Bob Heintz could be doing something else. He has a degree in finance from Yale, for crying out loud. He could be on Wall Street, or he could be on Main Street in Dunedin with his own financial planning business. But the Clearwater native, Countryside High graduate and current Dunedin resident is a professional golfer. Aside from a break in 1996 to be a financial analyst, Heintz has been a pro since 1994. He has bounced back and forth between the Nationwide and PGA tours for almost 15 years, doubting himself many times along the way. "It's been so many times up and back that I lose track," Heintz said. But he has never lost hope.
Heintz is a professional grinder. Now 39, he continues to chase his ball around courses throughout the world. This year he is mainly doing it on the Nationwide Tour, a rung below the PGA. However, Heintz did play in the PGA Tour's Transitions Championship at Innisbrook last week after earning a spot in a Monday qualifier. He finished tied for 41st and earned $19,980, the first money he has earned on either tour.
In four tournaments on the Nationwide this year, he missed all four cuts.
"Played mediocre to crappy in all four,'' Heintz said. "I'm waiting for the tide to turn."
Riding the tide
Heintz has had some success in his professional career. He won twice on the Nationwide in 1999 and finished sixth on the money list with $180,222. That meant an exemption on the PGA Tour in 2000, his first crack at the big leagues.
It did not go well. He missed the cut in 25 of 34 tournaments and did not earn his tour card for the next year. He also lost his card in 2003, once again in 2007 and yet again this year.
That's how it has been for Heintz. A roller-coaster ride between tours that he doesn't want to get off. But Heintz knows who he is and what he is capable of doing.
"World-class guys like Tiger (Woods) or Phil (Mickelson) or Ernie Els, those guys know they're always going to be there," Heintz said. "A guy like me, we kind of have to tinker around for a few months at a time before we realize: 'Oh, it's not that hard. I can play the game.' That lasts for a couple of weeks and then we go and try to find it again.
"So if you're not one of those guys, you're just always fighting the cycle of when you feel it and when you don't. Hopefully, I'm on the way up."
Keeping the faith
It is that kind of optimism that keeps Heintz, and players like him, grinding away. Maybe there will be one week where it all comes together. The PGA Tour is littered with players who have one victory, one week where everything clicked and they held a trophy and a big check.
This week, Heintz is playing in the Nationwide's Louisiana Open. He is in the 150-200 money list category after finishing 171st on the PGA's money list last year ($286,283). He has status in most events, but the Nationwide reshuffles periodically during the season. If he doesn't start making cuts, Heintz could lose status for tournaments later in the year.
"I need to make some money here pretty soon on the Nationwide Tour or I'll get reshuffled down," Heintz said. "It would be nice to do well (in Louisiana)."
Heintz has never doubted his physical abilities. But after years of toiling on the edges, he realizes the problem is sometimes between the ears.
"I'm absolutely mental right now," he said. "My tools are relatively good, my swing's okay. It's about me getting over the ball and just letting myself play instead of worrying about what bad things might happen when the ball leaves the clubface. That's my biggest challenge.
"I have a very analytical brain, and it's very active. I've got to shut it down."
No end in sight
Heintz will continue to play golf as long as he is able. What better job is there? Even though only avid fans might know who he is, he has still earned $1,893,283 in his career. He and his wife, Nancy, have four children. They are building a house near Countryside Country Club.
His expectation is to finish in the top 25 on the Nationwide money list, which will give him playing privileges on the PGA Tour next year.
If that doesn't happen, he can always return to qualifying school, the grinding five-round event in December to earn PGA Tour status. And if that doesn't happen, then he will play as many Nationwide events as he can.
Heintz is a golfer, and he doesn't want to give that up yet.
"I haven't thought about when to stop," he said. "I'm basically a full-fledged guy on the Nationwide Tour. And I can get on stretches of six weeks or so where I'm in the top 25 and making most of my money. I have a reasonable expectation that I can finish in the top 25 on that tour.
"I don't see the end of the tunnel for my career right now, but I do need to get my butt in gear."