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Former Golf: Mike Heinen ready to get back on the field

Raymond A. Partsch III, Special to the Advertiser, March 24, 2014


Mike Heinen swings while competing during the Chitimacha Louisiana Open pro-am at Le Triomphe in Broussard on Monday. 

In a professional golf career that has spanned nearly three decades, Mike Heinen has played in more than 600 tournaments.

The 48-year-old Rayne native has teed it up at Augusta National for The Masters and has teed off against such golfing icons as Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson. But when asked what tournament is the one that he wanted to win more than any other, Heinen does not hesitate with his answer.

For him, that tournament is the one that he has played more than any other, the Chitimacha Louisiana Open at Le Triomphe Golf and Country Club.

“It makes it fun for me because obviously I am coming to a place that I love,” Heinen said. “I played a lot of my golf here in college. It is neat to come out and see everybody. It’s like a little homecoming.”

Heinen has played the event a record 16 times, and played the course even more than that during his All-American career at the University of Louisiana. The event obviously holds a special place in his heart but it is also the tournament that gave him his biggest professional heartache.

Heinen shot a tournament-record 24-under par at the 2002 Louisiana Open and was in contention for his first victory at the event. The only problem is that Steven Alker also shot a 24-under par, which meant the championship would be decided by a playoff.

Despite a disastrous start off the tee box, Heinen only had to drain a short putt to win the title, but that wasn’t meant to be.

“I went to the playoff and on the first hole Steven Alker hit it in the water and off the tee right,” Heinen remembered. “I then hit it in the water off the tee left through the fairway. I had probably a two and half footer to win the tournament and I missed it. I had to go back to the tee again and lost in the playoff.”

“I remember coming through the tunnel afterward and seeing my daughter and she could see it in my eyes that I was frustrated about losing it,” Heinen said. “It would have meant a lot to have won this tournament.”

Heinen is hopeful that his return to this week’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open will net more positive results but for different reasons. After a few years of semi-retirement, the Lake Charles resident is looking to restart his golf career and prepare for possibly joining the PGA’s Senior Tour in two years.

Heinen has only played in two PGA Tour events in the past five years, and none since 2012. He hasn’t played in the Louisiana Open (part of the Web.com Tour) since 2011.

“The last five years I haven’t played much golf at all,” Heinen said. “People have been asking me about if I am going to join the Senior Tour or not. I tell them I don’t know what I am going to do in four to five years. Now all of sudden I look up and it is two years away.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Heinen made a splash as a young professional golfer.

After turning pro in 1989, Heinen quickly made a name for himself on first the Web.com Tour (then known as the Ben Hogan Tour) playing in 29 events during the 1993 season, and posting seven Top 10 finishes. He moved up to the PGA Tour for the 1994 season and he won his first and only tournament, the Shell Houston Open which he won by three strokes.

All of the sudden, Heinen was playing in groups with such household names as Corey Pavin, Ernie Els, Tom Kite and Fred Couples.

“Every week after Houston I was playing with winners,” Heinen said. “I go from being a rookie playing with other rookies and then all of the sudden I am playing with Watson. It was amazing. It was so cool to get in that category.”

Heinen came close to winning the following year at the Freeport-McMoRan Classic but lost to Davis Love III in the second hole of a playoff. It appeared that Heinen was emerging as a star on golf’s biggest stage but Heinen would never again win a professional tournament. In his career on both tours, Heinen would record six second-place finishes, 31 Top 10 finishes and 63 Top 25s.

“When I first started out and I won in Houston I just wanted more of it,” Heinen said. “And when it didn’t come and times got tougher then it becomes more work. It is fun trying to win tournaments. It is hard trying to make money.”

By the end of the 1990s, Heinen’s passion for the game had slowly faded. From 1999-2001, Heinen has reduced his PGA Tour tournament schedule to 13 events while starting to have a family with his wife Kathy.

“I wanted to stay home with the family but then it was also a thing that I wasn’t playing well and I wasn’t getting in the tournaments that I wanted to play in,” Heinen said. “I wasn’t exempt and had to play when I could get in. It was a tough time.”

Heinen re-emerged from that funk in the mid-2000s, playing more than 10 Web.com events every year from 2005 to 2008, and still playing a handful of PGA Tour events. But by the end of the decade, Heinen was once again playing sparingly.

“You started getting to a time where you get older and I am not as competitive as I feel that I should be,” said Heinen, who cites his father and grandfather for giving him his passion for golf. “Right before I quit playing I got to the point where I was playing and I felt like I should have been at home. When I was at home I felt like I should have been playing. I spent about four years there where I was always in the wrong place.”

For Heinen, it only made sense that he would restart his career at Le Triomphe Golf and Country Club. His expectations for this week are simply to be competitive and hopefully not embarrass himself while he tries to put together a few competitive rounds.

“I want to come out and have a good time, and to do that I am going to have to play well,” Heinen said. “I am not going to have any fun shooting five over par. As for making the cut or winning the tournament, I mean, my expectations aren’t really high right now. Being away it for so long, it’s just one of those things like people say is like riding a bike. But once you get out here, it is like riding a bike and the wheels keep falling off. It is kind of hard to ride the bike.”

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