I reached out to Hayden thru a mutual friend of ours,Tucker, to interview him after the US Amateur. Hayden finished up this year as the 44th ranked amateur in the world after a stellar last two seasons at Mizzou, garnnering quiet a few honors including 2018 1st Team All SEC, 3rd Team All American and Mizzou Male Athlete of the year. He won 6 events and had 12 Top 10’s in the last 2 years. He was gracious enough to take the time to do this interview during his practice for the Web.com Q School last week.
Hayden, thanks again for taking the time to do this. Let’s start with a little bit more about your background?
I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I’ve lived in Tupelo, Mississippi since I was 2 years old. My dad is a doctor in town, and my mom travels around with me to all of my golf tournaments. I also have an older brother who works in Tupelo. Growing up I liked to be outside playing basketball in the driveway or fishing in the lake behind my house. I was always playing sports up until high school when I chose to pursue golf. After 4 years of college golf, I am now finishing up my last semester online at the University of Missouri and graduating in December with a Health Sciences degree. I will be driving back and forth between Columbia, Missouri and Tupelo depending on where I’m playing for Web.com Q school.
Sounds like you were eaten up with sports from an early age. How did you get into the game of golf?
Growing up, most of my time was spent playing baseball, soccer, basketball, and anything but golf. Golf was something I liked to do, I had first picked up a club when I could walk, but wasn’t as popular at a young age. Before my freshman year of high school, I had to make a decision on playing either baseball or golf for the next four years. I chose golf, and my coach sat me down to develop a practice plan that would improve my game. That’s when I truly started playing competitive golf. It took me a long time to put together scores that would be noticeable to college coaches, but by the start of my senior year I really only had one Division 1 scholarship offer. I hadn’t played as well in bigger tournaments, but the summer before senior year I played well on the local scene. I knew I had the talent and the drive to get better, I just needed an opportunity at a good school.
Growing up in Mississippi, how did you find your way to Missouri?
I was connected to my now swing coach, Chris Harder, about my junior year of high school. He took the head pro position at Tupelo Country Club, and we slowly began to develop my game. He played college golf at Austin Peay, and his then head coach was now the head coach at Missouri. He reached out to the coach, told him how hard I worked, and the next thing I knew I was committing to an SEC school.
It’s amazing what one phone call can lead to. Things really clicked for you in 2017, was there a moment that particular moment you knew it was all coming together?
We were at our final tournament of the fall in Hawaii, at a course I felt really good about. The second round I made a few birdies early, then closed my front nine out with a 6 under 30. I birdied 2 of the next 3, then finished birdie-eagle to shoot 61. I felt like I handled some of the nerves of knowing how good I was playing, as well as executing and finishing out a career low round. That’s when I knew what was possible, and I still use thoughts from that day to help my game.
Wow! You tore that course up. Describe your experience at the US Amateur the last two years? Which course did you enjoy playing more, Riviera or Pebble?
Riviera was my first time competing in the US Am. All of the excitement of being in the tournament over shadowed just how good that course was, but I enjoyed playing Pebble a little bit more. The history at Pebble is truly remarkable, and walking down the 18th is one of the most beautiful golf holes I’ve every played. The tournament is run so well, you’re very well taken care of, and there is always a big crowd of supporters. Knowing that there are over 300 people competing to make it into a 64 person match play bracket is intimidating, but you have to play steady. I was one of the last players on the course my first year, and made a 30 footer on my last hole to make it into match play by a few shots. Unfortunately, I lost 7&6 in my first match and was off the course as fast as I got on it. I knew my game was good to be there, but I still had a long way to go to get ready for the next year. That all kinda propelled me into that 2017 college season where I began to play on another level.
That walk down 18 looks incredible. I hope to get out there one day. Is there anything in the world of golf, whether its a product, player, course that is particularly enticing to you at the moment?
The new Titleist TS3 driver was recently put in the bag and has been absolutely incredible. It’s incredible how they are improving the technology and the results are definitely showing.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced thus far as a golfer?
The biggest challenge for me has been handling expectations. As you grow as a golfer, and with social media being so prevalent today, it’s very easy to get caught up in what people are saying about you. I struggled with this a little throughout my junior year of college, as I took a little bit of a leap into playing better golf. I worried too much about what I looked like to others rather than sticking to the process and trusting myself. It got to a point where I was trying to force success to gain recognition, rather than playing my game and enjoying what comes with it. As I kept maturing, I found a way to use the platform I had to inspire those who had dreams like myself.
Wise words for any up and comer. What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
Golf has given me a chance to travel all around the country and the world with countless opportunities to meet people. I’ve developed friendships with people from Australia, Asia, Europe, and all over the U.S. Not only that, but being a Student-Athlete gave me the opportunity to do a lot of community service. I was very involved with hospital visits, and got to hear stories from kids, adults, and army veterans on anything from golf to time spent in the war. Realizing that these people would do anything to be in my position humbled me into working that much harder.
What’s next for you as a golfer?
As of now, I will be going through the Web.com Q school process. If it goes well, I could have status next spring and begin my career in a good spot. Along the way, I will play in Monday Qualifiers for some PGA events, hope for a sponsor exemption or two, and maybe even find some mini tour events to keep growing my game.
Best of luck in qualifying and hope to see you in some tournaments around here. Let’s wrap it up with some Rapid Fire questions.
Tuesday practice round 4-some?
Me, Tiger, Kuchar, John Daly
That’s a crew for sure. Favorite club in the bag?
Best golf related purchase in the last year?
2 UNDR briefs
I’m going check those out. Bucket list course?
You can keep up with Hayden on Twitter and Instagram @hbuckley13 .