Hayden Springer had just made the biggest mistake of his professional career, a mistake that essentially ended his chances to play in a PGA Tour event. (The story was first reported by Tony Paul of the Detroit News)
“Of course, there is a split second where you think about not saying anything,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, and I told the rules official I had a 15th club in the bag.”
It is one of the most basic rules in a rule book loaded with complicated ones. Every tour professional knows it. You can’t carry more than 14 clubs in your bag in competition.
I have written a lot about Springer, his wife, Emma, and their family. The couple’s oldest daughter, Sage, was born with Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder caused by the presence of a third copy of all or part of chromosome 18. Sage requires around-the-clock care. Last year Springers had another daughter, Annie, who is healthy and “starting to crawl,” Hayden said.
Springer, a fourth-year pro, has conditional Korn Ferry Tour status after making it to the final stage of Q school. He has played in four KFT events, making one cut and earning just $4,170. Being far down the points list, he has begun to focus on Monday Qs on the PGA Tour. The logic is simple: As a KFT member, he can exempt through pre-qualifiers, and PGA Tour Monday Qs tend to be easier than KFT Monday Qs.
That’s why he was at the Rocket Mortgage Monday this week at Fieldstone Golf Club outside of Detroit. As he does for every tournament, Springer took 15 clubs to his practice round. The clubs he switches in and out are his 5-wood and 3-iron. After the practice round, he keeps in the bag the club he believes can help him most. The routine for Rocket Monday was no different.
Before teeing off, he went with the 5-wood and laid the 3-iron in the backseat of his rental car. After completing a round of 66, which included two eagles, he took his clubs to his car as he awaited the other scores to come in. That’s when Springer put the 3-iron back in his bag.
After learning his 66 was good enough to get into a four-for-three playoff, Springer grabbed his bag and went to the range to warm up. It had started to rain, so he laid a towel over the top of the clubs.
Playing with Bret Stegmaier, Andy Spencer, and Peter Kuest, Springer hit a good drive. That’s when it occurred to him that he had forgotten to take out the 3-iron. When I asked him if he thought about not saying anything, he said, “Of course, there is that split second of thinking that no one would have ever known except for me.” But he was quick to add that he wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night, and he immediately walked to the rules official in the fairway and told him about his mistake. That is when the real adventure started.
In competition, the penalty is two shots per hole, with a maximum of four shots. But Springer was unsure what the rule was in a playoff. The official radioed a colleague, and both said the playoff was over. The three other players picked up their balls and everyone shook hands. Springer said the other three players said they were sorry how it ended, but “they just earned a spot in a PGA Tour event.” Except the playoff wasn’t over.
The official realized that even in a playoff, the penalty for carrying an extra club was two strokes and not disqualification. He asked Springer if he would like to continue, and he said yes. The players replaced their balls as near to the point they could remember and resumed play. Laying three, Springer hit his approach to 15 feet, leaving him a chance at bogey. Stegmaier missed the green and chipped to 10 feet, but when Springer missed his bogey attempt, the playoff was essentially over. Stegmaier two-putted for bogey.
“I was angry and frustrated,” Springer told me on Tuesday night. “I should know better.”
He said that one of his sponsors, who also has a daughter with Trisomy 18, lives in the area, and he was staying at his house. Although Signal, the sponsor’s company, was helping Springer financially, the men had never met. They connected after the sponsor read the Springer family story I had written. They planned to play Oakland Hills the next day. “Everything works out for a reason,” Springer said. “This has been a blessing being able to meet and stay with them.”
Hayden Springer is one of the good guys.