BROUSSARD — To win at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, you have to go low and you have to do it early.
That’s the consensus of three players who should know, on the eve of the $550,000 Web.com Tour event that begins at 7:35 a.m. Thursday at Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club.
“You have to make a lot of birdies,” said Brett Wetterich, who won the Open title in 2003 and 2011 and is the only two-time champion in tournament history. “The front side is the key. You have to get off to a good start with the three par-fives and let that carry your momentum throughout the whole course.”
Casey Wittenberg set a tournament scoring record with a 24-under-par 260 in winning the 2012 title, one of two career wins on the Web.com Tour.
“You have to take advantage on those par fives,” said Wittenberg, who played his 16 par-five holes in 12-under with eight birdies, two eagles and no bogeys that year. “The front nine is a big momentum builder for the rest of your round. A north wind is harder to get to some of those par-fives and some of the holes coming in play a little bit harder, but it typically plays out of the southeast and with a southeast wind the scores are going to be lower.”
The winds and the weather may be iffy for Thursday’s opening round of the 24th edition of Acadiana’s premier professional sports event. But after Thursday, forecasts of good weather should be conducive for impressive numbers.
At least, that’s the opinion of Mike Heinen, who has played the 7,067-yard par-71 Le Triomphe layout in more professional rounds than any other player.
“If the conditions are like they are today,” Heinen said on Wednesday during the final day of pro-ams, “there are going to be some low scores. The greens are receptive, the fairways are rolling so the course is going to play a little shorter, and you’re going to have a lot of guys with short irons in their hands. And you give these guys short irons in, they’re going to make the putts.”
Heinen is playing in his 17th Louisiana Open and has made the cut 13 times, both tournament records, and he shared the tournament record for low 72-hole score with his 24-under 264 score in 2002 when he lost a playoff to Steven Alker for the title. That was before Le Triomphe underwent a full re-tooling, specifically to make it more of a test for the professionals on their annual opener of the U.S. segment of the tour.
“Before, all these guys were just blowing it over all the bunkers and having wedges in,” Heinen said. “Now they’ve modernized it, and you’ve got to keep it between the bunkers. That’s the key, because the bunkers are tough, it’s going to be tough to get out of them.”
If anyone can, it’s this collection of players. The 144-player field that begins play Thursday includes 15 PGA Tour champions who have combined for 31 wins on the “big” tour, and 37 players — over one-quarter of the field — who have won on the Web.com Tour in their careers. That group can boast a total of 81 Web.com Tour wins, including the all-time Tour leading winner in Jason Gore (seven Web.com Tour wins).
The field also includes four previous Louisiana Open champions, with 2013 winner Edward Loar — the last lefthander to win on Tour — joining Wetterich, Wittenberg and Alker in that group.
In the category of what have you done lately, four of the five champions on this year’s tour-opening swing through Central and South America are teeing it up here this weekend. Dawie van der Walt became the fourth last Sunday when the former Lamar University standout captured the Chile Classic in Santiago, Chile.
“You can’t explain how much it helps mentally if you get a win early in the season out here,” van der Walt said. “It takes some of the initial pressure, but it brings a different pressure. I still don’t have a PGA Tour card so I still have to play decent, but it’s given me some confidence.”
van der Walt, who shot 64-66-68 and a final-round 65 last Sunday to win in Chile by two strokes, hasn’t made the cut in three tries here, and hasn’t ever been close.
“I’ve never played good around here, mostly because of the winds,” he said. “Every year we come here, it’s usually cold and windy and the greens are very quick. This year it’s warmer, so I hope I can change that and keep the momentum, kind of redeem myself.”
Veteran Mathew Goggin (Panama Claro), Andrew Landry (Cartegena de Indias in Colombia) and Peter Malnati (Brasil Classic) have also won on Tour this year and are chasing this week’s $99,000 top prize.
Championship play runs through Sunday, with the field cut to the low 65 and ties after Friday’s second round. Thursday and Friday play will be off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees in morning and afternoon waves. Daily tickets are $10 and are available at the gate.