Leesburg native Hurley III in mix at AT&T National


Leesburg native Hurley III in mix at AT&T National

A little more than three years ago, Billy Hurley III was a Navy officer aboard a destroyer charged with protecting Iraqi oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.
On Thursday, the 30-year-old was at Congressional Country Club, playing his way into early contention in the AT&T National.
If the journey from active duty to the PGA Tour sounds like an intriguing story, it is and then some.I remember standing on a putting green 12 years ago during Plebe Summer, Hurley said, referring to the Naval Academys training program for incoming freshmen, and telling one of my classmates that I was going to play on the PGA Tour.
He laughed, recalled Hurley, who wasnt a top junior golfer and whose only scholarship offer was from Navy. He was like, Good luck with that.
Hurley, who grew up in Leesburg, Va., and currently lives with his wife and two children in Annapolis, knew it was going to be a difficult path.
He just didnt know how difficult.
During his four years at Navy, Hurley blossomed into a standout golfer, capturing seven collegiate golf titles and captaining the 2004 Palmer Cup team. He also earned a degree in quantitative economics.
Then, all of a sudden my senior year, I just took a couple of steps forward and became good enough to try to become a professional golfer, he said.
The Tour, however, had to wait. First, Hurley had five years of mandatory service in the Navy to serve.
During his time away from game, his sweet swing and short game skills deteriorated. In his words, he had become a recreational golfer.
I played a lot for the first three years, he said. The Navy let me play on the Walker Cup team in 05. But the last two years, I was on a ship in Hawaii and I played very little, probably once a month. I played maybe five competitive rounds in two years out there. It was a hiatus in a sense from golf.
After resigning his commission from the Navy in 2009 and stepping off the USS Chung-Hoon for the final time, Hurley went about fixing his neglected game.
In 2011, he joined the Nationwide Tour and, in 20 starts, amassed one runner up finish, four top-10s and nine top-25s. By finishing 25th on the Nationwides money list, he earned the final tour card on the PGA Tour for 2012.
So far, though, Hurleys transition to professional golfs top rung has been a difficult one. In fact, hes only made the cut five times in 17 starts this season.
Which is why his first-round 69 created such a stir at Congressional.
That and, of course, his unique background and ties to the tournaments support of active and retired members of the military, all of whom receive complimentary tickets and food.
That connection was not lost on Hurley as he carded a round that included three birdies and one bogey.
You have a lot of military out here, which was really fun for me today, Hurley said. There were a lot of Beat Armies getting thrown around there.
Somebody said, Go Army, he cracked. So we had to correct him.

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What should the Redskins do at running back?

What should the Redskins do at running back?

A week ago the Redskins rushed for 230 yards against a strong Eagles defense. Matt Jones led the way, gaining 135 yards including 57 on a game-clinching long run in the last minutes of the game.

Now fast forward to today and there is widespread clamoring for Jones to be benched, perhaps permanently. Having a hand in three fumbles, two of which were lost, will do that.

The first one, for some reason, was charged to Kirk Cousins, although it appeared to be a clean handoff. Jones lost the handle but he recovered it. No harm in that play but it foreshadowed problems to come.

Later on in the first quarter the damage started. On a first and goal play from the seven Jones was fighting for extra yardage inside the five when the ball popped out and rolled into the end zone. The Lions recovered, costing the Redskins at least three and possibly seven points.

Protecting the ball when fighting for yardage is running back 101. Jones needs to retake that course.

The other fumble, in the third quarter with the Redskins driving in Lions territory, was rightfully charged to Cousins. He tripped on the foot of center Spencer Long and tried to get the handoff to Jones anyway. But the missed connections and the Lions recovered the loose ball.

You can’t can put too much of the blame on Jones, but there are plenty of running backs out there who would have reacted to the situation better and would have made an adjustment.

Jones also lost a fumble against the Ravens two weeks ago. After doing a good job of holding onto the ball all during training camp, the preseason, and the start of the regular season, an old problem (Jones lost four fumbles last year) is rearing its ugly head.

So there’s the problem. What’s the solution?

After the second fumble, Jones had just one carry. That may have been at least in part because by the time they got the ball back they were down 13-3 I the fourth quarter. But you have to think that the ball security problems had a lot to do with it.

The rest of the game was mostly the Chris Thompson show with a little bit of Robert Kelley mixed in. For the game Thompson led the team in rushing with 12 carries for 73 yards and threw in seven receptions for 40 yards. Kelley ran four times for 15 yards and he got his first career touchdown on his first career reception.

It worked, in that the Redskins had a four-point lead with 1:05 to go. It’s wasn’t enough but they put up 417 yards and got 26 first downs.

The problem is, having Thompson as your leading rusher is not sustainable. At 5-8, 195 he is not likely to be able to take the pounding if the team needs someone to carry the ball 20 times or so in consecutive games.

Maybe Kelley is the way to go. He’s 6-0, 228, better built to take the punishment. I don’t think the coaches are at the point yet where they fully trust him to handle all aspects of the job for 40+ snaps. But it’s hard to trust Jones at any point of the game right now.

It could unfold something like this: Jones sees very limited action against the Bengals and Thompson and Kelly share the load with about 10-12 carries each. Jones gets back to basics on ball handling (I haven’t seen the ball that beeps when it’s not gripped properly out a practice for a while) and eventually he gets another shot at being the prime running back.

Let’s remember that Jones has a 4.6-yard average per carry this year. That’s not great but it’s pretty good. He has some talent and he’s a worthwhile reclamation project. But I do think he needs a while to ponder the work he has to do.

