Olathe’s Alex Springer wins first pro golf title at rain-shortened Watson Challenge

Alex Springer wins 2019 Watson Challenge

Alex Springer wins the 2019 Watson Challenge
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Alex Springer wins the 2019 Watson Challenge

Alex Springer wasn’t naive enough to head to bed Saturday night under the impression that Sunday’s third round of the Watson Challenge would be canceled because of weather. While he had leapfrogged into the lead on Saturday in part by treating the second round like the final round it turned into, nothing was for certain.

Just in case, he told himself.

Springer’s intuition paid dividends. Five inches of rain on the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park canceled Sunday’s third round for just the second time in the event’s 13-year history, and Springer woke up a champion — and $10,000 richer.

The way he found out didn’t exactly befit the prize, though.

“I was sitting on my couch, and I received an email,” Springer said. “A little anticlimactic.”

Still, Springer played well enough to secure his first tournament win as a professional. He shot 8-under 136 for 36 holes, besting Kansas City golf legend Tom Watson and Kansas golfer Andy Spencer, who tied for second at 6-under 138.

Michael Letzig and Tanner Owen tied for fourth at 1-under 143.

Afterward, Springer said the feeling of winning the tournament didn’t hit him until he arrived at the course Sunday and took photos with the trophy and his family.

There was a catch, though.

“I would rather have been playing out there,” Springer said, “and earn it on the course and have some pressure and all that, because that’s what you want. You want to beat people at their best and play the full event.”

There was never much of a chance for play to continue on Sunday, according to Kansas City Golf Association executive director Doug Habel, who called the course “unplayable.” Because rain persisted into Sunday morning, competition wouldn’t have begun until around noon.

Bunkers were washed out, Habel said. Standing water coated nearly every hole. At 10 a.m., the announcement went out: The third round was canceled.

“Watching Tom, Andy and Alex duke it out on the golf course for 18 more holes would have been a lot of fun,” Habel said. “Obviously, playing golf is what we wanted to do, but sometimes, when you run golf tournaments, Mother Nature deals you a bad hand.”

Back to Springer, though.

He had earned several wins in years prior. Before Springer golfed at Central Missouri and turned professional in the fall of 2017, he played as an amateur, including twice at the Watson Challenge. He finished sixth in 2016 and fifth in 2017.

Winning as a pro, Springer said, feels different.

“It almost seems a little bit harder,” said Springer, an Olathe East grad. “There’s more on the line, and players are not necessarily better, but the fields are always deeper. The competition is pretty tough. So any time you win, it feels pretty good, and to get the first professional win under my belt, in my hometown, with my friends and family around, it was awesome.”

Weather delayed Saturday’s tee times, and wind was a factor. It gusted at more than 15 mph. Watson mentioned that navigating strong winds “is all about judgment,” and that’s part of what he liked most about Springer’s two rounds.

“I was impressed about how Alex played yesterday,” Watson said. “He really drove the ball straight. He always kept it in play. That’s what you have to do on this golf course. He put it in play off the tee, and he putted very well.”

The proof was in the numbers. In Saturday’s second round, Springer birdied on holes Nos. 3, 4, 6, 10, 11 and 16. His only bogies came on holes Nos. 9 and 13.

“My short game was solid,” said Springer, who added that he plans on returning next week to Canada to compete on the PGA’s Mackenzie Tour. “(I liked) my attitude and the way I handled myself out there. I had one of my best friends caddying for me, and he and I have a good relationship. We had fun out there, and we took care of business.”

To Springer, this wasn’t just any tournament win. Not only was it his first as a professional, but he topped Watson, widely considered one of the best golfers of all time. Springer smiled when he said he would tell stories about the win down the road.

For now, he’ll need to find a home for the trophy.

Or someone will.

“Going to have to ask the fiancée about that one,” Springer said with a chuckle. “That’s not going to be my call.”

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