Hurley returns to PGA National with plenty to ponder

WASHINGTON • Defending champion Billy Hurley III has endured an emotional roller coaster the past two years at the PGA National, from a missing father to a breakthrough victory.

So it is no wonder the 35-year-old home favourite feels a bit strange about the US$7.1 million (S$9.84 million) event that begins today in suburban Washington.

"It's kind of weird. The last two years have been quite a ride," he said on Tuesday.

"When you think back, sitting in the media centre and not knowing where my dad was to then sitting here a year ago having just won the tournament, now coming back and defending."

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Hurley's father, Willard, went missing for nearly two weeks in July 2015 and Billy made a public appeal for help at the tournament.

Police in Texas discovered the elder Hurley unharmed three days later, but two weeks after that Willard died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Last year, in the wake of that tragedy, Hurley captured his first PGA title at the National. He was ranked 607th in the world and playing on a sponsor exemption but finally won in his 104th Tour start.

Now he seeks back-to-back National titles but again there is an unusual element.

He won last year at nearby Congressional Country Club but defends at TPC Potomac, the renovated former Avenel course that hosted PGA events from 1987 to 2006 before the National debuted at Congressional in 2007.

"I don't feel any extra pressure," he said.

"I certainly wish it was at Congressional because there are courses for certain players and that's one of mine. But this is a familiar place to me. I practise and play out here when I'm home. It's a great spot."

The 7,107-yard, par-70 layout underwent major upgrades and hosted senior and developmental Tour events before getting a one-year look by the PGA again this season.

"They did a good job," Hurley added. "What they've really done here, I think, is elevated the condition of the golf course.

"There are no low scores here. It's a hard golf course. You've got to be in the fairway. The rough's really thick and definitely going to be penal this week."

World No. 9 Rickie Fowler headlines the field at TPC Potomac. Also participating are fellow Americans Justin Thomas, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, and Patrick Reed, who played a significant role in helping the United States win the Ryder Cap last year at Hazeltine. Thomas is ranked No. 12 in the world, and Reed is 17th.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

PGA NATIONAL

Day 1: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 3.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Hurley returns to PGA National with plenty to ponder'. Print Edition | Subscribe