PGA Tour rookie Hayden Springer excelling in the wake of tragedy

Mark McGowan
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Hayden Springer (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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With all the negativity that’s surrounded men’s professional golf in the last couple of years, there have been several ‘feel-good’ stories and the last few months on the PGA Tour have thrown up several.

Erik van Rooyen’s victory in the Worldwide Technologies Championship at the Tiger Woods-designed El Cardonal at Diamante in Mexico was one, even if the reason why it was a ‘feel-good’ story was anything but. van Rooyen’s college roommate and best man at van Rooyen’s wedding, Jon Trasamar had just been informed that he had terminal cancer, and unfortunately, has since passed, but the emotional embrace van Rooyen and caddie – also a former college teammate and friend of the duo – shared after the winning putt, and van Rooyen’s tearful interview in which he dedicated the victory to his ailing pal touched even the hardest of hearts.

A week later, Camilo Villegas, destined for PGA Tour Q-School in December, ended a nine-year barren spell by winning the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, thereby securing PGA Tour status through 2025. Villegas was only in the field in Bermuda courtesy of a top-10 the previous week when van Rooyen’s holed eagle putt on the last actually killed off Villegas’ own chances of victory.

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What was ‘feel-good’ about Villegas’ return to the winners’ circle was that just three years earlier, he’d lost his 22-month-old daughter Mia to the same disease that had taken Trasamar. The loss of a close friend is brutal, but the loss of a child is something else altogether. Villegas would be forgiven for throwing in the towel altogether, hanging up his clubs as the game, as well as life, was giving him a bit of a kicking. And, given his profile, a career in the media was already waiting for him.

But he didn’t, he kept grinding, he got his reward, and you’d be hard pressed to find anybody that would begrudge him it.

Even more recently, Hayden Springer, a 27-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee, who’s spent the five years since graduating from Texas Christian University toiling on the mini-tours, secured one of five PGA Tour cards on offer at Tour Q-School in December.

Just days before Q-School second stage began in November, Springer’s three-year-old daughter Sage passed away. She’d been born with Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards’ Syndrome, which is a rare birth defect that results in severe fetal underdevelopment. Only 13 percent of babies born with Edwards’ Syndrome see their first birthday, Sage saw three, but for Hayden and wife Emma, the three years were both wonderful and heartbreaking, with the inevitable always around the corner.

When the inevitable came, it was still devastating, naturally, but exempt into the final qualifying stage, he was somehow able to regroup mentally and battled his way through the field to finish fourth overall and earn his card for the PGA Tour.

His status wasn’t high enough to get him into the Sony Open last week, but his rookie season got underway at this week’s American Express Championship, and he came flying from the traps with an eight-under on day one to finish tied for fifth.

There’s a long way to go, and it’s a dog-eat-dog world on the PGA Tour, but if you’re looking for a story to follow and somebody to root on this weekend, you’ll do a lot worse than pull for rookie and recently bereaved Hayden Springer.

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