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For Hayden Springer, late daughter's spirit burns bright at Final Stage of Q-School

5 Min Read



    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Hayden Springer exits the scoring area at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course, his 1-year-old daughter Annie in his arms, and shares a smile with wife Emma. Amidst the pressure cooker of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry’s Final Stage on a windy December afternoon, the family exudes a palpable sense of warmth.

    It’s not the best of circumstances, but the Springers will make the best of the circumstances. In memory of their late daughter Sage, who passed away Nov. 13 at age 3, they’ll strive to spread joy and live to the fullest. Joy, they know, will keep Sage’s spirit alive.

    “She was just a very joyful girl, and she really loved her life,” Emma said Thursday. “I think she just inspired joy in a lot of people, really made a lot of people feel joy and smile just knowing her … the joy that she brought to the world and others is really her in a nutshell. That’s a big part of her legacy, for sure.”

    Sage Springer was prenatally diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a severe developmental disorder stemming from an extra chromosome. Sage wasn’t initially expected to make it out of the hospital after birth, but she persevered as a tough and happy little girl.

    Her spirit remains with those who knew her, including her dad, who eyes his first PGA TOUR card this week.

    Hayden Springer hits his tee shot on the 18th hole in the first round of Q-School's Final Stage. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

    Hayden Springer hits his tee shot on the 18th hole in the first round of Q-School's Final Stage. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

    Sage’s trademark joy radiated through her dad on Thursday, amidst gnarly conditions at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course. Springer opened in 4-under 66 and stands T3 after 18 holes, with an opportunity to earn the ultimate job promotion this week. The top five and ties after 72 holes (36 at each of Dye’s Valley Course and Sawgrass Country Club) will earn 2024 PGA TOUR membership. Springer finished No. 1 on the 2023 PGA TOUR Canada’s season-long Fortinet Cup to secure full 2024 Korn Ferry Tour status at minimum; now he has a free roll at a PGA TOUR card.

    Sage is now an angel on her dad’s shoulder. Inside the ropes, he thinks of her often – he knows it can get emotional, but that’s OK. The memories warm his heart. Sometimes they propel him.

    The 16th hole Thursday was perhaps case in point. After a booming drive downwind on the par-5 that features water down the entire left side, Springer had just 205 yards to the hole. He pulled his 8-iron left of the green; the ball splashed. Some might have wallowed. Springer dropped from just a few yards ahead and hit his fourth shot to 30 feet, then drained the par-saver, sharing a smile and fist-pump with his caddie.

    In contrast to the expected Q-School tensions, Springer navigated Thursday’s test with abundant joy. Final Stage marks his second start since Sage’s passing (he played an All Pro Tour event last week, finishing fifth), and he knows the grief can be a wild card on the course, unsure how it might manifest from day to day. But that’s OK – the priority is to keep Sage’s memory close by.

    “I try to make sure I’m in the right frame of mind, but I do think about her,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what it will all look like in the future; it’s still very early, but it is important for me to think about her. Just some small things, picturing her face in my mind and smiling.”

    Hayden Springer hugs his caddie after making birdie on the 18th hole in the first round of Q-School's Final Stage. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

    Hayden Springer hugs his caddie after making birdie on the 18th hole in the first round of Q-School's Final Stage. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

    Although Sage defied the odds, her passing was unexpected and a justifiable shock to the Springers and their community. That community is a priority, a source of strength for the Springers through the journey and into its next phase. To that end, they have founded Extra To Love, which strives to encourage, support and celebrate families of those with Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18) and Patau syndrome (Trisomy 13) through financial support for costs associated with the conditions, while also building a sense of community.

    “We were very blessed to have people around us … that were able to make it possible for us to get the care that Sage needed,” Springer said. “Now we just want to pay that forward and help future families with Trisomy diagnosis to give them that opportunity, and to change the narrative on Trisomy. It’s compatible with life. There’s opportunity there. You can live with it. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard, but it’s possible. and we want people to know that and provide those opportunities for people.”

    A PGA TOUR card would further amplify this platform. Springer knows this, and that three days remain until the finish line. But after an opening-round 66 in blustery conditions, he’s projected to achieve one of the year’s most remarkable and emotional golf feats.

    “It’s a really awesome opportunity for me and my career and my family, to be able to grab one of those,” Springer said.

    What’s Springer like as a dad? “Super silly and very caring,” Emma said. “He’s such a girl dad. I know one day if we have boys, he’ll totally tap into that, but with the girls he’s all about, ‘You’re so cute; you’re so sweet’ … I’m sure he would be embarrassed if people saw footage of him behind closed doors, but very, very silly overall, and just very sweet and loving and just a very doting dad.”

    For Hayden Springer, late daughter's spirit burns bright at Q-School

    As Emma spoke, Hayden and Annie laughed together nearby. They were playing in the fresh-cut grass, their hearts warm despite the chilly conditions.

    The Springers wish Sage was here, but they can’t help but smile when thinking of her. They feel her presence, and her spirit endures.

    “She’s special,” Springer said, before pausing with a break in his voice. “She’s very special. She’s so special, and we’re going to miss her forever. There’s no way around that, but she was strong. She was a fighter. We always said she had strength in heart, and that will stay with us forever.”

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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