U.S. Naval Academy graduate Lt. Billy Hurley III deferred his dream of playing professional golf until after graduation in 2004 to serve his country for five years.
Now the Annapolis resident is struggling to finish his rookie season on the PGA Tour in the top 125—the cutoff to qualify for the 2013 season, according to the Boston Herald.
As of July 30, Hurley ranks 131st. He has six more tournaments to make the cut.
"I believe that he’s going to move up into that top 125." said Pat Owen, head coach for USNA's golf team. "His chances are really good."
Owen coached Hurley at the academy, and he points to Hurley's two top 10 finishes in the past month as a sign that things are shifting for the rookie. He placed 4th at the AT&T National on July 1 and 8th at the John Deere Classic on July 15.
Those finishes catapulted Hurley up the rankings and within reach of the cutoff.
He's one of 26 first-year players this season—70 percent of whom are his juniors—competing for a spot on the tour.
During the AT&T National tournament, a golf writer asked Hurley about being an “older” rookie on tour.
“I’m 30, and I think in golf years, I’m like 25,” Hurley said. “I have a lot more life experience just with living life in the Navy. And I am married, I have two kids, so I’ve got a lot of other things going on in life that maybe your 26-year-old rookie doesn’t have.”
Hurley went two years without regularly swinging a club while deployed aboard USS Chung-Hoon in Hawaii. He told Yahoo Sports that he "probably averaged once a month. I played five competitive rounds in two years out there. It was a hiatus in a sense from golf."
Owen said that might have hurt some players, but not Hurley.
"I think he used it as a positive to gain valuable experience in a venue other than a golf course," Owen said. "I think the fact that Billy has done it shows current midshipmen that it can be done. Maybe some students will say to themselves 'I can do the same thing.' It might help me get better players."
Hurley knew he wanted to play professional golf from the time he entered the Naval Academy for Plebe Summer his freshman year.
“I told one of my classmates that I was going to play on the PGA Tour,” Hurley said during the AT&T National. “He laughed and was like, ‘Good luck with that.’”
Hurley won seven intercollegiate golf tournaments during his college career—six of which were in his senior year. He also won the Byron Nelson Award in 2004. The award is given annually to the collegiate golfer with the best combination of "tournament play as well as excellence in academics, exceptional character and a commitment to community service."
As Hurley neared commissioning week in 2004, his dream of joining the PGA seemed within reach.
But Owen said the two never talked about it.
"We both knew he had a five-year commitment," Owen said. "I knew he was going to attempt to play professional golf, but I did not envision him being a full-time PGA tour player back them. I pictured it more as a dream then as an achievable goal."
It took Hurley three years of playing entry-level tours to earn a playing status on the Nationwide Tour in 2011.
Hurley's success in making it onto the PGA tour this year has inspired the academy's current golf team, and Owen said the midshipmen "watch him nonstop and they really look up to him."
The students also enjoy watching Hurley practice daily at the academy's golf course located at 64 Greenbury Point Rd. when he's not on tour.
Hurley told Yahoo Sports that he runs into Naval Academy grads on tour "about every week."
The Annapolis local has just two tournaments left before the Aug. 23 start of the FedExCup playoffs where only the top 125 on FedEx's list get to compete. Hurley ranks 145 on that list.
He will have four more chances in October and November to earn enough money to make it into the top 125. The Boston Herald reported that last year's 125th player earned $668,000. Hurley needs to earn about $34,000 at each of those tournaments to stay in the game.