Family and service to country have always been high on the priority list of American golfer Billy Hurley III.

Hurley is a Naval Academy graduate who later served as a lieutenant. He relishes his role as a son, a husband, a father to three children and a friend to many.

He enters this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club after his first victory on the PGA Tour last week on Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course in Bethesda, Md.

And as his athletic career is reaching new heights, Hurley, 34, remains committed to the people who have been with him his whole life.

Tuesday, Hurley announced he will not play in the British Open from July 14-17 at Royal Troon Golf Club because he plans to attend his sister’s wedding during that time.

“I wouldn’t miss my sister’s wedding for the world,” Hurley said after completing a practice round on Firestone’s South Course.

“I think that at this point in time for me and my family and the trajectory of our family, it’s very important for me to be there to support her and her husband.”

Hurley, who will be making his Firestone debut, appreciates all of the support he has received during a life that has taken him aboard Navy destroyers in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the South China Sea, the Suez Canal and Pearl Harbor. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 2004, was an officer from 2004-2009 and has won two ship-handling awards.

Hurley turned pro as a golfer in 2006 and joined the PGA Tour in 2012. He had been playing mostly minor league events, but now has a first-place finish that netted him $1.242 million and a sparkling trophy that was presented to him last week by Quicken Loans National tournament host Tiger Woods.

“I think I got over 250 text messages and 130 or some-odd emails, and I’m not even close to halfway through any of that,” Hurley said. “I checked into my hotel [Monday] night, and the guy at the desk said, ‘Great chip on [No.] 15 [Sunday].’?”

Not an easy road

Hurley’s path to this week in Akron includes some heartbreaking times, including last summer when his father, a policeman for 25 years and a golf pro for 30 years, died in Virginia of a self-inflicted wound.

“I think now more than ever, we have a better understanding medically of how traumatic events affect your brain,” Hurley said last winter in an interview with ESPN. “Sometimes we don’t understand the impact that stuff like that has on us.”

The Washington Post dubbed Hurley “an officer and a gentlemen,” and he was certainly that in Akron on Tuesday when he met with media members for approximately 20 minutes.

Hurley, who is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, talked about Firestone being “a great golf course” and “a good test of golf.” He also spoke about conversations with his mother, brother, wife and friends about possibly retiring earlier this year prior to his breakthrough win, and fielded questions about possibly playing on a Ryder Cup team someday.

“Obviously for me representing my country is something that I’ve done for nine years of my life, throughout the Naval Academy and as an officer in the Navy,” Hurley said. “I had the fortune to play on the Palmer Cup team out of college, and then I was able to play on the Walker Cup team as an amateur in 2005, and those were both great experiences to represent the United States of America. A Ryder Cup would be kind of over the moon.”

More congratulations

Hurley also spoke of receiving congratulatory notes, text messages and phone calls from Navy admirals, and about the consistency and balance of his golf swing.

“If you were to take a look at my golf swing from kind of when I got out of college to when I got out of the Navy to now, yeah, you’d be surprised they were the same person, I think,” Hurley said. “It’s just much more simple, much more consistent and allows me to play day in and day out without as much work and without as much effort, so to speak.”

Hurley’s story certainly seems like one that would appeal to anyone with a good heart and mind.

“I’m certainly touched,” Hurley said when asked of his reaction to being a feel-good story. “I’m a little flabbergasted just in the sense that I didn’t know that many people cared that much about me. I’ve heard from so many grown men telling me they were watching golf crying on Sunday. I had a good friend of mine in California call and leave a message and he was fighting back tears the whole time he was leaving the message for me. So that surprised the heck out of me.

“Michael Greller, [Jordan Spieth’s] caddie, said to me on the range, ‘Thanks for making us all cry.’ There’s been kind of an unbelievable show of support from people that I never expected.”

Hurley’s trip to Akron is just the latest unexpected turn in the life of a guy who fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or mbeaven@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.