. Freshman year, it was an escape for me. I could go to the golf course, put on golf clothes and not be in uniform. I made my summer choices around golf and what tournaments I could play in.
Did you have any ways to keep yourself focused?
What I’ve learned over the past few years is that anybody who has done something at an elite level has made large sacrifices during their life in order to achieve success.
At the Naval Academy, I did not view what I was doing as sacrificing. Being the best golfer I could be was what I wanted to be. The sacrifice for me came later on after I got out of the Navy and had a family. It has been a sacrifice at times to go on the road playing in different tournaments when I would rather be with my family.
After you left the military, what was the path to becoming a professional golfer like?
I got out of the military in the summer of 2009. That summer, I went back to golf. It was the first time in my life when golf was the only thing I had to do. I was trying to work on all aspects of my game and get back into golf shape. I hadn’t played much during my last few months in the Navy.
I played in a tournament in August after I left the military. It was difficult because I ended up missing the cut. I spent much of 2009 and 2010 just playing different tournaments on the mini tour. It’s like the Single A of minor league baseball. At the end of 2010, I got to the Web.com Tour. So 2011 was my first year at what is more like the AAA of minor league baseball. I finished 25th in that tour and was able to get promoted to the PGA Tour. And now I’ve been on the PGA Tour for the past seven years.
What is life like on the PGA Tour?
A typical week is a seven day week. I get to a tournament on a Monday. Sometimes, I’ll practice briefly on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, I practice all day and play 18 holes on that golf course. I work out almost every day to keep my body in shape and ready to play at this level. Wednesday is the Pro-Am day. Thursday is when the tournament starts. That’s usually a 10+ hour day. You’re preparing before you play and then it takes 5 hours to play the course. Sometimes, I’ll also practice afterwards. The tournament continues through the weekend.
I also try to make sure everything I do is with a purpose. Sleep is really important to me. I try to get 9 hours during tournaments to make sure my body is refreshed.
How do you know what weak spots you need to work on in your game?
The majority is me critiquing myself and thinking about what I need to do at a particular course. I also have coaches and trainers. There’s a team of about seven that works with me. But they’re not with me all the time. Mostly it’s me on my own working on improving various areas of my game.
What did you take from your military service that has helped you as a golfer?
One thing is time management. At the Naval Academy and in the Navy, if you don’t manage your time well, you won't be successful. That’s no different from being a professional golfer. Time management is key. There’s also a fine line between being prepared and being exhausted from being over-prepared. So knowing yourself and knowing where that line is can be very important.
Another thing the Navy gave me was the ability to travel very well. Jet lag doesn’t really affect me as much as other people. When we play tournaments overseas, I’ve done quite well compared to others I’m playing with. I think that has to do with the comfort of fitting in while in a new place. That has a lot to do with my time in the Navy.
Do you have any advice for veterans that aspire to be in professional sports?
The best thing you can do is do your best in whatever you’re doing at any one moment in time. While being a Naval Officer didn’t necessarily make me a better golf, I did the job as best I could every day. I think that’s the mentality you will need to be successful after you leave the military. You want to develop habits now like caring about details and putting your best effort forward that will carry you into your profession after the military.
Birdies for the Brave is the military charity of the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour has given over $2B to various charities during its existence. Birdies for the Brave does various initiatives throughout the year to benefit military members and veterans.
Then I also started my own foundation to oversee a charity tournament that we do every year. Our mission is to support, honor, and enhance the lives of military families. The opportunities my family has been afforded because of professional golf is amazing. There was a tournament a couple years ago at Disney World. My family was able to get a private guided tour through the parks. My wife and I set out to give military families more of these opportunities. I love the men and women in our military that are giving themselves to their job day after day. I wanted to raise money to give them special and unique experiences to recognize all that they’re doing.
How do you manage work/life balance?
That’s a great question that I don’t claim to have figured out. I’m definitely on the workaholic spectrum. To a point, that has allowed me to be successful. In my own life, one of the sacrifices I’ve had to make has been time with my family at certain points. For me, it’s an always changing balance. There’s always a new set of challenges depending on the circumstances of your career and family.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
I always try to be clear about what I’ve done or what I want to do in the future. People ask me if I tried to get out of my Navy service. But that wasn’t it at all. I was proud to serve five years in the Navy and I wouldn’t trade that experience. At the end of the five year commitment, I got out because I knew I owed it to myself to give golf a shot. But I really value my time in the Navy.
And one more thing - Beat Army!