Springer defeats Tom Watson to earn KC Golf Classic exemption
May 07, 2020
By Mackenzie Perez, PGATOUR.COM
- May 07, 2020
- Kansas City's Alex Springer won the 2019 Watson Challenge to earn a spot in the 2020 KC Golf Classic, which will be honored for the 2021 event. (Courtesy of KC Golf Classic)
The likelihood of meeting a legend of the game can often be slim, but having the opportunity to play against one is slim to none. To be able to say, “I beat a golf legend,” is about as rare as saying, “I beat Michael Jordan in a dunk contest.”
Eight-time major winner and golf legend Tom Watson provides that chance at the Watson Challenge, a vision of Watson’s with the purpose of gathering the top players from his hometown, Kansas City. The region’s top 48 amateurs and professionals compete against each other and Watson for the opportunity to gain entry into the KC Golf Classic.
Most recently, University of Central Missouri alum Alex Springer had that opportunity to say he beat a legend.
“Anyone in Kansas City that plays golf knows about it and tries to qualify for it,” said the 2019 Watson Challenge champion.
“It’s everyone’s favorite tournament in the area, and it’s a privilege and an honor to be able to play with Tom.”
Throughout the first and second round, Springer felt as though he was playing some of the best golf of his life. On his fourth hole of the first round, he drained a 70-foot putt for eagle, giving him momentum for the rest of the tournament.
“I just remember my sister screaming and I just kind of laughed,” said Springer.
“In the second round I made birdie on the 16th hole which was pretty big. I think I was two back at the time or maybe one of Tom and I made that birdie putt which brought us to all-square.”
Heading to the 17th hole, Springer and Watson were tied at 8-under. Springer took the lead after making a clutch two-putt, while Watson three-putted the hole. At the end of the second round, Springer had a two-shot lead over five-time Watson Challenge winner Tom Watson and back-to-back Watson Challenge champion Andy Spencer.
“I was paired with Tom and Andy, and I was looking forward to competing with them head-to-head,” said Springer in reference to the final round. “Then I looked at the radar.”
The 54-hole Watson Challenge was shortened to 36 holes after a heavy rainstorm drowned the bunkers at the Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate. The night prior to the final round, Springer received an email that would make him $10,000 richer.
“My immediate emotions weren’t really excitement, actually, because I was just lying on the couch with my fiancée when I got the email,” said Springer with a disappointed tone.
“I really wanted to come out that third day and play with them (Watson and Spencer) again and just kind of prove myself and hold that lead, because golf tournaments are very different when you sleep on a lead.”
Although Springer was disappointed he couldn’t play another round, after looking at the radar, he understood the committee’s decision and the excitement began to creep in.
“Some texts started pouring in and phone calls and so I think the disappointment quickly went away and I just realized, ‘Cool, I won this tournament, I should be proud of myself.’”
The next morning, the 2019 Watson Challenge champion drove to the course to take photos and accept his trophy and check from Watson.
“He told me, ‘You have a really good game and you have a lot ahead of you,’” referring to his exchange of words with Watson at the award ceremony.
“The fact that he was impressed by my play that week and was able to tell me that, it was just cool to hear that from him, you know, person to person when you shake the guy’s hand.”He told me, 'You have a really good game and you have a lot ahead of you.'
Springer had competed in the Watson Challenge as an amateur in 2016 and 2017; however, playing as a professional made the tournament extra special. This was his first tournament win as a professional, and topping Watson was just the added cherry on top.
“It definitely means a lot more out there trying to compete for a check, and I was excited to play in front of my friends and family,” said the Olathe East High School graduate.
Springer was hoping that same crowd would be able to follow him to the KC Golf Classic on Thursday; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Springer’s family and friends will have to wait until 2021 to watch him make his professional debut on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“I mean, it’s disappointing that we can’t play this year, but I guess I just have a full year to play Blue Hills whenever I can try and get out there, and learn the course better,” he said.
Springer competed in the 2018 KC Golf Classic as an amateur, advancing through a Monday qualifier after shooting 67 at Creekmoor Golf Club. He proceeded to miss the cut by one stroke, carding 69-71, 2-under. He said returning to play in the tournament as a professional next year will have a different feeling.
“I think I will have a little less pressure on me now that I found a full-time job and the pressure of, you know, making the cut or having to make a paycheck that week … I hope I don’t have that when I’m out there, and I can just appreciate the opportunity to play,” he said.
He’s excited to be around some of his peers he grew up playing junior and college golf with and show them he’s still the player Watson said he was.
“I’ll be in my hometown and there will be an opportunity to go out there, show my skills and try to make the cut and make a paycheck on the side,” said Springer.
For now, Springer will continue to work from home like most of the world and prepare to get his game in top-shape to compete against his peers on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021.
When asked how he gained entry into the tournament, only he will have the legendary response, “I beat Tom Watson.”