In any realm of life, if you succeed, you get noticed. Unfortunately for Penn men’s golf, you also never know who’s watching.
On Tuesday, it was revealed to the public that fifth-year head coach Bob Heintz would be resigning from his position, effective immediately. Heintz will be taking a role as an assistant coach at ACC powerhouse Duke, and will begin at the start of the Blue Devils’ spring season in February.
“I am an Ivy guy, having gone to Yale and stepped in [to coach] here, but there’s a big part of me that’s a real jock, and there’s a little bit more of a competitive atmosphere in the ACC than there is in the Ivies that attracted me,” Heintz told the DP on Thursday. “From a growth standpoint, there’s a lot I can learn over there under [Duke] coach [Jamie] Green, and then add that to the higher competitiveness that speaks to my PGA Tour days, and it’s a very attractive position.”
Though Heintz’s decision was only officially announced this week, the coach gave the news to his players in a private meeting on January 17. While athletes were understandably disappointed by the decision, there was zero animosity from the Quakers as their former coach attempts to move forward in his career.
“It was a shock because nothing had really been mentioned up to that point, but he explained the circumstances, and everyone was really understanding of it,” sophomore Josh Goldenberg said. “This is the best thing for him and for his career, and we support him 110 percent. We’re really thankful that he’s been our coach — he’s been an incredible mentor, and someone that the guys look up to tremendously — so it’s going to be really tough seeing him go, but at the end of the day, this is what’s best for him and his family and we totally support him.”
After a historic career at Yale that saw him win three consecutive individual Ivy League Championships from 1990 to 1992, Heintz embarked on a 19-year professional career that saw him secure six top-10 finishes in PGA Tour events. According to the PGA’s website, Heintz earned upwards of $2.2 million in his professional career, which reached its pinnacle with a second-place finish at the PGA Reno-Tahoe Open in 2010.
He arrived at Penn at the start of the 2012-13 school year, inheriting a team that stood as the defending Ivy League champions. And though his first two seasons in Philadelphia saw relatively pedestrian results, in his third year, he orchestrated one of the most impressive turnarounds in Ivy League history in any sport.
The Red and Blue, after finishing in dead last in the conference in 2014, managed to complete the first and only worst-to-first turnaround in Ivy League men’s golf history when Heintz led the Quakers to a riveting one-stroke victory over second-place Princeton in the 2015 Ivy League Championships.
The improbable effort, in which the Quakers trailed the Tigers by as many as seven strokes during the final round, brought Penn its fourth Ivy team championship in school history, as Heintz was named the first-ever Ivy League Coach of the Year after his historic effort.
“That was pretty awesome, coming through with that late comeback ... traditionally, Penn has never really been one of the favorites at the Ivies; we usually enter as the underdogs and that season was no different, so getting that done was really unbelievable,” said junior Amay Poria, the defending City Six individual champion. “And Coach Heintz obviously played a huge role in that, pushing us all the way.”
Unfortunately, Penn couldn’t quite sustain the success in Heintz’s final full season, dropping to seventh place at the Ivy Championships a year ago. Though there were some undeniable statistical achievements including the aforementioned Ivy title and the team’s first City Six championship since 2002, the Red and Blue also finished in the conference’s bottom two in two of Heintz’s four complete seasons, leading the former PGA pro to believe that he left some success on the table.
“I really thought we could’ve pulled off that Ivy championship in my first year here with some of those older guys that had won the previous year; we just suffered a couple of injuries the week of the Ivy tournament and we still narrowly lost [taking third], so that was disappointing,” Heintz said. “What I was really hoping to build was a consistent contender, and we didn’t quite get there in my five years. … certainly some highs and lows, but definitely would’ve liked us to be more consistent.”
Still, both on and off the course, the impact that Heintz made in his four-plus years was massive, with players equally praising both the team’s physical success and the way Heintz was able to change the broad culture surrounding the program.
“He was huge in getting our indoor facility completed, and that’s obviously a huge way we attract recruits, and he also just helped a ton in terms of how you manage golf and life at the same time,” junior Carter Thompson said. “Having his knowledge of being a PGA Tour pro, and all the experiences he would tell us about, made us a lot better .… He had a huge impact on the program, even though he was only here for five years — he left it better than he found it, no question.”
But as Heintz worked to transform the Red and Blue, his aspirations to move up in the college golf world combined with a timely personnel change at Duke teamed up to change the course of his career for good. Ranked No. 21 nationally in the most recent coaches’ poll, the Blue Devils qualified for the NCAA Championships as recently as 2015, while Penn hasn't done so since 1965.
So when former Duke assistant T.D. Luten resigned from his position in December 2016 to become a salesman for Parsons Extreme Golf, Heintz simply couldn’t resist the prestige that the powerhouse Duke program could offer.
Heintz promptly reached out to Duke head coach Jamie Green to inquire about the vacant position, and the rest was history.
“It wasn’t this sort of thing that I had been hunting for a long time; I just saw the opening pop up, and I knew Coach Green a little bit from previous interactions, so I texted him to see if he thought it he and I would be a good team,” Heintz said. “My main point that I made to the team is that I wasn’t actively searching for other jobs, and there’s no sense of trying to escape from Penn; it just so happens that I highly respect Duke, and when I saw that position pop open, I just reached out to see if they thought it would be a good fit. … It’s just flat out too good of an opportunity.”
While a brief grieving period is certainly justifiable for Penn, the squad will have to mentally regroup quickly if the Quakers are to respond from last spring’s disappointing finish. Despite the uncertainty of who will be at the helm of the program come March, a Red and Blue team that only graduated one player in 2016 and only has two seniors this season remains confident that it can overcome what unquestionably came as a stunning change of events.
“It took a little while for it to sink in for everyone, but we’ve all come together, and we’ve all discussed how this is a big change, but it’s not one that we’re going to let deter us from our goals,” Goldenberg said. “We still need to stay strong and stay together. … Each season, we write down our team goals, and they certainly won’t change — our primary goal is to win Ivies as a team, so all the goals that we have created still remain intact regardless of the situation.”
No official word has come from Penn Athletics regarding the search for Heintz’s replacement. That said, the team certainly will have its new manager in place by its season opener on March 6th, and Heintz estimated there would be a “90 percent” chance of Penn choosing to hire from outside the school rather than promote from within.
“I don’t necessarily expect Dr. Calhoun to need my help in the search, but I would be more than happy to be involved if they thought that my input would be helpful,” Heintz said. “Dr. Calhoun has a husband [Jason] who’s a college coach [at La Salle] and a lot of really smart people around her on her staff, and I’m very sure that they can make a good decision without me me, but they know my phone number, and I’d be very happy to help and offer input if they wanted for sure.”
Ultimately, regardless of whoever ends up being next in line to lead the Red and Blue, Heintz was confident that the impact he made on his former program won’t be fading any time soon.
“I do believe in the core group that is the right now; I think they’re going to be really solid this spring, and then next year have a very good chance at being one of the top teams,” Heintz said. “My goals at Penn were to get the team to approach it professionally and with a high level of commitment, and these guys did that. Part of that is my attitude, and part of that is finding guys who are going to stay committed to the program. We have those guys right now, so I expect that culture to continue.”