Golfer Levin reps in Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Golfer Levin reps in Pebble Beach Pro-Am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- When Spencer Levin is going right on the golf course, he's channeling the inner 15-year-old who pitched seven innings in the Babe Ruth League's California state championship, shifted to second base for the remainder of the game and delivered the winning hit in the 11th inning.

At age 30, Levin is far removed from those days as a ballplayer for the Elk Grove Babe Ruth team while growing up in the city directly south of Sacramento. He has put a lot of PGA Tour road between himself and the days of playing baseball year after year with a group of friends he still counts among his closest to this day, and he has experienced some highs and lows as a professional.

But that fire remains part of Levin's game, and after a couple of years when it was hard to find the right balance of competitiveness and contentment while battling injury and personal woes, he's back to playing contending golf on the Tour, back to being that gritty 15-year-old, all grown up.

You can spot Levin wearing a cap with the logo on it this year, and on the upper part of the leaderboard the last couple of weeks. He's tied for 26th at 7-under par through two rounds of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this week after winding up in a tie for 11th at San Diego the week before.

Levin's tie to baseball isn't just about a logo on his cap -- baseball was his first love, and as a diehard Giants fan and a professional athlete himself, it's always going to be a part of him.

"Growing up with the baseball teams we had, we were always very competitive -- that's just the nature of the town, the way we were all raised," Levin (pronounced la-VEEN) said earlier this week at Pebble Beach. "It was kind of a tradition in the town. I was always around competition, so when I started playing golf, I had a lot more of that mentality as opposed to a lot of kids that maybe just grew up playing golf and not baseball."

Levin, whose father, Don, is a teaching pro and former Tour player, enjoyed a relatively rapid rise to prominence on the PGA Tour a few years ago, finishing 31st on the Tour money list in 2011, and starting off '12 well. He allowed a six-shot lead at the Phoenix Open to slip away that year but recovered to fare well at Pebble Beach the next week and later led at the Memorial in June. But it went downhill from there, and his career is just now recovering.

"For a little bit, I was really down on golf and myself, and I'd never been like that before," Levin said.

From a golf perspective, a left thumb injury that required surgery was the biggest blow. But Levin also suffered personal loss and eventually a dimming of that competitive fire that had burned so brightly since his childhood, losing his grip on what was looking like a promising career. He regained his footing a bit at the end of 2014, when he met the conditions of his major medical exemption and earned Tour status through the '14-15 season, and now he's focused on being at his best each week, each round.

"I feel like I'm in a better place than I was last year with my game and my attitude," Levin said.

That doesn't mean his tendency to show his emotions more than most PGA Tour golfers -- or many of them, combined -- has completely dissipated. He'll bang a club on the ground or let it drop in his follow-through, and he'll come a little untucked here and there. But that's who he is.

"I'll still get frustrated or kind of fired up, which is how I've always been, and I'd say that's when I'm playing better because I have my fire back and want to do well," Levin said.

Levin's love for baseball is focused these days on the Giants, his team a winner of three World Series in five years. He gathered with his friends and racked up an undefeated record dating back to 2012 watching postseason games at his house before they went to a local bar for Game 6 of last year's World Series, won by the Royals, 10-0.

"They all said, 'We're going to your house tomorrow,'" Levin said, and sure enough, the Giants clinched the Series in Game 7.

Levin's eyes light up when talking about the possibility of meeting Buster Posey and Matt Cain, who are both in the Pro-Am here this week, so the baseball kid is still there. But the golfer in him is in a better place now -- not so hard on himself, still bringing the competitive heat like that 15-year-old in the Babe Ruth League, but understanding the reality of golf.

"When I make a bogey now, it's not like I'm a bad person for it," Levin said.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.