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Former Golf: Rayne golfer to add to resume with British Senior Open

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, July 26, 2017

Mike Heinen never got the chance to play in the British Open, or even play across the Atlantic in Europe, at any point in his professional golfing career.

This week, he’ll get the chance to make up for a missing piece in his golfing resume’.

The Rayne native, former UL All-American and Lake Charles resident — and 1994 Shell Houston Open champion on the PGA Tour — is in the field for this week’s British Senior Open.

“I’m going over there to play and have fun,” Heinen said last week before he departed Friday for Porthcawl, Wales, and the Royal Porthcawl Golf Course. “I’m bringing my pillow, my fan and some Tony Chachere’s.”

He’ll also bring his clubs, including the Callaway driver that was his primary weapon during his 17-year career as an active touring pro on the PGA and Web.com Tours. Heinen, who would make any list of “great-guy” golfers, doesn’t bomb that driver quite like he used to at age 50, but this year especially that age provides a huge opportunity.

The Senior Open, which is how it’s known anywhere except the U.S. much like last week’s Jordan Spieth win came in the “The Open” and not the British Open, is one of the world’s two or three premier events for players 50 and over. It is a revered event in the British Isles, and golf fans follow the event with nearly as much fervor as last week’s Open played at Royal Birkdale.

The event has a purse of $1.5 million pounds (over $1.9 million in U.S. dollars), and a list of previous winners of the Senior Open is a who’s who of golf: Gary Player, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer among many others. In fact, Langer won the event the last time it was played at Royal Porthcawl in 2014.

And this year, one of the most popular golfers in Acadiana history gets to tee it up beginning at 11:50 a.m. Thursday (5:50 a.m. local time) with the likes of Watson, Couples, Langer, Sir Nick Faldo, John Daly, Fred Funk, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Larry Mize, Corey Pavin and many, many others.

“It’s been a long time since I did something like this,” Heinen said, “or played this much golf. I’m going to be golf out by the time this is over. But I’m looking forward to it.”

How did it happen that Heinen, whose recent competitive career has been limited to occasional Louisiana Open outings in the last several years and a run at Champions Tour Q-school in November, is in the field for one of the world’s best senior events?

It turns out that the Senior Open has a special exemption category — one that Heinen himself didn’t know about until early last year — for former PGA Tour champions. During the year in which they turn 50, the minimum age to play in the tournament, all former PGA Tour winners get a one-time exemption into the field without having to go through qualifying.

In other words, that 1994 Houston Open win that got Heinen into the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA fields reaps him one more benefit — a big one for him, since schedules and timing never allowed Heinen the opportunity to play in the Open while an active player.

Heinen said he’s been playing much more regularly over the past few weeks, and planned to get in a full practice round at Royal Porthcawl Saturday, Sunday and Monday when only exempt players were allowed on the course. He said he’d likely get in nine holes and some practice work Tuesday and Wednesday after the rest of the field that made it in through Monday qualifying hit the course Tuesday.

“The couple of days before I’ll mostly just walk the course, hit a few chips around the green and putt some, take some good looks at it in close,” he said. “Over there it’s all position, missing in the right spots.

“It’s a seaside course and they’ve got the pot bunkers deep in the fairways. You hit in one of those and you’re not getting on the green … over here, you pull a 7-iron and knock it on. There, you’re chipping out. A lot of what they do is on the ground, and that’s what I always did and was comfortable with, so that part will be neat. I’ve been hitting the ball well and I feel like I will there.”

It’s a solo trip for Heinen. Originally some family members and friends were looking at travel packages, but Heinen insisted to all of them that he was going on a “business trip.”

“Flying to London, a three-hour drive through Wales to the course, getting my room, getting situated and heading to the course,” he said. “That’s my week.”

Brian Claar, a friend of Heinen’s from The Woodlands, Texas, a long-time PGA Tour rules official and now a vice president for the Champions Tour, provided advice as well as lining up a local caddie for the week. Long-time pro and Champions Tour member Willie Wood, also a close friend, also gave advice on what to do, where to stay and some of the ins and outs of British golf.

“It’s different golf than what I’ve always played, but I think I would have liked it if I’d played it more often,” he said. “I like certain parts of it, the others I don’t know. Brian’s running one of the qualifiers and he’s getting me a local caddie, but I’m going to do my own yardages and I’m more confident reading greens than any caddie I might get.”

Given his lack of competition for much of the last decade, Heinen isn’t expecting to crash the leader board. It’s more about the experience … but then again, nobody expected him to win the Shell Houston Open in only his 10th-ever PGA Tour start 23 years ago.

“I’m not expecting to go there and win,” he said. “I’m going to have fun and to experience it. My rain gear’s about 15 years old so I have to get some of that, but now that it’s close, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas:
Click here for Mike Heinen’s Athletic Network profile. 

Southern Amateur

UL junior-to-be Triston Elston missed making the cut by one stroke last week in the prestigious 111th Southern Amateur Championship held at the Country Club of North Carolina.

Elston, a product of Baton Rouge, carded a one-over 71-74—145 score in the opening rounds Wednesday and Thursday, and was tied for 47th after the opening round. The 178-player field was cut to the low 65 and ties after Thursday’s second round, and even-par 144 was the cut line.

Elston finished tied for 72nd in what is one of the nation’s most respected amateur events, after firing a four-under-par 68 at the tournament’s sectional qualifier in New Orleans and claiming one of four spots available at that event.

“Making the Turn” appears each Wednesday from February-November in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.