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Heintz playing catch-up

Palm Harbor resident Bob Heintz, 186th on the money list, is trying to stay on tour.

[AP photo]
Bob Heintz holds the spoils of perhaps his biggest victory, the 1999 Nike (now Buy.com) Tour Championship.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


PALM HARBOR -- There is no supervisor to review your job performance, no personnel department to hear complaints. PGA Tour golfers are graded simply by cold, hard numbers, with no room for extenuating circumstances.

The scorecard says it all.

Shoot low enough scores, earn enough money, and your place among the elite golfers in the world is secure.

Fail to do that, and a pro golfer's world is one of uncertainty.

And that is the spot Bob Heintz finds himself in today. The tour rookie had hoped for a happy homecoming this week at the Tampa Bay Classic, a new event at the Westin Innisbrook Resort just a short drive from his Palm Harbor home.

But Heintz is on the brink of losing his card, and there might not be enough time left in the season to alter the situation.

That was not exactly what Heintz had in mind when he began his first year on the tour in January.

"I would say it's disappointing, definitely. Frustrating to the maximum," said Heintz, 30, who was among more than two dozen players preparing for the $2.4-million tournament at the Copperhead course on Monday. "Harder than I thought? I'm not sure.

"The reason I'm not sure is I haven't played well for me. I haven't played as well as I did last year. If I played really well, and still wasn't making any money, then I'd say it's harder than I thought. And maybe it's harder to perform at the top level because of all the distractions.

"But I haven't performed well. That's my disappointment. Not in the tour or the money or any of that other garbage. I'm just disappointed I haven't played as well as last year."

Heintz, who went to Countryside High and Yale, earned his spot on tour by finishing sixth on the Buy.com Tour money list in 1999. He won two tournaments, including the season-ending Buy.com Tour Championship, which vaulted him from 16th. The top 15 are exempt on the PGA Tour the next season.

But Heintz has struggled in his first year on tour, missing 23 cuts in 31 starts. He has just one top-10 finish. In fact, most of the $105,212 he has earned came at the B.C. Open, where he tied for 10th and made $46,000. Heintz is 186th on the money list, and only the top 125 are exempt for next year.

That means Heintz would need to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $275,000 in the last three tournaments to have a chance. He is not alone. Several players in this week's field are outside the top 125, hoping to put their games together in time to salvage the year.

"I'm not thinking about it right now," Heintz said. "I have at least two tournaments left. ... I've had so little momentum, so little positive feeling. One of my goals would be to get some positive thoughts and momentum. Even if it means shooting 1-under (par), but doing it eight days in a row.

"Making all that money in two events (to remain exempt)? ... If I really worried about that, it's not going to happen."

A more attainable goal is to finish among the top 150 money winners. Heintz needs to earn about $125,000 to reach that mark, and although it wouldn't make him fully exempt next year, his life would be a bit easier.

Players among the top 150 are exempt in the finals of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, the six-day, 108-hole event where non-exempt players try to earn PGA and Buy.com playing privileges. The top 150 can also get into a limited number of PGA events.

Otherwise, Heintz must endure a 72-hole qualifying event just to make the qualifying tournament finals. If unsuccessful, Heintz faces a year of mini-tour golf.

How did he get in this predicament? Heintz has struggled in some key statistical areas, ranking just 192nd in driving accuracy (56.1 percent) and 186th in greens hit in regulation (60.3 percent). "I put a huge burden on my putter this year because of it," he said. "There was such a stress on my putter to save pars, I came away with a negative feeling. But my general ball-striking has been abysmal.

"But I don't want to abuse myself too bad. If I felt like I had played really well and I was sitting in this situation, I'd be concerned about my career."

Heintz recently began working with Val D'Souza, the pro at TPC of Tampa Bay, and feels like he is pointed in the right direction.

It might be too little, too late for this year.

"It's tough," he said. "You know how great it is when you're on the tour, and you don't want to lose it. That's why everybody is so obsessed with the money list. This is one of the best jobs in the world."

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