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Holding onto daughter’s memory, Hayden Springer earns PGA Tour card at Q-School

Hayden Springer became a PGA Tour member for the first time on Monday evening at TPC Sawgrass, grabbing one of five cards that were handed out upon the conclusion of the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

It took every bit of strength he had.

“I definitely came in this week trying to make sure that I was gonna have enough of an emotional capacity to play and to be ready,” Springer said, “because it’s definitely been a tough last month and emotional last month.”

The 26-year-old Springer arrived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, already guaranteed full Korn Ferry Tour status courtesy of him winning the points title on PGA Tour Canada last summer. In theory, he’d have a free roll to see if he could finish among the top five and ties and earn his PGA Tour card. But it wouldn’t be that easy; Springer was competing just a month removed from losing his 3-year-old daughter, Sage.

Sage Springer, who died on Nov. 13, was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder, when Hayden’s wife, Emma, was about five months pregnant. About half of babies with Trisomy 18 are stillborn, and those who survive birth have an average lifespan that does not exceed two weeks. But Sage, born Oct. 1, 2020, and weighing 4 pounds, 10 ounces, defied those odds.

Sage celebrated her first birthday – and two more. She became a big sister – the Springers welcomed another daughter, Annie, last year. And she inspired her parents to lay the groundwork for the foundation Extra To Love, which has big plans to help children with Trisomy diagnoses and their families. (Read more about Sage’s story.)

After Sage’s passing, Emma wrote, “Her wild and silly spirit is no longer limited by her earthly body.”

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“She’s a very special girl, and you know, we miss her a lot,” Hayden said earlier this week. “Hopefully through all of this, we’ll be able to help future families and kids with Trisomy diagnoses to get care that they need and to get the right interventions at the right time. I think Sage showed that Trisomy 18 is compatible with life and that you can live a full life and smile and be happy, and that’s what she did. I think that’s what we want to make sure that people know is that she was smiling, and she was learning different skills, and she brought an immense amount of joy to our family and to the people around her.”

When Sage was born, Hayden was playing on the mini-tours. He spent last year in Latin America before breaking through in Canada and punching his ticket to the Korn Ferry Tour – or so he thought.

Hayden Springer won’t be needing that after opening in 4-under 66 in windy conditions Thursday at Dye’s Valley and then following with three more rounds in the 60s, including Monday’s 1-under 69 that sealed Springer’s position inside the top five and ties. At 8 under, he tied for fourth with Jacksonville University alum Raul Pereda.

The three other players to graduate Q-School to the PGA Tour: Australia’s Harrison Endycott (15 under), a rookie on the PGA Tour last season; Auburn product Trace Crowe, who won on the KFT this year; and Blaine Hale, a member of Oklahoma’s 2017 NCAA title squad who had just one world-ranked start to his credit since turning pro in 2019.

All great stories. Just none like Springer’s.

Springer carded three birdies on his front nine to build a cushion on several chasers, including PGA Tour winner Satoshi Kodaira and reigning NCAA individual champion Fred Biondi.

“I did have kind of in the back of my mind knowing that I’ve got the Korn Ferry status for next year,” Springer said, “but when it comes down to it, it’s still just as much pressure and nerves and trying to get the job done. Yeah, I definitely knew that we were playing for some PGA Tour cards.”

Bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13 threatened to dash his hopes, but Springer bounced back with a birdie at the par-3 14th. Then, after hooking his tee shot into the water at the par-4 17th hole and short-siding himself in a greenside bunker with his third shot, Springer got up and down for a clutch bogey.

“I was definitely feeling it in that bunker, and that 4-footer,” Springer said. “It’s one of the longest 4-footers I’ve ever had.”

Needing bogey or better on the last, Springer parred to secure his trip to the PGA Tour next year.

“I’ve worked essentially my whole life to get into this position, and you dream about it,” Springer said. “It’s like you don’t know exactly when that day will come, but today is the day.”

Springer said Monday evening that he was spurred on to play the final stage by the fact that Emma, whom he met his first semester at Texas Tech (she also played golf), and Annie were able to attend.

Sage was there, too – just in a different way.

“I thought of her a handful of times,” Springer said of Sage. “It’s an interesting kind of thing mentally thinking about her when you’re trying to play and there’s pressure and all of that because it is emotional. But it’s happy thoughts. It’s kind of one of those things that I think about her, and I just think about her smile. Like that’s the thing that I can just close my eyes and think about her smiling, and it’s kind of a grounding, kind of gets you back to neutral.

“Not thinking about golf, not thinking about the last shot, the next shot, just thinking about her and her smile.”

On this day, there was a lot to smile about.