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Making the case for Bradley Beal's All-Star ascenion under Scott Brooks

Making the case for Bradley Beal's All-Star ascenion under Scott Brooks

The early indications for Bradley Beal, who signed a $128 million max deal this summer while never averaging 20 points or more per game in four seasons, is that Wizards coach Scott Brooks will institute changes that’ll make him a first-time All-Star.

In the Wizards’ last preseason game, the shooting guard had 19 points in 28 minutes. He also had nine assists and no turnovers, attacking the basket off the dribble when the defense attempts to close him out on the open shot.

Center Marcin Gortat had this detailed observation that will be a good jumping off point: “I mentioned to a few other guys on the team, this is what I’d like to see from Brad. We all know that he’s a very great talent. He’s on the way to being a great player, too. But we need see more than just 20 points in a game. We need to see 20 points and six or seven rebounds, six or assists. Just because he’s a shooter and he doesn’t handle the ball as much as John (Wall) doesn’t mean he can’t have six, seven, eight assists a game. If we can add another guard with six or seven assists on our team, that’s going to be great. It’s going to open up a lot of things for him because he’s not only going to create shots for himself but he’s going to create shots for everybody else. People are going to be like, ‘I’m not helping from the big,’ and he’s going to have a layup. It’s better if Brad is going to try to do something 1-on-1. Automatically Brad is going to be able to beat his man. That’s what I like to see from Brad more, creating more than 20 points in a game that we all know he’s capable of doing.”

Brooks, who took over for Randy Wittman after he was fired following a 41-41 season, is giving him the tools to do it:

Triangle principles

When the Wizards are running floppy actions for Beal as he comes off screens to get the open jumper, they’re flowing into “triangle” when that gets taken away. The handoffs from Gortat or other bigs in the high post give him options other than simply standing on the weak side and waiting for the skip pass from Wall. Beal can maneuver around the big to create room from a jumper, or he can draw the defender out and blow by him to get into the lane to finish or kick to the corner for the shooter.

The offense has evolved into all five players touching the ball –- a huge upside of using triangle and something they didn't do under Wittman –- to make them more difficult to defend. The Wizards don’t call it triangle, but some of those principles are built-in and Beal can benefit quite a bit from them. The key in all of this is proper spacing which is the biggest issue for the Wizards to grasp until it becomes second nature.

Freedom to run offense

Letting Beal be on the ball instead of putting 99.9% of the burden on Wall is designed to help both. Beal showed to start the third quarter vs. Toronto that he can be efficient. Three of the Wizards’ first four baskets were the product of assists from Beal.

Wall has worked on his catch-and-shoot threes and looks more comfortable spotting up in the corners. There are times when Beal over-dribbles and passes up on a good look for a tougher shot but he’s living in the paint. Gortat is able to clean up misses because the bigs are coming over to help seal Beal’s penetration. It’s a trickle-up effect.

“We don’t want him to just be a jump shooter,” Brooks said. “We don’t want him to be a one-dribble pullup guy. We want him to attack the basket, not only for himself but for the bigs.”

Post-up chances

On inbound plays or after timeouts when the Wizards can get Beal on a small guard – this happened in the preseason finale vs. the Raptors but it wasn’t the only time in the seven exhibitions – he got a matched with an undersized point guard in Kyle Lowry who is about five inches shorter. The entry pass went to Beal under the rim and that forced center Jonas Valanciunas to help. Otto Porter popped to the short corner for the pass and made a wide-open three-pointer. This is another way Beal can better his assist numbers (3.0 per game for his career). If there’s isn’t any help, he’s at the rim for the easy finish. Wall, who at 6-4 has good size and strength at his position, will benefit from doing this, too.

Off-ball action

In the NBA, the weakside is where so much happens to create the open look. In the past, Beal has fallen into standing and waiting for the pass rather than moving which has caused the offense to stagnate in the half-court. By making the best shooter a screener (see Kyle Korver) on the weakside of the floor, defenses can have communication hiccups. Beal is getting layups off slip passes while defenses ball watch, particularly Wall because he commands so much attention. He's getting bigs on him 25 feet from the basket on switches and is breaking them down off the dribble.

“We know we can score in a variety of ways. That’s just another way to get easy points, just constantly moving without the ball,” Beal said.

Porter is the best player at moving off the ball and sees the benefit of what’s happening with Beal. If Beal isn’t scoring from his off-ball movement, he’s making defenses pay for ball-watching when he has possession. It’s a side benefit of the best shooter on the team running the offense more.

“Everybody is keying in on him,” Porter said. “With him creating for others, it opens up cutting lanes, driving lanes for everybody and it definitely helps the flow on offense.”

Free-throw bump

All of these new wrinkles should translate into more trips to the charity stripe, an area where Beal has been shockingly inefficent. Beal has played 63 games in which he hasn't attempted one free throw

Brooks hasn't finished installing his entire arsenal. He'll add in things as the season progresses. Will Beal run more two-man game with a big or some elbow-gets that Brooks used with James Harden when he'd run the offense for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

"I’m still figuring out where everybody wants the ball, likes the ball and where they can be successful with the ball. With Bradley, he has the ability where we can spray his offense all around the court," Brooks said. "Not just at top, at the elbow, at the nail, on the side or on the baseline. I think he can do it all and I’m going to keep challenging him to be that type of complete offensive player. With all the guys. John is the same way. He’s been so dominating with the ball and rightfully so, he makes great decisions, one of the best passers in the game. But I’d like for him to be off the ball because when you get off the ball on those kick outs to him it’s going to be hard to catch his speed when he’s attacking the basket and it’s going to allow him to get to the free throw line which is what we need for both guys to get to the line more.