Sep. 21, 2011

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Hurley is currently ranked 19th on the Nationwide Tour money list.

Billy Hurley doesn’t much care why he turned his season around only that he did. Now he is really looking forward to the next few weeks on the Nationwide Tour.

Hurley, 29, is playing in his first full season on Tour and it was a harmless conversation he had with his swing coach in the middle of June that spurred him on.

He was in the airport waiting to go to the Tour stop in Wichita when he called his swing coach, Mitchell Spearman. And Spearman had a little advice that Hurley took to heart.

“He said to me ‘Billy, you are too good to be shooting these scores,'” Hurley said about his early-season struggles where he missed five of six cuts. “So what he was saying sort of woke me up a little and I also kind of worked on my mental game and that helped me.”

Hurley went on to finish fifth at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open and has made nine straight cuts. All of sudden he’s one of the most consistent players on Tour.

He’s been so consistent of late he’s had 24 straight rounds of par or better. That’s why he’s in solid shape at No. 19 on the Nationwide Tour’s money list.

Hurley has tried to analyze what Spearman said.

“It was kind of along the lines of convincing myself I could play better than I was playing,” Hurley said. “I think another thing was I was finally getting comfortable out here.”

It’s hard to believe that Hurley, a former officer in the Navy, was out of golf for basically five years as he fulfilled his obligation of military service. He was a star golfer at Navy, was on the 2005 Walker Cup team, but golf wasn’t a priority for the better part of four years.

He was a lieutenant on a destroyer in 2010 in the Persian Gulf helping to protect the Iraqi oil platforms. He was very close to the war that’s been going on, and says its an experience he won’t soon forget.

“I’ve been over there and I’ve seen it,” Hurley said. “Now while I haven’t been on the ground over there in Iraq I’ve was in the Persian Gulf for two months or so and we were right up there eight miles off the coast supporting them.”

Hurley took special pride in the Sept. 11 recognition that was spread out all through the United States earlier this month for the 10-year anniversary of the terrorists attack.

“We were doing the mission there,” Hurley said about his time on the ship, “and I’ve seen what we are accomplishing so anytime there can be recognition for that effort it’s good for the American public to see.”

Hurley spent long stretches on various ships throughout his service time in the Navy, including a long stretch in Hawaii.

“First of all, I was fortunate that I did get to play a good amount of golf,” Hurley said about his service time right after graduation from Navy in 2004. “Especially when the Navy wanted to make sure I had a legitimate chance to make the Walker Cup team there in ’05 so they gave me some leeway to play in tournaments.”

But once he dove into his service he was on a ship for long stretches that didn’t give him many chances to keep his game sharp.

“I got to play some in ’06 and ’07 but it was certainly a secondary gig,” Hurley said. “Golf was really like my second job and I’d use me leave days to go play and play in a few tournaments.”

His longest stretch without golf was from June 2007 until 2009.

“I played five competitive days those whole two years and there was one five-month stretch where I played once and there was another three-month stretch when I played once,” he said. “We were working 70 hours a week on a ship during that time.”

Of course there were a few times he and others would hit a few balls off the deck of the ship, which Hurley said was fun to do.

“It wasn’t really a thing we did a lot but more just sometimes on a Sunday for fun we’d have a picnic on the flight deck and we’d have a golf mat and a couple of golf balls and we’d slap some balls out there into the ocean,” Hurley said.

When his military obligations were completed Hurley worked hard to get his game back into shape and all of that work is paying off this year.

He says that his life experiences and his military background have helped him.

“It’s something that I’m very happy to have because I think the fact that I’ve been in the Navy for those years it gives me a leg up on things that you have to do off the golf course,” Hurley said about his time serving his country. “The traveling, logistics, time management and trying to fit everything in your day and making sure you are going to bed at the right time I think with my life experience and being on that ship, which was more of a stressful environment, but it helps me in that regard now.”

What has also helped Hurley’s game is his driving accuracy. He ranks 11th in that category on Tour and his scoring average is 16th-best on Tour.

“Playing from the fairway is a big key to my game,” Hurley said. “I might give up a few yards off the tee, but I’m in the fairway a lot. If I am hitting it in the fairway then I feel like I’ve got a good chance to compete.”

Hurley’s background might differ than most professional golfers, but his drive to succeed is very real.

Hurley and his wife, Heather, have two children, 4 -year old Jeremiah and adopted son, Jacob, who is 2and was adopted two years ago from Ethiopia.

“Ultimately I’ve got a wife and two boys who like to eat so I’m out here trying to make a living,” Hurley said. “I have a job like everybody else out here but at the same time I have a lot more life experience that the average tour pro doesn’t have. So I think that serves me well.”

As the Nationwide Tour winds down Hurley is optimistic about staying inside the top 25 that would earn him a PGA TOUR card in 2012.

“A lot can happen if one guy comes up and plays well he can bump you out and all kinds of things can happen with that money list,” Hurley said. “But all I know is if I can play well and be consistent these last six weeks then I’ll stay in the top 25. I’m worrying about the things I can control.”

Hurley knew that his first season on the Nationwide Tour would be an eye-opener. Especially when it comes to how competitive and how much talent is out there.

“Everybody is super good on the Nationwide Tour,” Hurley said. “Basically, there’s a 156 guys in the field and realistically 120 of them are good enough to play on the PGA TOUR. And so I think people look at the top of the money list a lot more but right now the guy who is 100th on the money list is good too. And he could really do well at q-school and earn his PGA TOUR card and be Rookie of the year next year. That’s how good guys are out here.”

One of the perks that Hurley would love if he earns his PGA TOUR card for next season would be a trip to Hawaii in January.

“It would be another step in my career, and it would be awesome to finish inside the top 25 at the end of the year,” Hurley said. “Then I’d get to go to the Sony Open in Hawaii where I served for two years…. But it’s all about getting better. I feel like I’m getting there.”