Billy Hurley III has every intention to see Toby Keith's concert Wednesday night at the state fairgrounds.
It's tough to get more patriotic than seeing one of the biggest country stars play on the Fourth of July. But for Hurley, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served overseas, the concert will carry a little more meaning.
"He actually debuted his 'Red, White and Blue' song at the Naval Academy after September 11th," Hurley recalled. "I think it was the third time he had actually sung that, and the first time in front of a big crowd. He had a concert there, and that was one of the first times he sang that song, which is pretty cool."
(The song's long title: "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).")
That was a strange time in America, but more so at a military academy. Suddenly, a group of men and women training for military leadership service witnessed a rare attack on American soil, and knew their life as going to take a different direction.
Which direction, nobody was sure.
"It was weird. We didn't exactly know what was going on; we were trying to put pieces of information together," Hurley said. "The hardest part is that you have a lot of military kids there, and a lot of their dads and moms work at the Pentagon.
One of my roomates' dad actually worked at the Pentagon for a while; we weren't sure if he was OK. I had another friend whose dad had meetings every Tuesday at the World Trade Center, and he didn't know if he was OK.
"Everybody had stories like that. It was a surreal day."
Hurley's life went in many directions since 2001, but he did a lot of the steering - at times, literally.
While at Annapolis, he completed his degree in quantitative economics and won the Byron Nelson Award, given for an outstanding college golf career combined with equally outstanding service off the course.
A native of Leesburg, Va., Hurley also captured Virginia State Amateur titles in 2004 and 2005, and played on the 2005 Walker Cup team.
As with all academy graduates, he had a five-year military obligation, and met it head-on. His duty included a few months in the Persian Gulf in 2007, serving on the USS Chung-Hoon, a 10,000-ton guided-missile destroyer.
He also worked on a cruiser in Jacksonville, Fla., and a destroyer in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He won ship-driving awards along the way.
Yes, he drove those ships - pretty much dead solid perfect. In fact, he says driving one of those little dimpled balls is a tougher challenge.
"I think hitting a golf ball is harder than driving a ship. I really mean that," Hurley said. "From a personal standpoint, I should say. They're very similar in that there are so many idiosyncrasies to them, and the amount of time and knowledge it takes to master them.
"For me, driving a ship came pretty naturally. You learn the whole time when you're driving a ship and when you get really good at it, you're still learning. It's sort of like a golf swing - when you're at the peak of your game and you want to be one of the top players in the world, they're still learning.
"Driving a ship's a lot like that. You're always learning something a little more about the ship, or about current conditions, and stuff like that."
Driving a ball wasn't easy when he left the service. While he got some practice in at Jacksonville and Pearl Harbor, he couldn't exactly break away for 18 in the Persian Gulf.
He had played six PGA Tour events in 2006 and one in 2007, making two cuts. But those memories had faded.