Before he could even think about the golfing opportunity in front of him at the University of New Orleans, Lakeside Lutheran senior Lukas Heckmann of Middleton asked to look back and thank those who helped him get there.
"None of this would have been possible without the gifts given to me from God," Heckmann wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "He blessed me with the most amazing parents, who always pushed me to work hard for this goal of mine. He gave me an awesome golf coach in Larry Tiziani, who is a big reason for my improvement. Finally, He gave me the best friends and competitors I could ask for in my brother Isaac, (Waunakee's) Sean Murphy, (Bay Port's) Jed Baranczyk and hundreds of others who made golf one of the best things in my life. Without these people, I wouldn't be where I am now."
Feeling like you're at the top of the world gives one a sense of appreciation. And it wouldn't be the first time this year that Heckmann has been there.
In June, he shot rounds of 68 and 79 and won the WIAA Division 2 state boys golf championship by three shots over Madison Edgewood's Drew Arndt. One year after being one shot off the lead after 18 holes of the 2017 state meet only to finish fifth, Heckmann made eight birdies and an eagle over the two days of this year's championship and bounced back from a tough, two-hole stretch midway through the back nine on the final day to play his last four holes in 1-under and finish off a junior season in which he also won the Capitol Conference championship and a WIAA sectional title on his way to Madison.
His journey to New Orleans was a little more complicated.
"The process, for me, began when Drake University reached out to me early in my junior year," Heckmann wrote. "That was really a huge confidence boost for me because I knew I wanted to play college golf, but (I) didn't know if I'd be able to make in Division I. I've always been a competitor and felt that Division I was the best fit for me."
Heckmann started inquiring with other schools to see how brightly his star was indeed shining. He said Marquette, Duke, Gonzaga and North Dakota State showed interest — "Following Jed (Baranczyk) to North Dakota State was always high on my interest list as we've grown close the last few years," Heckmann said — but, after several schools had filled their 2019 recruiting classes, he reached out to New Orleans coach Jeff Lorio in July and he reciprocated.
"I honestly didn't know a whole lot about the University of New Orleans when I reached out," Heckmann said. "I love the city, I wanted to play somewhere warm, and am a huge (New Orleans) Saints fan. I was super-excited to hear back and eventually receive an offer from them in August. I went down to visit and it immediately felt like a great fit
"Coach Lorio is an awesome coach and a very fun guy to be around. I was able to meet a few players on the team and they were a tight-knit group that obviously liked each other. There was a sense of togetherness I wanted to be a part of."
Of course, it didn't hurt that the campus, in Heckmann's words, "is pretty sweet." Located on Lake Pontchartrain in his favorite city in America made UNO the right choice for a likely engineering major who would like nothing more than to help the Privateers continue to engineer one of college sports' great comeback stories.
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the school's athletics department spent the better part of the next decade in chaos. Some of its teams were displaced (the men's golf team practiced and competed at LSU), others were suspended and for 18 months after a 2009 announcement that the Privateers would drop from Division I to Division III, the program virtually vanished without a trace.
"Recently, they got their athletic programs back and their golf program worked its way back into Division I," Heckmann wrote of UNO, which changed its mind on the whole Division III idea and, in 2012, announced it would remain in Division I and, like the city in which it sits, is still in rebuilding mode with its golf program (it finished last out of 11 teams at the 2017 Southland Conference Championship). "The idea of being part of a program that is seeing rapid improvement is very appealing. My goal is obviously to play in tournaments right away and contribute to the team in that regard.
"It will take a lot of work this next year, but the goal is certainly in reach. Once I'm playing, the goal becomes getting the team wins and having fun doing it."
If the next four years are anything like the ones that have brought Heckmann to this point in his life, that goal will become more than a reality for him. It will become yet another blessing.