BETHESDA • Billy Hurley rose from a family tragedy to complete a shocking triumph on Sunday by capturing the Quicken Loans National for his first PGA golf title, a tribute to his late father Willard.
The hometown hero, whose father died last August of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was part of a tearful family celebration at Congressional Country Club after some support from playing partner Ernie Els, a four-time Major winner from South Africa.
"Ernie said to me after I holed the last putt, 'I think your dad is looking down and is really proud of you'," Hurley said. "Certainly my dad helped me. He started me well. I certainly wish he was here today."
He sank an astonishing 35-yard wedge shot to birdie the 15th hole and a 27-foot birdie putt at No. 16 to hold off Els and Vijay Singh and win the Tiger Woods-hosted event by three strokes, firing a final-round two-under 69 to finish on 17-under 267.
"Billy played well," said Vijay, a three-time Major winner ranked 210th who matched the day's low round with a 65. "He has total control of his game and it's good to see that."
The Fijian could have become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history at age 53 but settled for his 28th career runner-up showing on 270 and an eight-year win drought continues.
One stroke back were 21-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm (70) and American Bill Haas (68).
Els, who won the 1997 US Open at Congressional, was fifth on 272 after a 72 comprising six birdies, six pars, five bogeys and a double bogey.
At last year's National, Hurley had appealed for help to find his missing father, who was eventually located only for him to take his own life weeks later.
"It has been a hard year," Hurley said. "It's nice to have something to be happy about."
With the event dedicated to honouring the military, it is perhaps fitting that the title went to a US Naval Academy graduate. The 34-year-old spent five years in the navy, piloting a 10,000-ton ship through the Suez Canal among other things, before making the tour.
This US$1,242,000 (S$1.68 million) win vaulted him from the fringes of the sport, a fellow stuck at world No. 607 with half of his career spent in golf's minor leagues, to the secure status of a tournament champion. Now, after playing the minor league Web.com Tour in three of his six years as a golf pro, he will be exempt on the PGA Tour up to the 2018 season.
In an event where he supposedly had no chance, where his entire career record as a golfer said that, while he was accomplished, he was not going to beat the likes of Els and Singh in a head-to-head shoot-out at Congressional, the 1.7m Hurley stood taller than he ever has.
And considering all he has accomplished, everything he has been through in the past year and everyone he felt he was playing and winning this tournament for, that is mighty tall indeed.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST