He lost his daughter days before Q-School. Now he’s contending in PGA Tour debut

hayden springer smiles at the american express in green shirt

Hayden Springer's remarkable story added another chapter on Thursday at the American Express.

Getty Images/Orlando Ramirez

If you’re looking for someone to root for at this weekend’s American Express, might we suggest a name?

Hayden Springer.

If you’re new to the bandwagon, that’s quite okay. Springer, a 27-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Nashville, is a stranger to all but the most knowledgeable golf fans. He’s won only two professional events in his pro career, both on the Canadian tour, including one at a tournament sponsored by a rail park in Manitoba. His PGA Tour career is truthfully just hours old: this week’s event in Palm Springs will be his first start as a full-time member.

In many ways, Springer is a garden variety pro golf miracle: he earned his Tour card the hard way, at Q-School in December, battling his way through a crowded field to nab one of just five full-time slots on the PGA Tour in 2024.

The moment was the culmination of a life dream, the highest high of Springer’s professional life. And it’d come just days after rock bottom.

You see, the story of Hayden Springer’s journey to the PGA Tour begins with the story of his daughter, Sage. Sage Springer was born in 2020 with Trisomy 18, or Edwards Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder caused by three copies of the 18th chromosome. Trisomy 18 is a serious diagnosis, resulting in severe delays to fetal development. Just 13 percent of all babies born with it live past the age of one.

The Springers were one of the lucky Trisomy families, as Sage blessed the family with three years of love and joy. On November 13, 2023 — just days before the start of Q-School — Sage Springer died from the complications of Trisomy 18. She was three years old.

It felt impossible to return to golf in the days following Sage’s passing, but Hayden didn’t have much choice. A victory at the Canadian Tour’s Fortinet Cup Championship had guaranteed him a slot in the final stage of qualifying, which may well have been Hayden’s best chance at earning a spot on the PGA Tour. His heart was wounded beyond recognition, but he owed it to his family to continue competing. He went on the road at the start of December to tune up for Q-School, dedicating the effort to his late daughter.

“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,” Springer told PGATour.com. “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.”

When final qualifying arrived, Springer played the tournament of his life. He shot four consecutive rounds in the 60s at Dye’s Valley, including a final-round 69, to beat out more than 150 other competitors for a spot on the big Tour. He tapped in for par on the 18th and, in an instant, his future was solidified.

His caddie cried. His wife cried. He cried. Hayden Springer was a PGA Tour golfer.

“It’s hard to put into words for sure,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

After a month off for the holidays (plus a solid bid at the Sony Open’s Monday qualifier) Springer arrived in Palm Springs for the American Express with a different kind of energy. The heartbreak hadn’t gone away, but there were new challenges to worry about. On the other side of tragedy, Springer had found opportunity. Opportunity required careful planning for things like travel schedules and practice plans, but for the first time in Springer’s life, there were big-money events to look forward to, any of them capable of altering the course of his family’s life. Another Korn Ferry Tour graduate from his class, Grayson Murray, had grabbed a victory last week at the Sony Open, proving it was possible to move up to the PGA Tour and find success quickly.

But nobody, not even Murray, could have predicted Springer’s success would arrive this fast. He teed off at PGA West on Thursday morning and, by the time he’d reached the 10th hole, Springer was seven shots under par. His opening-nine 29 was followed by two more birdies on the back before a closing bogey, the first of his PGA Tour career, brought him back to earth. When the dust settled, he was two shots off the lead. In Hayden Springer’s first round as a PGA Tour, he’d shot 64.

“I hit it well,” he said later with a chuckle. “Definitely hit a few wedges close, and a few iron shots close. If I can straighten out the driver a little bit, maybe it’s even better.”

There will be time for Springer to hit it even better — though he probably won’t be complaining if he hits it a little worse. He enters Friday’s second round at the Amex tied for 5th, putting him in pole position for his first PGA Tour made-cut, and crucially, his first PGA Tour payday.

But even with the excitement surrounding his first-ever PGA Tour round, it’s likely money is not the first nor the fifth thing on Hayden Springer’s mind. It didn’t take long to find his late daughter everywhere around him on Thursday afternoon: Her name is stamped into his wedges in rainbow ink, and he has a pink shirt picked out for later this week, her favorite color.

“There’s harder moments than others, but we’re just trying to lean in on our faith,” he said. “It’s definitiely been challenging and tough, but just trying to keep moving forward and keep living life as much as we can, and we know that Sage would want that for us.”

There is an old proverb about grief as an enormous, empty room. Our sadness, the proverb says, is an acknowledgment of the size of the room, and of all the things that once filled it.

“There’s a missing piece, that’s always going to be a missing piece,” he said. “But I think we’re just trying to love on each other and be around each other as much as we can.”

Life inevitably moves on, but Springer admits he hasn’t. He’s still standing in the doorway, looking back, even as he begins to build something new.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.