While the PGA and European Tours have continued seamlessly during the pandemic with large prize funds and stellar fields at the top level. Below the upper echelons of the sport there is a battle to earn a sustainable living as many golfers aim to climb the ladder in pursuit of their dream.
One of those players is West Waterford golfer, Gary Hurley. The 28-year-old burst onto the scene at the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham and St Annes, winning two and a half points as Great Britain and Ireland romped to a 16 to 9 victory over a United States side containing Bryson DeChambeau.
Since then, it has been a long and winding road for Hurley who has taken in spells on the European Tour, Challenge Tour and the Alps Tour as he looks to establish himself in the professional ranks.
After a tumultuous period in his career Hurley appears to be finally settling on the Alps Tour as he bids to earn a spot on the Challenge Tour next season. The former Walker Cup star returned home after going close at the Roma Alps Open last week.
Hurley’s powerful surge up the leaderboard came up short as he finished two shots adrift of eventual winner Xavier Poncelet to lie in a share of 3rd place his best finish of the season after finishing 14th the week before.
Gary Hurley was a star on the 2015 Walker Cup team
“The last couple of weeks have been good in fairness,” he said.
“I played some nice stuff, still a lot of places I can improve on.
“It was nice to be in the mix especially coming down the back nine after such a good front nine, I knew I needed to shoot eight or nine under to have a chance and after turning in six I knew I had chances on the back nine.”
“It was a good last day in fairness I missed a few putts but got lucky with a couple of tee shots, but I’ve been playing a lot better recently which is nice to see results matching the work I’ve put in,” he added.
Earning a Challenge Tour card by finishing in by finishing in the top-5 of the Alps Tour Order of Merit remains a tall order for Hurley who is ranked 39th as it stands.
Needing at least one win in his remaining five events, he isn’t getting bogged down in trying to qualify for Europe’s second tier. Instead, he is focused on just playing good golf and see where it takes him.
“It’s been nice to feel the feelings at the top of the leaderboard and hopefully I can take that into the rest of the season and put myself up there again a few times and do a little bit better towards the end.”
The former Palmer Cup star is keeping his options open regarding his next career move. Having been really disappointed with the cancellation of Q-School for another year due to the pandemic, Hurley is considering venturing across the Atlantic to ply his trade.
“If I can get onto the Challenge Tour yeah, I need a win to finish in the top-5.
“If I can continue to do what I’m doing and give myself a shout hopefully I can get over the line.
Gary Hurley. Photo by Golffile
“I am considering going to Korn Ferry Q-School which I would have to go through a pre-qualifier next month, that’s also on the table if I can figure out a way around the Covid protocols.
“We’ll see there’s opportunities there and I’m trying to put myself in a place to take them if they come around,” he added.
Having picked up a foot injury at the end of 2019, Hurley returned to Alps Tour action with a plomb, finishing in a share of 9th and 11th in his first two event back before his golfing career was halted once again, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, while practicing and training at home, Hurley didn’t rest on his laurels and feel sorry for himself, instead he developed a new skill while waiting for golf to restart.
“At the time when I started making things out of wood there was no future in golf,” he said.
“It was frustrating and difficult I had done a lot of good work on the mental side of the game but during that time we cleaned out the shed and I put together a little gym for my block of training with my strength and conditioning coach.
“I built a couple of things myself out of wood like industrial pallets like a work bench and some gym equipment out of wood.
“I have a really good gym now I’m really proud of it every time I walk into the shed now I’m like ‘Jesus that’s class’ then with the bits left over I made a few things for my mother.
“I made couple of planter boxes that she wanted for a seating area and then I started working with some hard woods and I saw something on Youtube that I wanted to make and yeah that kept me going around Christmas so it’s a nice little skill I picked up,” he added.
Seamus Power’s breakthrough win
Having shared the same golf club as a junior growing up with Seamus Power, Hurley was engrossed in the scenes at the Barbasol Championship last Sunday night as Power came through an enthralling six-hole play-off to claim his maiden PGA Tour victory.
Seamus Power lifts Barbasol title/Andy Lyons
Hurley was obviously delighted for his friend who has also taken the path less travelled to reach the top.
“It was brilliant to see, fair play to him.
“Such a big achievement to win on the PGA Tour, not many Irish lads have done that he’s come through all the levels, and it’s just been a gradual progression.”
“He’s been playing brilliant over the last few months,” he added.
Turmoil in home club
West Waterford Golf Club is currently embroiled in financial turmoil with the club being put up for public auction on July 29, next.
The West Waterford Golf Course consists of 148 acres of land including the clubhouse and practice facilities.
The expected buy-out price will be in the region of €1.2 million and Hurley has nothing but fond memories of the beleaguered club.
“I really hope whoever buys it keeps it as a golf club, It’s a brilliant club and I really hope they manage to save it.
“It’s my home it’s where I grew up playing, I wouldn’t be playing golf if it wasn’t for them, they were amazing to us as juniors, Seamus will tell you the same they treated us better than some adult members!
“It was brilliant, very different to what I hear about other golf clubs and how they treat juniors. They had so much time for us and very supportive to this day, I still get texts from members and the guys I played with on teams for the club.”
The Alps Tour doesn’t resume until August 19 where Hurley will tee it up at the Gosser Open at GC Erzherzog Johann, Maria Lankowitz, Graz, Austria as he looks to continue his journey back to the level he knows he should be at after a turbulent few years.