‘Everybody said don’t do it’: Levin cashed in and paid for it. Golf gave him a mulligan

Spencer Levin hits out of a bunker onto the 18th green during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament in 2016.
Spencer Levin hits out of a bunker onto the 18th green during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament in 2016. Associated Press file

Spencer Levin reacted like anyone who had just lost their job.

“I got home and was super bummed,” he said. “I didn’t want to get out of bed.”

He received a call two days later that brought an unexpected reprieve. Although his performance during the past year was indeed relatively poor, upon further examination his overall body of work merited a second chance, albeit in a lower-paying position.

“I jumped right out of bed and I was fired up,” he said.

Professional athletes, even those competing at the highest level of their sport, can be just like the rest of us.

Levin finished a career-worst 157th on the PGA Tour money list for the 2016-17 season. His problems multiplied when he finished 77th in the four-tournament Tour Finals series. So after nine consecutive fully exempt seasons in golf’s major league during which he earned $8.2 million, the 33-year-old who was raised in Elk Grove and lives in East Sacramento was without a place to play.

Or so he thought for two depressing days until the call came. Turns out, a player who has been fully exempt on the PGA Tour for five consecutive years has earned one year as a full-time Tour member.

“It was like I had won Q-school without even doing anything,” he said.

Levin’s downturn started in January when he accepted a club contract to play a Callaway driver and irons. He proceeded to miss eight cuts in a row, including six on the West Coast swing when he usually makes hay.

“I took the money,” he said. “Everybody said don’t do it, and they were right. I learned the hard way.”

Callaway’s support staff was top-notch and their clubs are good, Levin said, they just didn’t fit his game. He stuck it out for as long as he could but finally relented.

“I gave them their money back and went back to my old TaylorMade driver and irons,” he said. “It kind of sucked that I didn’t like (the Callaway clubs). Their guys were really cool. I just couldn’t find a driver I liked.”

Levin was 180th in driving distance in 2016-17 with an average of 279 yards. Can he still compete on golf’s biggest stage without being a bomber?

“Obviously I have,” he said. “The years I’ve made the most money, I was going to the gym and taking care of my body in the offseason and hitting it out there pretty far. For some reason, I’ve never really stuck with it in the gym.

“I have three months (until the Tour season begins in January) to get my body in shape. I’m going to have to be disciplined. My game was always good enough to get by, but if I want to win these tournaments and be the player I want to be, I have to get serious. Everybody who is beating me is doing that. The second half of my career, it’s something that I’m going to have to do.”

Levin has another motivating factor in his life – his 1-year-old daughter, Skylar. He’s taking advantage of his unscheduled downtime to spend time with her near Boston, where she lives with her mother. He’s learning about farm animals and unconditional love, he said.

“I think about her way more and myself way less these days,” he said.

Purses on the Tour are roughly 10 percent of those on the PGA Tour. Levin earned $469,730 this past season – a total surpassed on the Tour only by leading money winner Chesson Hadley. Parker McLachlin, Levin’s No. 157 equivalent, earned $14,300.

Levin said he’s not thinking about money.

“If you had told me halfway through the year I would be in this position, I would have been bummed,” he said. “The way it turned out, I’m happy about it. At least I have a job.

“If I play well, I’ll have my (PGA Tour) card back next year. At least I have a chance to get back within a year, which is pretty cool. If I play really well, maybe even sooner. The whole thing right now is about getting back on the tour.”

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526