Billy Hurley III won the Quicken Loans National last summer to earn his first career PGA Tour victory in a story that reached audiences far beyond the golf world.
Hurley, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, won the Tiger Woods-run event that honors all branches of the military after his father, Willard Hurley Jr., a former policeman, committed suicide a year earlier. Willard Hurley was reported missing on July 27, 2015, eight days after he abruptly left his home. On July 28, Billy Hurley gave an emotional press conference at the Quicken Loans, urging his dad to return and asking the nation for help.
In a first-person column published today at The Players Tribune, Hurley describes his relationship with his father and recounts the painful days leading up to Willard's death.
"It's been 18 months since you took your own life, and I've been thinking a lot about the best way to honor you," Hurley writes. "Initially, I thought that I would write about your last few weeks in an attempt to try and understand what compelled you to do what you did. But a lot of people have already tried that — the truth is that I don't know, and I probably will never know."
In the piece, Hurley recounts how his dad taught him to play golf in their backyard and how he gave him "some of the most important" words he ever heard when he was 27 and struggling to find his game after fulfilling his active duty commitment in 2009.
Three days after Hurley's press conference at the Quicken Loans, his father was found in Texarkana, Texas, checking his son's scores on PGATour.com (just as Billy had predicted). Willard Hurley told investigators he was just traveling, but two more weeks passed and he never returned home. On Aug. 12, 2015, he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"I experienced every emotion imaginable: fear, hopelessness, sadness (not just for me, but for Mom and my siblings)," Hurley said. "I felt anger. Lots of anger. It weighed on me for a long time. It weighed on everybody.
"But for all the wondering, I've finally realized something. I've realized that I'll never get any answers. I'll never know why you did any of it. No one in our family will ever know. Mom was a wreck for a long time, and I know part of her still is. I contemplated retirement from professional golf at the beginning of 2016. But we've been more at peace lately."
In what many called the most heartwarming golf story of the year, Hurley shot a final-round two-under 69 to win the 2016 Quicken Loans at Congressional, almost a year to the day since he asked for the public's help at the same tournament. The title secured his PGA Tour card for another two years.
"Winning a tournament made it O.K. to celebrate life again," Hurley said. "It made it O.K. to have joy again. Winning closed a chapter in my life. I would have made it through the grief process without winning, but the fact that I did flipped everything from, 'My dad committed suicide,' to, 'My dad was a great man.'
"And that's what you were, Dad. You were a great, great man."
You can read the entire story here.