Only one golfer on the PGA Tour has a custom golf bag designed to look like the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon. The bag belongs to Navy veteran Billy Hurley III, a former surface warfare officer who served on the Hawaii-based ship from 2007 to 2009.

Hurley’s gray bag features the ship’s “93” hull number on a side panel, while the belly is embroidered with a U.S. flag, DDG 93, Hurley’s name, a gold surface warfare officer insignia and the Chung-Hoon’s seal and motto. Gear pockets are decorated with the U.S. Naval Academy’s “N” logo and “Beat Army.” The Navy motto: “Don’t give up the ship” is inscribed on the base.

Hurley, 35, who earned his first PGA Tour victory at the 2016 Quicken Loans National held at Congressional Country Club, has made his mark as the only military veteran currently playing on the PGA Tour. A member of the Naval Academy Class of 2004, Hurley also is the only service academy graduate to ever advance to professional golf’s highest circuit.

Though there was not a tradition of military service in his family, Hurley knew early on the Naval Academy was the right fit.

“It was the whole picture,” explains Hurley, who lives in Annapolis. “The honor, courage, commitment. It was the tradition, the ideals, the service. I became enamored and fell in love with the whole thing and everything the academy stood for.”

Hurley credits the Naval Academy and his military service for providing him with the mental toughness needed to navigate a climb from the lower rungs of professional golf to the PGA Tour in 2012 and notch his first tour win at the 2016 Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Maryland.

“I jokingly say that at the Naval Academy, you either get mentally tough or you’re not there very long,” Hurley explains. “It is true in professional athletics as well. Grinding, just trying to make it, requires a lot of mental toughness…It also requires a great deal of mental toughness to be able to go out and execute on the field of play day in and day out.”

An All-State high school golfer in Virginia, Hurley cracked the Naval Academy’s starting lineup as a freshman and finished second in the Patriot League Championships. But he had his best season as a senior, beginning with a bang by shooting a 61 in the Naval Academy’s fall tournament, one of the lowest scores ever recorded by a college player. Hurley went on to win six tournaments and was named 2004 Patriot League Player of the Year.

Billy Hurley

Naval Academy Golf Coach Patrick Owen hasn’t been surprised by Hurley’s rise to the game’s highest ranks, explaining he noticed early in Hurley’s collegiate career his “ability to rise to the level of competition at which he plays.”

“Billy is a very accurate ball striker,” says Owen, the Midshipmen’s coach since 1991. “He has incredible hand-eye coordination. He hits the ball very straight and he has a terrific short game. His chipping, pitching and putting skills – all the shots from 100 yards in, he excels in.”

Billy Hurley

Upon graduating, Hurley was assigned to the USS Gettysburg, a destroyer then based in Jacksonville, Fla. He was given permission in the fall of 2004 to represent the U.S. in the Palmer Cup, an annual competition pitting the top American college golfers against the top European university golfers. He also competed in the 2005 Walker Cup, an amateur competition between the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland, while assigned to the Naval Academy as an economics instructor. In 2006, he turned professional and made the cut in two PGA Tour events.

Hurley is grateful for the stretch during his military service when he could pursue golf as a part-time “second job,” but his fondest memories are from his two years aboard the Pearl Harbor-based USS Chung-Hoon, when “golf was shut down” and swing practice consisted of an occasional drive off the destroyer’s flight deck during deployments to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and South China Sea.

“We did some real world stuff as far as the military was concerned,” says Hurley, a Navy lieutenant who received two ship-driving awards during his naval career. “That is something I am happy I was able to be a part of.”

Hurley credits sea duty with honing his time management skills, which he says are a necessity on the PGA Tour, where “you can get pulled in so many different directions, and there’s not enough time in the week to do everything you want to do.”

Hurley’s victory at the Quicken Loans National propelled him to newfound celebrity, amplifying his presence as the military veteran on the PGA Tour. “The PGA Tour as an organization, both players and staff, is very pro-military, but there’s only one veteran who’s there, and that’s me. I have a unique place at the table,” says Hurley, who in 2016 finished near the top of Golf Digest’s annual poll of  “The Top 30 Nice Guys on the PGA Tour.”

Billy Hurley

Hurley has not shied away from controversial topics. When asked his opinion last year about then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, Hurley expressed his support for Kaepernick’s right to peaceful protest. Hurley has not wavered as more players follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps in 2017.

“The great thing about our country is we have the First Amendment and that is what the military swears to defend, the Constitution of the United States,” Hurley says. “That’s part of our oath of office. That’s totally their right. Upon graduating, Hurley was assigned to the USS Gettysburg, a destroyer then based in Jacksonville, Fla.

He was given permission in the fall of 2004 to represent the U.S. in the Palmer Cup, an annual competition pitting the top American college golfers against the top European university golfers. He also competed in the 2005 Walker Cup, an amateur competition between the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland, while assigned to the Naval Academy as an economics instructor. In 2006, he turned professional and made the cut in two PGA Tour events.

Hurley is grateful for the stretch during his military service when he could pursue golf as a part-time “second job,” but his fondest memories are from his two years aboard the Pearl Harbor-based USS Chung-Hoon, when “golf was shut down” and swing practice consisted of an occasional drive off the destroyer’s flight deck during deployments to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and South China Sea.

“We did some real world stuff as far as the military was concerned,” says Hurley, a Navy lieutenant who received two ship-driving awards during his naval career. “That is something I am happy I was able to be a part of.”

I think there is probably a better way for them to go about it? Yes, I do, but that’s why we have a military that fights for freedom.”

Hurley’s commitment to service also has remained central to his post-military life. Hurley says his goal is to use his influence to support “everyday service members,” in part because he and his wife Heather know firsthand the challenges and lifestyle of a typical military family. In July, Hurley hosted the inaugural Billy Hurley III and the Brave Golf Tournament at the Naval Academy’s century-old course.

Billy Hurley

The charity tournament hosts active duty sailors who win raffles at East Coast Navy golf courses. Proceeds from the event support the Anchor Scholarship Foundation, which provides college scholarships to surface warfare personnel family members, a junior golf scholarship and refurbishment of the Naval Academy Golf Course. In addition, Hurley and his wife are active in numerous faith-based and military charities as well as organizations focused on orphan care worldwide.

During his five years on active duty, Hurley never lost sight of his goal of competing on the PGA Tour. His advice to those currently serving is to plan for their civilian careers while still in uniform.

“Transition shouldn’t really sneak up on us,” he says. “One of the things my wife and I did pretty well is we knew we were going to transition out of the Navy to try to play golf. We had that plan so we took steps while we were on active duty to prepare ourselves. Start thinking about what’s next before what’s next is on your front door so you can make the steps to set yourself up for success.”

Billy Hurley