By Zack Hall

The Bulletin

62nd Oregon Men’s Stroke Play Championship

What: An Oregon Golf Association championship

Where: Juniper Golf Course, Redmond

Format: 54 holes of stroke play

When: Today through Sunday

Tee times: Today and Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. Sunday, leaders expected to tee off at about 12:30 p.m.

Who: 158 golfers, including 22 from Central Oregon. From Bend: Tom Carlsen, Dylan Cramer, Ryan Decastilhos, Taylor Garbutt, Jesse Heinly, Maxwell Higlin, Justin Kadin, Sam Nielsen, Don Orrell, Jamie Punt, Charlie Rice, Stein Swenson, Tom Stumpfig and Jeff Ward. From Redmond: Jason Benson, Alex Fitch, Michael Jackson, Jared Lambert, Kelly Paxton, Jason Pigot and Andy Rodby. From Sunriver: Carey Watson

Admission: Free for spectators

One would hardly know it by talking to him, but Jesse Heinly is teeing off on one of the most important stretches of his young golf career.

The 22-year-old from Bend will play this weekend in one of the Oregon Golf Association’s two annual major amateur tournaments, the Oregon Men’s Stroke Play Championship, which begins today at Juniper Golf Club in Redmond.

Then Heinly has to face even stiffer competition at the U.S. Amateur Championship, which starts on Aug. 11 at the Highlands Course at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia.

Performing well in either tournament — particularly the U.S. Am — could change the trajectory of his golf career. But Heinly, a graduate of Summit High School, has a more immediate satisfaction on his mind.

“For the Stroke Play, I don’t have to work,” quips Heinly, who works at Pro Golf of Bend, which is co-owned by his father, Andy Heinly. “Then I’ll have five or six (more) days off from work, so that’ll be nice. I just get to go play golf.”

The Oregon Stroke Play tees off today with a full field of 158 golfers, many of whom are among the top amateurs from Oregon, southwest Washington and beyond. The field includes 22 Central Oregon golfers, Heinly among them.

The Oregon Stroke Play has three divisions, including the Master-40 and Senior divisions. But Heinly will be playing in the Open Division, the tournament’s most competitive level. To win, Heinly will have to outplay golfers such as Zach Foushee, of West Linn, the reigning Oregon Stroke Play champion. Foushee, who plays for the University of Oregon, is just one of the college golf standouts who will be in this weekend’s field, along with UO teammates Sulman Raza (Eugene) and Nigel Lett (Beaverton).

“The U.S. Am is a little bigger, but it’s still a big tournament,” says Heinly of the Oregon Stroke Play, in which he was runner-up in 2011. “If I win it, it would be great.

“It’s one of those things where if I didn’t do terribly well, it’s not going to be quite as disappointing because it is a good warm-up for the U.S. Am,” he adds. “I would much rather do better in that.”

Regardless of how he fares this weekend at Juniper, after the 54-hole Oregon tournament ends on Sunday, the stakes only get bigger for Heinly.

At Atlanta Athletic Club — a historic facility that has hosted three PGA Championships, the 1976 U.S. Open and the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open — Heinly will be among more than 300 golfers fighting to become one of the 64 who make it to single-elimination match play, which begins Wednesday, Aug. 13.

If he can advance, then he can begin to think about making a run to win the U.S. Amateur championship, which boasts a who’s who list of past champions that includes Tiger Woods (1994, 1995, 1996) and Jack Nicklaus (1959, 1961).

The tournament will mark Heinly’s first appearance in a USGA national championship, but he wants to see how he plays before he considers the U.S. Amateur a step forward in his golf career.

“It would take doing well in that tournament to raise my expectations of being at an elite amateur level,” says Heinly, who at a 36-hole qualifier in July at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell shot an even-par 144 to tie for second place and earn one of three berths to the U.S. Am.

“It’s cool qualifying for them,” he adds. “It definitely brings the confidence up. But in order to be really proud of my success, I would have to do well at the U.S. Am, at least make match play and try to win a couple of matches. That would be big.”

Typically laid-back, Heinly says he is thinking less about his goals for the U.S. Am and more about the experience.

For one, the USGA has a reputation for treating the competitors in national championships like royalty. And, he will be playing on a grand old golf course unlike anything he has ever played.

“It’s definitely kind of an older-style, East Coast-type golf course,” Heinly says. “This is probably the most prestigious golf course I am going to play. … It will just be cool to be able to play on a course that held a major and see just how tough it really is.”

Heinly, who graduated in May from Concordia University in Portland with a bachelor’s degree in business after a decorated small-college golf career, is still pondering professional golf.

He plans to move to Arizona this fall and try his hand at working in the golf industry while playing in developmental mini-tour events as an amateur.

His cautious approach to his golf career could change with success during the next two weeks, particularly if he makes a deep run at the U.S. Amateur.

“I would probably have to rethink my path after that,” Heinly says. “That would definitely be a little bit of a turning point. But I will cross that path when it comes.”

Heinly has no problem being patient.

After all, he feels so little pressure.

“I am just excited to go play in it,” Heinly says. “None of those guys even know I exist. I think I am like a thousand on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (he is currently ranked No. 1,025). There is really no expectations. So I am just going to have fun and if I do well, I do well.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7868, .