MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jesse Speirs, a Bangor native who is trying to qualify for the PGA Tour, is relieved but not relaxing after getting through the first stage last week.
“This is what I’ve been working toward all year,” said Speirs, who tied for 15th at The Lakes at Castle Hills in Lewisville, Texas. “It hasn’t always been easy, but you just keep your eyes on the big picture. Don’t take them off your goals, even when you’re not playing good. Just stick with it.”
Speirs will play next at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, a few miles north of Dallas. It’s one of six second-stage tournaments that will be held Nov. 11-17. The top 18-25 players at each site will advance to the final stage Nov. 28-Dec. 3 in LaQuinta, Calif. The top 25 and ties from the final stage earn PGA Tour cards, the next approximately 50 players will go to the Web.com Tour.
TPC Craig Ranch was Speirs’ first choice even though he has never even seen it.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I’ve heard it’s a long golf course, which sets up for my game,” said Speirs.
TPC Craig Ranch will play 7,438 yards, almost 200 yards longer than The Lakes at Castle Hills and with a par of 71.
”Also, it’s in Texas. I played at [Texas Christian University in Fort Worth] for two years, so I’m going to like the conditions out there,” said Speirs. “They’ll be tough and I like it like that. Plus, it’s all familiarity, too. I lived out there a couple years and I like going back. It should be fun.”
He says it’s fun, but this is his job and he always can find something to work on.
“My mid-irons I struggled with last week,” said Speirs. “Basically, 100-175 yards. I know it sounds like it’s pretty spread out, but a few clubs gave me a bit of trouble.”
He’ll spend most of the next two weeks working with his swing coach in Memphis.
“Everything’s basically where we want it, but when you’re playing in these strong [Texas] winds, you can get some bad habits going, so we’ll just check on that.”
During this year’s attempt to qualify, he’s also being helped by a friend, longtime PGA Tour caddie and Portland native Andy Lano II.
Lano caddied for Speirs last week and will do so again at TPC Craig Ranch.
“He brings a lot of experience. He’s seen every situation. He’s got a ton of knowledge,” said Speirs. “To have him on the bag, it’s a calming presence. He gets all the numbers down, he knows what he’s doing.”
Speirs trusts Lano to keep him on track.
“If we had to switch things up, he would just tell me,” Speirs said, “but we had a good game plan all week and just stuck with it.”
There were a couple of times last week when his belief in his game was tested. The bigger of the two, potentially, was on his last hole of the final round, the 570-yard, par-5 18th.
“I hit a really good tee shot, 220 out, and just didn’t make a great swing on my second shot and missed it right, ended up going in the hazard and made a double,” he said.
He finished exactly on the number he needed, 1-over-par 289, as the top 18 and ties advanced to the second stage.
“You don’t want to make costly mistakes like that,” Speirs said of his final hole. “I tripled my second hole in the first round and I fought back hard after that and shot even par in the first round. I was pleased with that.”
He had time to recover from that error caused by hitting his tee shot into the pond that borders the left side of the fairway.
“It’s true. I was secure enough in the game plan that I didn’t let it affect me the rest of the day,” he said. “That [mistake] could still get to you, but it was kind of a fluke tee shot.”
Speirs could look back at it with a smile Monday.
“I actually ended up making a good triple if that could ever be the case,” he said, chuckling. “The last two days I birdied the hole, so I guess I kinda got back at it a bit.”
As the number of players gets smaller, the chances of a similar miscue ending his qualifying run go up, but Speirs sounds like he is asserting himself more as he gets closer to his goal.
“The whole year, you’re telling yourself you have the game to do it and you believe in yourself,” said Speirs, “and now you’re kind of telling everyone else that, too.”