Billy Hurley III isn't easily discouraged.
Twelve years ago as he began plebe summer at the U.S. Naval Academy, Hurley told a friend he would one day play on the PGA Tour. His pal laughed.
But Hurley was the AT&T National's morning leader at 3 under entering his final hole on Thursday. Then a bad tee shot hit a tree. Another shot landed in a divot. His 12-foot par putt hit a cleat mark and went one inch wide of the cup. His round's only bogey came at the end, yet Hurley didn't walk off discouraged at 2 under.
It was a day he's worked toward for 12 years, and one bad hole wasn't breaking him.
"I don't feel there's a glaring weakness in my game," Hurley said. "I just need to do everything a little better."
The 30-year-old PGA rookie has certainly taken a different course to the pro tour. The Leesburg native first wanted to attend Navy. He didn't even apply anywhere else.
After graduating as the nation's best collegiate golfer, Hurley honored his five-year military obligation. The final two years included a stint on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf where Hurley played only five competitive rounds and conceded becoming a "recreational golfer."
Hurley resigned his commission in 2009, but his Navy background continues with "Bill the Goat" covering his 3-wood and plenty of "Beat Army" echoeing in the gallery around Congressional Country Club. Hurley has both local fans and military backers following him, though he joked sometimes first-round amateur partner Beau Hossler received more cheers.
"They said [Hossler's] name more than mine," Hurley said. "I thought I was the local guy."
Hurley gained his tour card after finishing 25th in earnings on the Nationwide Tour last year, gaining his promotion on a last-hole shot in the final tournament. He has made only five cuts in 17 tournaments this year for $85,072, with a tie for 32nd in the Texas Open on April 22 his best outing.
But the AT&T National certainly has Hurley looking like a contender.
"I haven't had a great year to speak of, but hopefully this will turn it around," he said.
Hurley dismissed comparisons of the pressure of pro golf to serving in the military. They're very different, he said. One saw other's lives in his hands, yet he wants to make that six-foot putt badly, too.
With temperatures expected around 100 degrees the next two days, Hurley conceded his military training will help in the extreme heat. After all, it was 110 degrees in the shade in the Persian Gulf.
"There's a mental toughness I learned in the Navy that translates to golf," he said.
Hopefully, the final salute of a tournament that honors the military will be to Hurley on Sunday. He has certainly put in the work.