J.J. Spaun finds his bearings in second year on PGA Tour

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J.J. Spaun finds his bearings in second year on PGA Tour

PGA Tour

J.J. Spaun finds his bearings in second year on PGA Tour

When Dollie Spaun was pregnant with her son, John Jr., she asked her doctors if she could still play golf. They approved, so Dollie got her exercise playing rounds at Arroyo Seco, a par-3 course in South Pasadena, Calif. She played until she was eight months pregnant.

“People would always tell me that my son was going to be a golfer when he grew up,” Dollie said.

They were right. J.J. Spaun, 27, is in his second season on the PGA Tour. He nearly won on multiple occasions in the fall and has risen to No. 117 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It’s a dream come true for him,” said Spaun’s father, John. “This is what he’s always wanted.”

John Spaun likes to share a video of J.J. from when his son was 3 years old. Having just been gifted his first golf clubs – a plastic set – J.J. took his earliest swings.

“That swing, it’s the same swing he has now,” John Spaun said, adding that his son never had a formal lesson growing up.

When he was a baby, J.J. would watch from his stroller as John hit range balls. When he was old enough to walk, he’d go into the family’s garage and hit whatever he could into a makeshift hitting net John had hung up – balls, tees, even sockets from John’s toolbox.

“He was born to play golf,” Dollie said. “He used to watch TV as a little kid and he’d tell me, ‘Mom, I don’t want to watch cartoons. I want to watch Golf Channel.’ ”


Meet J.J. Spaun

Age: 27

Birthplace: Los Angeles

College: San Diego State

Turned pro: 2014

Seasons on PGA Tour: 2017-18 is his second season

World ranking: 117

FedEx Cup ranking: 16

Career top 10s: 5

2017-18 PGA Tour earnings: $1,033,447


J.J. didn’t spend much time in front of the television, though. When he wasn’t on a golf course, he was either playing guitar (he can play Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”) or participating in other sports. There was only one that rivaled golf.

J.J. started skateboarding in elementary school because most of his friends were doing it. John Spaun will never forget the day he heard a kid had been run over in the neighborhood – that’s because it was his 5-year-old son.

“We run out to the driveway and J.J. was laying on the ground,” John said. “Luckily, none of the wheels went over him, but he had this streak of oil all the way down his body.”

On the day J.J. told his dad he wanted to be a professional skater instead of a golfer, John responded with a simple and stern, “No.”

Looking back, J.J. admits that was probably the best career advice.

“I would do small fun boxes and small rails, but I just didn’t have the (guts) to do anything big,” he said.

The extreme sport did more than just scar J.J.’s arms. It taught him resiliency – or in skateboarding lingo, the ability to grind.

Despite starring at San Dimas High, Spaun was lightly recruited. He chose to walk on at San Diego State. By the time he graduated, he had a full scholarship and quite the resume. He was a two-time All-American and won five times in college, including three times during a senior season in which he was named Mountain West Player of the Year after leading the Aztecs to match play at the 2012 NCAA Championship.

“We get a lot of kids with a little chip on their shoulder,” San Diego State head coach Ryan Donovan told PGATour.com last year. “… J.J. kind of fit that mold.”

But did he fit the mold of a pro golfer? In his first two pro seasons in Canada, Spaun struggled. He didn’t make it to final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School in those two years, either. Naturally, Spaun was frustrated.

“He would tell me, ‘Dad, I never get a break. It’s always just one stroke,’ ” John said. “I said to him, ‘You’re going to find that stroke.’ ”

Spaun’s resiliency showed in 2015 when he notched seven top 10s on the Mackenzie Tour, including a win, and won the tour’s money title. A year later he finished runner-up twice on the Web.com Tour before capturing the News Sentinel Open to lock up his PGA Tour card.

“It took me a couple of years,” he said, “but I started to get those one or two shots that I was missing out on.”

Spaun finished 97th in FedEx Cup points as a rookie last season, watching fellow San Diego State alum Xander Schauffele win twice and earn Rookie of the Year honors. That motivated Spaun, and now he sits 14th in points through the CareerBuilder Challenge. Spaun is also ranked 17th in strokes gained: tee-to-green after finishing last season at No. 110.

LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 05: J.J. Spaun hits his approach shot on the second hole during the final round of the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open at the TPC Summerlin on November 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

He’s still searching, however, for his first Tour victory. Not that he didn’t come close last fall.

He opened in 66 at Sanderson Farms, only to finish T-34. He was T-14 at the OHL Classic after a final-round 70. He did play well down the stretch at the RSM Classic with weekend rounds of 62-66. But winner Austin Cook played better, and Spaun finished second.

The close call that stung the most, though, came in Las Vegas. Spaun was tied at the top after 54 holes and led with two holes to play in the final round. But winds picked up and he faltered, capping his round with consecutive double bogeys to shoot 74 and finish T-10.

“It was kind of a mess coming down the stretch,” Spaun said, “and that’s how I finished, a mess.”

Dollie looks back on that day differently.

“After all that, he goes into the clubhouse and all these kids from the Shriners Hospitals are there,” she said. “They’re all saying, ‘J.J., can we have your autograph? Can we get a picture?’ He puts on his beautiful smile and goes over to the kids.”

Added John: “Deep down, though, we knew he was devastated.”

Spaun knows his time will come again. He’s confident that when it does, he will be more prepared.

“This is definitely a game where you have to put yourself in position,” he said, “and I have, and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out the best it could’ve. … But it’s huge for a second-year guy like me to have those kinds of finishes and be in that spotlight multiple weeks. It just makes me want to get back there again soon.”

(NoteThis story appears in the February 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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