Jim Durham
    News Bureau Director

    Christian HeavensFour years ago, Christian Heavens knew he was good enough to play NCAA Division I golf. But, the star of The First Tee chapter of St. Louis understood what President Bill Crouch was creating on the small college level was special – so, instead he cast his lot with the unique First Tee Scholars program of Georgetown College.

    The rising senior communications major from Belleville, Ill. doesn’t feel “cheated” at all because he’s getting the special attention of a First Tee Scholar and he occasionally gets to show what he can do against the “big boys.” The pro golf tour is not the impossible dream, as recently he qualified for the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship to be played later this month, and, he took down a few Division I golfers in the process.

    “Summer-time is when I really get to test my skills against those D-I guys … and this time I beat some players from Northwestern and Illinois when I qualified,” said Heavens, who is proud of accomplishing the third of his TFT (The First Tee) goals for 2010.

    “In the qualifier, I was able to have fun in the moment,” he said. “But (winning) is in the preparation, going back to the start of the year when I write down my goals like The First Tee taught me.”

    His goals were:

    1. win the Mid-South Conference tournament and Player of the Year honors – CHECK;
    2. practice his swing every winter day possible with Larry Ward of Lexington’s Man-o-War Golf – CHECK;
    3. qualify for the U.S. Amateur Championship – CHECK.

    President Crouch is so proud of Heavens, he has arranged to be his caddy for the first two (guaranteed) stroke-play days of the Amateur in Tacoma, Wash.

    “I may be a little nervous at first … especially having to control my emotions in front of the president,” Heavens said. “But, Dr. Crouch knows his golf, and he’s worked with two sports psychologists – he’ll help keep me in the zone.”

    “I knew when I recruited Christian for our First Tee program that he was good enough to play NCAA Division I golf, BUT I knew in my heart we could better prepare this terrific young man for life,” President Crouch said. “I’m elated that he is getting opportunities to show what he can do against other top collegiate players while also getting so many other career-building opportunities at Georgetown College. Being Chrisitian’s caddy for two days at the U.S. Am will be such a great honor…and in ways that transcend a prestigious sporting event,” Dr. Crouch said.

    Below is an article that appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat, Heavens’ hometown newspaper in Illinois:

    National stage awaits Heavens
    East graduate has qualified to play in U.S. Amateur

    By Dean Criddle, News-Democrat Staff Writer

    Christian HeavensIt’s no secret: Christian Heavens wants to be a professional golfer.

    Later this month, the 2007 Belleville East graduate will attempt to use one of the world’s premier amateur tournaments – the U.S. Amateur Championship – as a stepping stone toward the pros.

    Heavens, 21, will be a senior at Georgetown College in Kentucky this fall. He earned the right to play in the elite event by tying for medalist honors during sectional qualifying at Piper Glen Golf Course in Springfield last week.

    “I played in the United States Amateur (qualifier) there two years ago and finished fifth,” Heavens said. “It was good to be able to play someplace I knew and had some success at in the past. I really like the course. It’s one that I play well.”

    He shot rounds of 71 and 70 during the one-day 36-hole qualifier to tie Jordan McLaurin, of Ironton, Mo., at 3-under-par 141. That earned him the right to compete with the top amateurs in the world Aug. 23-29 at Chambers Bay Golf Club near Tacoma, Wash.

    The trip figures to be an expensive one for Heavens, but certainly worthwhile. He has been planning for it the past two years.

    “Finally. It has been one of my goals for the past two years to play in a (U.S. Golf Association) national event,” Heavens said. “I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve been an alternate – once for the United States Public Links Championship. I didn’t play in many tournaments this summer, just the USGA qualifiers.

    “Realistically, this might be my last summer as an amateur as I plan to turn professional after graduating next spring. I really wanted to make it to the big stage before I made that step. If I wouldn’t have qualified, I probably would have waited another year as an amateur and tried it again.”

    Heavens has always been at home on the golf course. A three-time all-area selection while playing at East, Heavens has continued to excel at Georgetown, becoming a three-time Mid-South Conference first-team selection.

    Heavens won the MSC individual championship this season, in addition to several other titles he’s earned during a solid collegiate career. Heavens has also placed in the top three at the PGA National Minority Tournament, an event for collegiate players.

    Heavens is majoring in communications at Georgetown.

    Heavens also qualified for the NAIA Tournament this spring, shooting rounds of 80, 80 and 78.

    Heavens said each part of his game has improved in the past couple of years.

    “I’m smarter and I’m better mentally,” he said. “My mental game and short game were the things which held me back from being a great player in high school. But I’ve stepped it up. My chipping and wedge play is a lot better. Once I get the putting down, I feel like I’ll be one of the elite players.”

    “The putter’s not bad. But to be able to be a great player, you’ve got to be able to knock down those 15-footers, an occasional 25- to 30-footer.”

    One person who has seen Heavens’ development from the time he was a high school player is former East golf coach Jim Reynolds.

    “I think anyone who saw Christian play in high school recognized he had a lot of talent and potential. Now he’s taken that talent and a great work ethic to become an excellent player and one that is obviously playing very well right now,” Reynolds said. “He’s always been long off the tee and, while I haven’t seen him play in a couple years, he’s become more consistent.”

    Heavens said he didn’t play great at the U.S. Amateur qualifier, but it was good enough.

    After shooting a 1-under 71 for his first round, then enjoying a 30-minute lunch, Heavens was in the first group for the afternoon round.

    “I didn’t know what position I was in. My caddy went in at the (9-hole) turn in the second round to find out what the scores were, but I didn’t want to pay attention,” Heavens said. I just wanted to play my game and it paid off. I had a lot of birdie chances. Let’s just put it that way. I made back-to-back bogeys on holes 14 and 15, then I hit a good shot at 16 to make a birdie.”

    After making pars on his final two holes to finish with a 2-under-par 70, Heavens played the waiting game as scores were posted for the rest of the afternoon.

    “It was a good 90-minute to 2-hour wait while the other players finished,” Heavens said. “I was about as nervous as I’ve ever been. At first I didn’t want to know what players were shooting, but as time went on the scores kept getting higher and going in my favor. People started to congratulate me and I’m like, `No, not yet. Don’t jinx me.’

    “When the final group came in and I think the last guy shot over par. I was just happy. It’s just very exciting. It doesn’t get any bigger than to play in a national championship. This is bigger than the NCAA Tournament, everything.”

    Heavens will get two practice rounds at Chambers Bay before the U.S. Amateur Championship begins. The first two rounds will be stroke play with the top 64 players advancing to match play.

    “I’ve never competed in match play,” Heavens said. “I don’t know how I’ll play or if I’ll change my approach to the game.

    “I think maybe I’ll have a chance to be more aggressive. From what I understand, if you have a birdie putt you can go for it a lot more and not worry about what you may have coming back.”

    Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or dcriddle@bnd.com.