Bangor’s Speirs poised for the next step

Posted May 09, 2010, at 10:24 p.m.

Jesse Speirs has known since he was 11 years old that he wanted to be a professional golfer.

Now that that moment is quickly approaching — he’s playing as a pro in a U.S. Open local qualifier at Ridgeway Country Club in Memphis on Thursday — the excitement is also mixed with anxiousness.

“I’m having a hard time sleeping at night thinking about it,” said the 23-year-old Bangor native.

There’s a lot to think about, all of which will cost money.

“Playing this summer through winter Q school [the PGA Tour’s multistage qualifying process] I figure will cost $30,000-$40,000,” said Speirs. “I just graduated college, I’m broke and I’ve got to get started [raising the money] right away.”

He plans on finding financial backers, but he said he doesn’t have any yet.

“I’ve talked to a few people, and I’ll probably get back to Maine in a couple weeks to work that out,” he said.

Since September, Speirs has focused on completing his religious studies degree at the University of Mississippi. He graduated Saturday, so now he can switch his focus to golf again.

Players, unless they’re Tiger Woods, usually don’t start at the PGA Tour level. They begin with lower-level mini tours, play state opens or independent tournaments such as the Hollywood Slots Greater Bangor Open.

Speirs nearly won the GBO in 2002 as a 15-year-old amateur, finishing tied for second a stroke behind the winner. He won the Paul Bunyan Amateur twice and capped his amateur career by winning the Maine Amateur last year at Martindale Country Club in Auburn.

Speirs has narrowed his mini-tour choices to the Tar Heel Tour in North Carolina and the Adams Tight Lies Tour, which is based in Texas.

“The competition is going to be strong wherever I go, but I’d like to go to Texas, and I’d like to get there as soon as possible,” said Speirs.

Speirs started his collegiate career at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and is familiar with the opportunities.

“There’s just so much golf out there [in Texas], and I think, overall, it’s a great fit for me,” he said. “They have a ton of good players out there, and I have some friends there.”

He also has a brother, Justin, who is in the Border Patrol in Arizona.

“It’s nice to have family in that area of the country,” he said.

That doesn’t mean it would be a quick, easy trip to see him, though.

“Most of the [Tight Lies] tournaments are in the Fort Worth area in East Texas. It’s about a 20-hour drive to Arizona,” said Speirs.

Speirs started in golf by following his father and brothers around.

“I started playing when I was 10,” said Speirs. “I played in my first tournament when I was 11. It was a nine-hole tournament at Felt Brook [Golf Center in Holden], and I won.”

That was the seed that started the career.

“When I won, I was hooked on it,” Speirs said.

Mark Hall, the pro at Hermon Meadow Golf Club at the time, encouraged Jesse and his parents to get into competitive junior golf.

“I started playing down south [on the Plantations Tour]. I enjoyed the competition. Since then, my whole mindset has been being as good as I can be,” Speirs said.

His mother, Debi, traveled with Jesse and home-schooled him as they traversed the junior circuit until he was 16 and started traveling on his own. His father, Don, stayed in Bangor for his job and the rest of the family.

“Everyone’s been extremely supportive,” said Jesse. “I couldn’t have asked for better. I guess you could say it was a group effort.”

The decision to turn pro, though, was all Jesse’s.

“They wouldn’t care if I didn’t want to play golf,” said Speirs, but, he added, “They both feel comfortable about my decision.”

Part of the group effort Speirs referred to has to include Ernest Ross, his golf coach at Ole Miss for two years. Ross made sure Speirs was able to get his degree even though his eligibility was up.

“That’s our normal policy,” said Ross. “We kept him on scholarship this year. We want to see every one of our athletes earn a degree.”

Ross believes Speirs can make a go of his pro career.

“When he’s playing well, Jesse drives the ball long and accurate,” said Ross. “His last year, he was not driving it so well, but he improved his short game and putting.

“If he can get both parts together, he can make a lot of money.”

Often what determines success as a pro, though, is what goes through a player’s mind between holes and before and after rounds. Ross likes Speirs’ temperament as well.

“I always thought Jesse was well in control of his emotions,” said Ross. “He never gets too excited or too angry. In his two years here I never saw him have an issue with that.”

While Speirs couldn’t play for the Rebels this year, he did practice with them when he could, and he still had use of the facilities so he could keep working on his game.

“You can always work on your swing,” said Speirs, who still gets help from teaching pro Paul Piveronas, a former assistant pro at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth, as well as a sports psychologist in Texas. “I worked a lot on my short game, too, especially my bunker play. There’s always something to work on, even stuff you’re good at.”

The short game is the part he has been concentrating on.

“From 100 yards in, you try to work on making your game bulletproof,” he said. “On 10-foot putts, I want to make nine out of 10. You’ve got to get where you know you can make these shots.”

He has also been playing with couple of former teammates, including Kyle Ellis, who is on the Hooters Tour, which is a couple of steps away from PGA Tour-level competition.

Speirs hopes to get back to play in the GBO this year and wishes he could have defended his Amateur title as well.

“I did want to come back and win a second straight Maine Amateur,” said Speirs.

“I feel good about my win last year,” he continued. “My dad was able to caddie for me. I couldn’t have asked for it to work out any better.

“So I’ll just leave it at that and move on.”

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