SAN ANTONIO — A year ago, J.J. Spaun came to the Valero Texas Open looking to reach the weekend, not the Masters. But the San Diego State alum held off Matt Jones, Beau Hossler and others to take the title, punching his first ticket to Augusta National.
Looking back at the whirlwind experience a year removed, Spaun still gets a wide smile.
“I’ve heard the cliche, like the ‘pinch me’ moments. That’s kind of what I felt for like the first time in my life going from the win here and then literally like flying over the next morning to Augusta and then registering,” Spaun recalled Wednesday. “It just happened so fast that I felt like I was in a dream because I was there signing the registration book at the player office at Augusta National and I’m just like everything’s happened so fast, like I can’t believe not only did I just win my first Tour event yesterday, but now I’m here at the Masters already like preparing to play my first time at Augusta.
“It was definitely a fantasy as far as like the whole experience. I was super happy to be there and to also have a good week, a good showing at Augusta. I know what I’ve got to do this week to get back there.”
Spaun did have a fine showing at the 2022 Masters, using a second-round 70 to finish tied for 23rd. However, despite a number of strong finishes since his dream run, the Southern Californian finds himself in a similar position, needing a victory at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course this week to get another ticket to Georgia.
Spaun appeared on pace to play his way in when he posted five straight top-15 finishes earlier this season, but four missed cuts in five starts reversed his course. The 32-year-old said he got derailed a bit when his coach Adam Schriber broke his pelvis in December, and all alone on the road, Spaun admitted he might have gotten “too wrapped up in his golf swing.”
An impressive showing at last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play has him believing he righted the ship, however. Spaun emerged from his pool undefeated before falling to Xander Schauffele in the round of 16 at Austin Country Club.
Of course, Spaun’s not the only one hoping to play his way back to Augusta to the Masters this week. Rickie Fowler, who has surged of late, is also hoping to get back to Augusta National for an 11th time, looking to avoid a string of three straight years without playing in the April staple.
But Spaun said that’s what makes this week in San Antonio special. The field might not be as strong as other events — No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking Tyrrell Hatton leads the field — but Spaun said the intrigue stems from a hungry field that knows a few hot rounds could mean a berth in the Augusta field.
“There’s perks to every single win but I think this one’s kind of extra special and has extra meaning because it’s your last chance to get into Augusta,” he said. “It’s weird, last year I wasn’t even thinking about that and I know maybe that’s kind of what mentally kept me in the present and not thinking ahead and not putting too much pressure on myself. I’ll try not to think about it too much.
“If I play great and win, we’ll kind of go through that whole cyclone of a mess, I guess, in a good way of going from here straight to Augusta. But that would be awesome.”