If it’s true that teaching is for those who cannot do, then Bob Heintz is in trouble.
Penn’s new men’s golf coach spent the last 20 years golfing professionally off and on as a member of the PGA and Web.com tours. Making the cut for 60 PGA tournaments, he once placed as high as second. He also won two Web.com tournaments.
“We’re all amazed by how much success he had,” senior captain P.J. Fielding said. “[He’s] definitely the most accomplished golfer coming out of the Ivy League.”
This summer, the former Yale star decided to settle down from the nomadic lifestyle of a professional golfer and look for a college coaching job. Heintz left professional golf for reasons both practical and personal. With reduced earnings and fewer tournaments overall this year, Heintz, in his early forties with four kids, figured it was time to lend his talents to the more sustainable career of coaching.
“If I’m going to make a career move, I’ve got to do it now,” Heintz said. “I’ve learned so much. I want to give that knowledge back.”
Heintz’s life as a top-tier golfer began at Yale. According to his former coach David Paterson, he joined the golf team as a basketball recruit. But on the links he found his true talent — he won the Ivy League tournament three times.
“He was a heck of an athlete,” Paterson recalled.
After college, Paterson — a former professional golfer who played in the British and Canadian Opens — encouraged Heintz to go for it as a professional golfer.
Heintz played after college for a few years, but when his first daughter was born, he quit and took a job in finance. Paterson said he and his wife visited Heintz on a trip to Florida, where Paterson again convinced his former pupil to continue golf.
“Certainly, he wasn’t happy about where he was in life. So I said, ‘You should be playing golf,’” Paterson explained. “So we talked to some Yale grads and pretty soon we had enough funding to get him playing.”
Heintz had an excellent career. According to the PGA’s website, he earned $629,997 from Web.com and $2,228,350 from the PGA tour. He finished in the top 10 at six PGA tour events.
At the PGA’s Reno-Tahoe Open in 2010, he took second place, narrowly missing a playoff that could have won him the tournament.
At one tournament, Heintz remembers being paired with Vijay Singh and losing to him by just a few strokes, tying for 11th place.
“It was still a good tournament,” Heintz said.
But the life, which involved three weeks on tour to each week at home, could be tough.
“When you’re playing well, it’s the best job in the world. People treat you like you’re something special even though you’re just going out and playing golf,” Heintz said. “When you’re not playing well and you’re missing cuts and you’re spending a bunch of money and you’re holed up in a hotel room for a month at a time, you start to look around and say, ‘What am I doing?’ My kids are at home, and my wife is at home, and here I am beating my head against a wall and having nothing to show for it.”
“You see the glamour on television on the weekends, but it’s [a] grind being out there,” Paterson said. “He has kids. He’s a responsible father, and I think he missed his kids.”
Heintz used his Ivy League connections to feel around for a coaching job. He interviewed first at Harvard, which did not hire him but did make him aware of a spot at Penn that would be opening up. After two rounds of interviews, Penn made Heintz the new men’s golf coach this summer.
Paterson, who has had Heintz coach at camps he runs in South Carolina, describes him as an excellent teacher.
“I was astonished at how good a communicator he was,” Paterson said. “I learned some things from him myself and I’ve been playing my whole life.”
Fielding said Heintz is direct and knowledgeable, and has been hugely popular with the team.
“I’ve known him for a month and a quarter, and he’s never given me an answer that’s not completely straightforward,” Fielding said.
The golf team, which finished in the top three spots in six tournaments last year, has already had its fair share of success under Heintz. The team won the Rehoboth Beach Invitational and finished second at the CHAMPS/Patriot Event, losing only to No. 23 Missouri.
This weekend, though, was more disappointing. The Quakers placed 16th of 19 teams in the Big Five Invitational.
Nevertheless, Fielding says the team has complete faith in its coach, a man who clearly understands the ups and downs that come with the sport of golf.
Paterson echoed the sentiment.
“He’s been immersed in golf,” Paterson said. “It’s his whole life.”