COLUMBIA - Hayden Buckley had two Division I offers out of high school to play collegiate golf. The first came from Rice University in Houston. Then, he received an offer from Missouri and knew he had to take it.
The Tupelo, Mississippi native, now a senior on the Missouri men’s golf team, admits that his play wasn’t where he’s wanted it to be. In his first couple years, he wasn’t getting many opportunities to play in tournaments. He also did not have a win in his first three years.
That all changed during the fall 2017 half of this season, when Buckley won his first individual championship as he went 7-under par at the Turning Stone Invitational in New York. A month later, Buckley nabbed his second championship at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, where he shot 17-under par.
At the end of October, Buckley shined in Hawaii at the Warrior Invitational where his second-round score of 61 broke a school record, as well as his 54-hole score of 197 for the tournament.
During the break between fall and spring sessions, Buckley won the New Year’s Invitational Amateur for the second-straight year.
He came into the spring season with the same strong play and won the SunTrust Gator Invitational in Florida, shooting 8-under par and winning over opponents on Vanderbilt and Florida, ranked fourth and eighth in the country respectively.
“Looking back from my freshman year to know, it’s kind of a 360 from not really playing on the team at all to playing some of the best golf of my career, it’s definitely been life changing,” Buckley said.
Buckley is off to the best start, and on pace to have the best individual season in Mizzou Golf history. But, he hasn’t let that get in his head too much.
“You look on the walls here and you see All-Americans, you see PGA Tour players,” he said. “Those are some of the reasons I wanted to come here and to be playing this well, as well as those guys before me is an amazing feeling.
At the same time, I’m not getting ahead of myself. I know that the goal for me and the goal for our team is a national championship. I’m trying to keep my head on that and not on the possible records or awards in the future. You can’t win a national championship with a hot start in the season but you can lose it.”
While Buckley is focusing on the rest of the season ahead, he still has future goals in golf. The senior is in his last season and he’s set to graduate at the end of the fall 2018 semester, something he promised his parents he would do no matter what.
After graduation, Buckley wants to make it to the PGA, something he always dreamt of, but didn’t think was a possibility over the last few years.
“A lot of those dreams were kind of stagnant for a little bit, for my first few years here because I wasn’t playing as well as I thought I should have,” he said.
Buckley’s coach, Mark Leroux, said Hayden has the talent and ability to get there.
“There are a lot of times that guys get to college golf team and they plateau, and that’s what you get out of them for the next four years, but that’s certainly not Hayden given the fact that he is still getting better,” Leroux said. “If you want to go play professionally, you’re probably going to have to be better than you were in college. He’s got that potential, his future’s pretty bright.”
Along with improved short game and a better mental game on the course this season along with the positive results, Buckley has more confidence in himself to rise to the professional level.
“I know that I have that talent, it’s been there, it’s been a whole culmination over the last three and a half years,” Buckley said. “It’s a dream come true if it does happen.”