Calgary’s Heffernan shooting for return trip to U.S. OpenWritten by Wes Gilbertson
It’s Tuesday at the 2001 U.S. Open, and Wes Heffernan — a rookie professional, less than a year removed from his triumph at the Alberta Men’s Amateur Championship — is headed out for a solo spin at Southern Hills.
At least, that was the plan.
Turns out, he was about to be playing a practice round with a trio of PGA Tour standouts, two of them now enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I was going to the tee and I thought I was playing by myself, and my caddie, Brad Ingarfield, had talked them into letting me join them,” Heffernan recalled. “They were already about 200 yards down the fairway … So I ended up hitting the tee-shot — it’s an elevated tee-shot — and we get down to the fairway, and it’s Fred Couples and Brad Faxon. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What has he got me into here?!?’
“And then we finish nine holes, and Davis Love III walks down from the clubhouse, and he joined us for the back nine. I think Davis was top-5 in the world at that point, so that was pretty cool.
“It’s too bad that wasn’t the first round, because I was pretty nervous playing with those guys, but I played awesome that day,” Heffernan added. “I didn’t play so well in the tournament. I think that was my third tournament as a professional. At that point, I had no idea how to play that kind of golf and was just overwhelmed, but it was pretty cool.”
A proud member at Silver Springs and instructor at Golf Canada Calgary Centre, the 41-year-old Heffernan is now taking aim at a third opportunity to tee it up at the U.S. Open, a pipe-dream for most of the thousands and thousands who sign up for the qualifying quest each spring.
He’s in the field for Monday’s sectional qualifier near San Francisco — a 36-hole marathon that includes laps of both Lake Merced and the Ocean Course at Olympic Club. The sharpest shooters from a dozen sectional sites will be rubbing shoulders with Tiger, Phil, Dustin, Rory and the rest of the superstars next week at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. (The exact number of spots available at each specific site has yet to be revealed.)
By his own count, Heffernan has advanced to the sectional stage on 13 different occasions. He’s twice earned an invitation to the PGA Tour’s second major of the season — at Southern Hills and then a decade later at Congressional, where he scorched his second nine Friday in 5-under to climb north of the cut-line and stick around for the weekend
“It’s definitely gruelling,” Heffernan said of the sectional showdowns, the route to the U.S. Open unless you’re a recent major winner, sitting among the Top-60 in the official world golf rankings or manage to score an exemption through another of the USGA’s marquee events. “Normally, if you get off to a good start in an 18-hole round, you just try to keep it together for the 18 holes. But when it’s 36, it’s easy to kind of let it go and let your mind wander.
“Especially at a U.S. Open qualifier, if you play well through the first nine or the first 18, you start thinking about the U.S. Open, right? Which is exactly what you shouldn’t do. When it’s 36 holes, it’s easy to get tired — mentally and physically — and start to do that kind of thing, just because you wear down as you go on.
“So it’s really important — and I know it’s always a cliché — to stay in the moment. You just try to survive it, I guess.”
Now focused mostly on dad duties and his full-time gig as a teaching pro, Heffernan delivered a don’t-forget-about-me type performance last August at the 2017 ATB Financial Classic at Country Hills. Playing on an exemption, he was the runner-up that week at his hometown stop on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada.
He’s feeling good about his game, believing his ball-striking is back to the level it was when he racked up four victories between 2006-08 on what was then known as the Canadian Tour.
In one of his final tune-ups for U.S. Open sectionals, he sizzled Tuesday to a 7-under 65 during the PGA of Alberta’s one-day shootout at Valley Ridge, finishing four shots clear of the field.
“Now that I struggled for a few years and obviously not playing as much golf as I did before, I’m just kind of enjoying things more,” Heffernan said. “That’s why I played so well last year at the ATB Classic — I was just happy to play in a Mackenzie Tour event that week, and then I got into contention, and I was just thrilled to be in contention again. You feed off that.
“So if I was to get into the U.S. Open again, I’m not necessarily saying I would play awesome, but I think I would enjoy it more. Not that I wouldn’t be nervous, but I definitely would appreciate it more and take it all in more.”