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Hayden Springer is your typical aspiring professional golfer in one sense.

The former TCU player and reigning Big 12 champion is using his dad as a “discount caddie,” driving around the region to All Pro Tour events. The APT is a mini-tour where that week’s winner and runner-up cash a decent check while everyone else just hopes to break even on travel expenses and a $1,000 entry fee.

Springer isn’t your typical aspiring pro in another sense. He and his wife Emma endured an emotionally exhausting pregnancy last fall, welcoming daughter Sage into the world on Oct. 7.

But they didn’t pack a car seat when they headed to the hospital for the delivery. They weren’t expecting to take their daughter home.

Doctors had given the Springers a grim diagnosis, saying Sage’s lifespan would likely be in the 24- to 72-hour range. She had been prenatally diagnosed with Trisomy 18, known as Edward’s Syndrome that is caused by an extra chromosome 18, and had severe heart defects.

Given the life-limiting diagnosis, a number of doctors won’t perform the heart surgery. According to the Trisomy 18 Foundation, “Unlike Down syndrome, which also is caused by an extra chromosome, the developmental issues caused by Trisomy 18 are associated with more medical complications that are more potentially life-threatening in the early months and years of life.”

“If you google ‘Trisomy 18’ and talk with doctors, it’s pretty grim. We weren’t too optimistic going into the delivery,” Springer said. “We didn’t bring a car seat. We literally had nothing just because we were told her life was likely going to be 24 to 72 hours after birth. But she makes it through those 48 hours, the doctor does an echo [echocardiogram] on her heart and it’s a little bit different than what she was prenatally diagnosed with. We ultimately go home with her.”

Sage was thriving the first couple of months despite her condition, and the Springers received promising news when a cardiologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin agreed to do the heart surgery

They headed down to Austin shortly after the Christmas holiday and Sage underwent surgery on Jan. 7. The family spent approximately 70 days in the hospital, learning how to care for Sage who now has a tracheostomy and gastrostomy button (G-button), before returning to their Trophy Club home a few weeks ago.

“From the diagnosis in the beginning and the feeling of pain of not having a good outlook to now, it’s been a long road but we’ve been blessed to have her at home,” Springer said. “For the meantime, she’s doing well and growing.”

Extra motivation

Springer has a new perspective on life by becoming a father to Sage. It’s also served as additional motivation to succeed and fulfill his childhood dream of playing on the PGA Tour.

Springer would love nothing more than to make it as a professional golfer and start his own organization that benefits Trisomy 18 kids and their families.

“It adds another layer,” he said. “Before it was I wanted to do well for myself. Now I want to do well for her and my family and the foundation. The faster I can get to the PGA Tour, the more doors that would open. It adds some motivation to make her proud and do well.”

Springer has dreamed of being a professional golfer since he was 11. His dad and part-time caddie, Neyland Springer, remembers the day Hayden announced his intentions to play on the PGA Tour. More important, Neyland said, is Hayden understood early on it’s easier said than done.

Hayden is doing everything else that is required to make it at the highest level from various workouts to eating right to persevering on the mini-tours.

“What I tell everybody, and I know I’m Dad, but I’ve never had a moment’s trouble with him since he told me he wanted to play on the PGA Tour at age 11,” said Neyland, a Navy veteran who is now a pilot for American Airlines.

“Everything he’s done since that day has been focused on that dream. He was at the range on Friday nights. He was always at the golf course practicing, working on things, studying and trying to get better. As a dad, you can’t be more proud than to have a son who finds what he wants to do and puts in that much dedication toward it.”

Neyland also praised how Hayden and Emma have handled being new parents to a special needs baby. For Neyland, it’s been a “double hurt” of watching his granddaughter struggle as well as his son and daughter-in-law deal with the emotional impact.

“At the same time, their faith has been unbelievable for two 24-year-olds to handle it like they’ve handled it and to step up and do what they’ve done,” Neyland said. “In aviation, we talk a lot about compartmentalization. Once you start up the airplane, that’s your focus right now even though there’s a lot of other things going on in life. They have been able to do that so far.”

Sky’s the limit

Springer knows he has the game and talent to play at the highest level. This is a guy who prevailed for the 2019 Big 12 title over Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland, who is now the 14th-ranked player in the world.

Springer is hoping to join Hovland near the top of the world golf rankings one day. Like any aspiring golfer, he needs to catch a couple of breaks and have a good week on the right week.

Winning the Big 12 tournament at The Greenbrier in West Virginia landed Springer a spot in the PGA Tour’s event at the same course later that year, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. But Springer missed the cut by three strokes.

He hasn’t landed another exemption since even though he remains the reigning Big 12 champion given last year’s tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Springer would like to think he’s an attractive candidate for a spot at upcoming Dallas-Fort Worth events such as the Korn Ferry Tour’s Veritex Bank Championship at Texas Rangers Golf Club in Arlington from April 22-25, or the PGA Tour events at TPC Craig Ranch or Colonial in May.

“It’s a little bit frustrating because I do feel like I’m a good candidate for a sponsor’s exemption into the local stuff, but it’s part of the game,” said Springer, who played at Trophy Club Nelson before moving on to Texas Tech and later TCU. “It’s super competitive right now, even more competitive with COVID and guys having extended memberships on tours.

“But whenever I get my opportunities, I’ll take advantage of them and go from there.”

For now, Springer is relying on Monday qualifiers to punch his ticket into those bigger events. He made it through a Monday qualifier back in 2016 to play in the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude’s Classic, but hasn’t done it since.

Other than that, it’s life on the mini-tour road with the APT. Springer was 31st on the APT’s money list in 2020, making the cut in six of eight events including two top-five finishes. But his total prize money for the year was just over $13,000.

Springer, though, is confident his breakthrough is coming sooner than later.

“I feel I’ve been playing great for four or five years, being very consistent,” Springer said. “I’m going to keep working hard to get better and become the best player in the world. Getting some sponsor’s exemptions or a full season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, I feel I’ll prove myself and play well.”

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