Billy Hurley III shot a season-best 5-under-par 66 on Saturday in the third round of the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open at Crestview Country Club. That in itself is not too uncommon for Nationwide Tour golfers.
But while many of his fellow competitors have spent the majority of their occupational time in recent years honing their golf skills, Hurley fit the game in the limited gaps of a five-year, post-graduate commitment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Hurley, who won six tournaments during his 2004 senior season and played on the '05 U.S. Walker Cup team while on active duty, also spent more than three years overseas as a naval officer.
For part of that time, Hurley was on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf helping protect Iraqi oil platforms.
"I had a great time in the Navy," Hurley said. "I wouldn't trade that for anything. I met some great people and got to see some cool places, and do some really cool stuff. I'm proud of that and happy that I did that."
But the tug of golf was always there. The Navy allowed Hurley to pursue his golfing career to a point. He turned professional and played in tournaments with sponsor exemptions, and eventually petitioned the Navy to allow him to switch from active duty to reserve status for the final two years of his commitment. A similar deferment was offer to former NBA player David Robinson.
When Hurley failed to advance through the 2006 PGA Tour qualifying tournament, the petition was denied.
"I was not upset about it at all," Hurley said. "I signed up to do five years in the Navy. I was merely asking the Navy if they might better use me in a different capacity."
Hurley finished his commitment, touching golf clubs just one time from January to June in 2009. Then he went back to work on his pro career, practicing and scratching his way on mini-tours to bring his golf game up to par.
Hurley played his way onto the Nationwide Tour, advancing through Q-school in December with conditional status. Some early sponsor exemptions have helped him begin to gain a foothold.
"It's been an interesting journey back into golf," said Hurley, who will start the final round tied for 11th at 9-under par. "But it's been good and I'm steadily making progress."
Better, not best — Derby's Woody Austin made a solid move in the standings after shooting a 4-under 67 in the third round. Austin, who started the day tied for 56th, joined nine others in a tie for 25th heading into the final round at 6 under.
Austin made two of his seven birdies in the first three holes and finished the round with three in a row. But he also made three bogeys, a fact that tempered his assessment.
"I got off to the only decent start I've gotten off to, and then I threw them both away," Austin said. "I only hit one bad shot in that stretch, but when you're not playing well, it seems like the days that you should score well, you can't get it up and down at all."
Austin was disappointed by not making a 10-foot eagle putt after a solid approach to the par-5 14th. One hole later, he hit his approach shot over the green, then mishit a downhill pitch that barely traveled three feet.
After a vehicle honked at a nearby intersection during Austin's tee shot at No. 16, he birdied that hole. Then he and playing partner Adam Blyth dazzled the big crowd at the par-3 17th, hitting tee shots within three feet and converting the birdies.
"That was good," said Austin, who hit a 7-iron from 171 yards. "I actually can't believe (my tee shot) stopped rolling backwards (toward the hole). As much as it was coming down the hill, I'm actually kind of shocked that it stopped that far short."
Austin was near the green in 2 at the par-5 18th, chipped to within seven feet and sank the birdie putt to complete his round.
Decisions, decisions — Oklahoma City's Tim Fleming has positioned himself to have some options if today's final round goes well. But Fleming, a club professional at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club, knows his plan.
Fleming, a sponsor exemption as the South Central PGA Section player of the year, shot a 5-under 66 to grab sole possession of seventh at 11 under. If he finishes in the top 25, Fleming would have the option of competing in next week's Mexico Open, the next stop on the Nationwide Tour.
Instead, Fleming has indicated he would forego the option to prepare for the PGA Professional National Championship, which is June 26-29 at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club.
Etc. —Australian Jake Younan-Wise fired the low round of the tournament Saturday, an 8-under 63. Younan-Wise opened the tournament with a 3-over 74 and was tied for 126th. He enters today tied for eighth at 10-under par.... Jason Gore withdrew after 13 holes Saturday with an injured shoulder. A tournament official said Gore plans to have surgery in the near future.... Australian Scott Gardiner (66) made six consecutive birdies on Nos. 9-14, tying the Nationwide's best birdie streak of the year.... Saturday's scoring average for the 64 golfers who finished was 69.297. The opening-round average was 71.135 and the second round was 70.176.