Twelve years have passed since the first time Alex Heard answered questions from The Tee Times about his golf game, and while his voice has dropped quite a few octaves and his physical stature has grown, that intense, focused stare has remained the same.
Heard, now a junior at Boca Raton Community High School, was just 4 when he was asked to describe what it felt like to become the second youngest player to record a hole-in-one. It happened July 26, 2009, on the 75-yard seventh hole of Boca Raton’s Red Reef Executive Golf Course, and that spry youngster and the son of PGA teaching professional Rick Heard and his wife, Diane, confidently expressed his desire to hit “many more,” not knowing where the game would take him over the next decade-plus.
“I’ve always loved competition and I’ve played a couple of other sports in between but now I’m just golf. I love to compete,” said Heard, now 16 on the heels of winning medalist honors at the Region 3-4A championships and leading the Bobcats to a fourth-place finish at states. “I obviously love the game and it’s been my life for so long that I’m used to it now and now I just want to be the best.”
Five years ago, at age 11, Heard recorded his second ace, this one at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, also on the seventh hole. But it’s the host of accolades he has earned on different junior tours, for Boca High and American Heritage-Delray prior that, as well as away from the course that has helped mold him into a top-tier college recruit and filled his parents with pride. He was a three-time MVP and 2018 district champion for Heritage before transferring to Boca High and captured titles on the U.S. Kids Tour and South Florida Junior PGA Tour, as well as being named Athlete of the Week by The Palm Beach Post in November after shooting a 3-under-par 69 at regionals.
While Rick Heard obviously was Alex’s first coach and continues to mentor him in many ways, he willingly has relinquished those duties to his swing coach at the Don Law Golf Academy, Kenny Leech, and his high school coach, Jordan Hernandez, and more easily shares stories of what his son has done for the community and other kids off the course. The three times he won the SFPGA Birdie Club Award for raising the most money for their foundation (a combined $15,000 over the years), stands out, along with the Spirit of Giving Award he won at the age of 13 at the Pepsi Little People’s Tournament in Illinois.
“We’re really proud of those things that he’s done and he’s now getting involved with Jordan at school with his mental health initiative called ‘We Dine Together,’” Rick Heard said. “Golf’s the greatest way for a kid to grow up, to learn maturity and responsibility and just how to be a person and to talk to other people. Because you get thrown into situations where you have to talk to adults and a lot of kids can’t do that, but a lot of golfers really learn that without really knowing.”
When he was still in single digits in age at 9, young Alex displayed that maturity and willingness to look at the bigger picture while playing in the Doral Publix Open. The night before the second round, which was held the week before Christmas, he won a new bicycle in a raffle, but already having a bike of his own he told his parents he wanted to give this one to someone who really needs it. He ended up winning the tournament and Rick and Diane told him that happened because he made such a nice gesture, and they donated the bike to the Florence Fuller Child Development Center in Boca Raton.
“Obviously, I’m very proud of all of his accomplishments on the course, but I also feel like what he’s accomplished so far off the course makes me so proud,” Diane Heard said. “His grades, what he’s done philanthropically, he’s just a good kid. I’m just proud of his determination and his commitment to the sport that he wants to continue with and to really everything he does, his schoolwork and helping others. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Hernandez met Alex for the first time in the fall of 2020 after he transferred from Heritage and his skill level and leadership traits were immediately evident. Having coached other sports including basketball before, Hernandez felt comfortable being direct with Alex and challenging him while also seeing a shared interest in helping others and giving back to the community.
“Alex really likes helping people and he’s got a platform where he can excel on a golf course and go to college, but he really likes sharing his story,” Hernandez said. “He likes to share about performance anxiety and how to mitigate it and how to connect to kids that need to be connected. That’s what’s special about Alex is that he has a heart for the hurting, and he wants to help them.”
That’s why Hernandez’s “We Dine Together” initiative struck a chord with Alex. It’s a program where kids such as Alex invite ostracized, isolated students, new students or students who have been reported for being bullied, into a classroom or larger venue and serve them free food, interact with them, raise donations, and do social events. It’s not a single event but a weekly endeavor that Alex has truly embraced and plans to embrace in the future.
“It’s very important with a lot of teens that have a lot of struggles with mental health because they get overwhelmed with sports and school to recognize those struggles,” said Alex, who now finds himself in the middle of the stressful recruiting process. “I kind of connected with it because I’ve been working hard on golf my whole life, so I know how it is to be overwhelmed.(Jordan) can relate to that because he also does a lot of different things other than just teaching and he’s a great guy and I just kind of gravitated towards that. When I saw what he was doing, I wanted to get involved with it.”
Alex has not yet committed to a college, though he clearly aspires to play for a Division I program such as his father’s alma mater, the University of Florida.
He continues to send out e-mails and fill out college questionnaires while honing his skills on the course and has a key piece of advice to pass along to younger golfers, specifically to his 4-year-old self if he could speak to him that summer day near the ocean after his memorable hole-in-one.
“I’d tell him to enjoy it, definitely enjoy it,” he said. “It goes by fast and obviously I’m not going to hit that many holes-in-one, so don’t take it for granted. Just because I hit one at 4 doesn’t mean I’m going to hit one every year and I haven’t. I’ve only hit one more so enjoy it and practice, practice, practice.”