This Byron Nelson High grad fueled his dream of playing the PGA Tour at the Byron Nelson. Now he’s teeing it up this week

McKINNEY, Texas – Hayden Springer remembers coming to his hometown PGA Tour event from as early as age 5 for practice round days on Tuesday and Wednesday with an empty hat and having his dad shove him towards the pros to ask for autographs, telling him, “Don’t be afraid.”

“And I would leave and my hat would be covered in autographs from everybody,” said Springer.

That tournament, now known as the CJ Cup Byron Nelson and held at TPC Craig Ranch, was an annual rite of passage for Springer. He figures he attended the event for seven or eight years in a row and later served as a volunteer with his high school golf teammates from none other than Byron Nelson High School, where Nelson’s widow, Peggy, kept tabs on the team and showed Springer the Masters medal of one of the all-time greats. (Springer also noted that his mother and Peggy still keep in touch via email.) This week Springer, a 27-year-old rookie on the Tour, is set to play the tournament that meant so much to him during his youth for the first time.

“It’s special for me now to get to be playing in this event,” he said. “This was a dream that was in my head to play professional golf, to do it at the highest level. Definitely being able to get up close and just kind of be able to interact, even if it’s just getting an autograph, you know, it definitely helped to fuel that dream.”

Springer recalled following Tim Herron, a favorite of his father’s, having Corey Pavin jog over to sign for him the year Springer had fractured his ankle and hobbled his way, and watching past major winners Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh groove their swing on the range.

Springer’s journey to being a card-carrying member of the Tour like Nelson, who won five majors during his Hall of Fame career, has had its share of twists and turns. In November, Springer and his wife endured the death of their three-year-old daughter, Sage, to a rare genetic disorder. Earlier that summer, Springer, who played his college golf at TCU, was having another pedestrian season on PGA Tour Canada. He ranked No. 51 in the season-long standings with three events left before running off with two closing wins.

Hayden Springer watches his second shot on the 18th fairway of the PGA West Pete Dye Stadium Course during the first round of The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.

“If I don’t make that putt to make the cut in Wichita, I wasn’t even in any Canada events, right? Thinking about it, maybe I wouldn’t even have been able to play any events in Canada and maybe I’m starting at first stage of Q-School this past year. That’s a pretty tough spot to be in,” he said.

Instead, he won the Order of Merit, which earned him a spot in the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School. It also happened to be the return of five cards being up for grabs to jump straight to the big leagues. Springer hung on to finish fifth and make his dream come true.

As a rookie, Springer has made five cuts in nine starts and ranks No. 127 in the FedEx Cup point standings. His iron play was dialed in during the Puerto Rico Open and he posted four rounds in the 60s and finished T-3, his best result to date.

“There is such a fine line in terms of playing well and then not playing well,” he said.

This week, the pride of Byron Nelson High School will have a large contingent of supporters in his gallery. He grew up playing at Victory Golf Club, about 40 minutes away, and he expects members from the club and friends from high school to come out to watch him. He’s played at TPC Craig Ranch a handful of times dating to junior golf days and made a few trips this year knowing that this date with destiny would soon come to fruition at the tournament that fueled his dream.

“It’s kind of a cool story to have played at Byron Nelson High School and now to be playing in this event,” he said.

Lord Byron would be proud.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek