It’s been a busy summer for this month’s featured player, Rachel Heck. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Rachel has played in the ANNIKA Invitational the past two years, finishing T5 in 2017. The 15-year-old had an impressive summer winning the AJGA Rolex Girls Invitational in June, playing through the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open and participating in the Wyndham Cup as well as the PING Jr. Solheim Cup. She is currently ranked first in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and third in Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
We spoke with Rachel shortly after she arrived home from the Solheim Cup. We asked her a little bit about herself as well as her incredible amateur career so far.
What is your favorite food?
What is your favorite holiday?
Who is your favorite golfer?
What is your favorite song that pumps you up?
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem
What is one thing that you couldn’t live without?
Who is your biggest role model and why?
Annika Sorenstam (And yes, I always give this answer. Even when I’m not being interviewed by the ANNIKA Foundation). She was obviously such a great player, and I am in awe of all that she achieved on the course. I am just as impressed with what she’s accomplished since her retirement. She is so committed to bringing young girls into the game and has such a positive message for us. I also love seeing how important her family is to her; I love her social media posts showing how much she enjoys being a mom.
What do you like most about playing golf?
I love that even though I’m competing against other people, ultimately, I’m just seeing how well I can play the course. Every golf course is different, each with its own unique challenges. I love being creative, taking risks and working on all areas of my game.
Why did you start playing golf?
I am the middle of three girls, and golf was just something my dad thought would be fun for us all to do together when he got off work. We’d go to the driving range, or maybe he’d let us play a hole at our club (which would take 20-30 strokes at first), and then we’d go out for ice cream. It was a few years before we even knew that this whole world of junior golf tournaments existed. Once we did, we were hooked.
What is your greatest golf memory?
I was paired with Lexi Thompson on Sunday at the U.S. Open. She’s one of my favorite players, and I would have been nervous just meeting her, let alone playing alongside her on Sunday at a major! The grandstand behind the first tee and the whole path leading from the putting green to the tee box were filled with people. When I started walking toward the first tee, everyone started cheering. People were high-fiving me and saying, “Come on, Heck!” That walk, and then waiting to be introduced – it was the most nervous I have ever been. I was so excited and terrified all at once; I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I’ll remember that feeling the rest of my life.
What was your best finish so far? How did you feel after? How did you celebrate?
My best finish was winning the 2017 AJGA Rolex Girls Invitational in June. I felt so relieved when it was over. I had finished runner-up in the two previous invitationals, so to finally break through and get the win seemed extra special after having come so close before. It was perfect timing for our family as well. My sister Abby won the Tennessee Women’s Amateur the same day, so afterwards, we all headed to Destin, Florida for a quick beach trip.
What is your favorite tournament you’ve played in so far?
The U.S. Women’s Open was my favorite because it was such a unique and special experience. However, the Wyndham Cup was probably the most fun because it’s a team event with most of my junior golf friends. We had some very close matches, and everyone got really into it. We were all hoarse by the end of the week from screaming and cheering.
How did it feel to be the youngest player in the U.S. Open and make the cut? Describe your experience that week and how you were feeling going into the weekend.
The U.S. Open was truly a dream come true and I enjoyed every moment of my week. It started with practice rounds with Shanshan Feng, Sandra Gal, Marina Alex, Katherine Kirk and Brittany Lang. Every one of them made me feel like I belonged there; no one seemed annoyed about having a 15-year-old hanging around. I then played my first two rounds with Nelly Korda which was great. Those rounds were a bit stressful with the weather delays and the cut line in the back of my mind, but it was such a great experience to test myself in that situation. Making that last 4-footer on 18 to realize I made the cut on the number was overwhelming. The weekend was so much fun. I played the third round with my friend Brooke Seay and the fourth round with Lexi. And to experience all of this with my dad on the bag, it was just perfect. I still can’t believe that it all happened.
Congratulations on Team USA’s win at the PING Jr. Solheim Cup. Describe your experience there. What was your favorite part of the week? How did it feel to represent the USA and win?
The Solheim Cup was another dream come true. It just felt incredibly special to be wearing the team uniforms, carrying the PING Jr. Solheim Cup golf bag, and playing alongside my friends (instead of against them for a change). We were lucky enough to play at the same venue as the actual Solheim Cup, so we had a lot of fans come out and watch. The LPGA players embraced us and included us in a lot of their activities. I loved the crowds, the patriotism and the awesome display of golf from both the pros and the juniors. My favorite part of the week was Saturday night. All the juniors had left town, but I had to stay at the hotel doing homework while my parents left to move my sister in at Notre Dame. When a couple of the LPGA players found out that I was alone, they asked Juli Inkster if I could join them in the team room for dinner. Juli graciously agreed, and I got to spend the evening hanging out with the U.S. Solheim Cup team on the eve of their victory!
You are currently ranked No. 1in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and 3rd in Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. How does that make you feel?
There are so many talented players ranked very high on those lists, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am without such great competition. To be ranked No. 1, however long that may last, is truly an honor.
Any other advice you would like to share with young golfers about the game or just about life in general:
I just want to emphasize that the hard work is worth it. All the amazing things that I’ve been blessed with lately have received a lot of attention. What people don’t see are the sacrifices made: the long hours of practice, the sleep-deprived nights catching up on studying and homework, and having to skip a lot of high school social events. Overall, my success just means more because I know how hard I had to work for it.
Heck, who will turn 16 in October, has quite the future ahead. Rachel committed to Stanford early this year after visiting Duke, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Alabama. She explained, “I was fortunate to have been recruited by some amazing programs, and I really couldn’t have made a bad choice. Stanford, however, has always stood out to me as the overall best school for a student-athlete. I wanted a school as well known for its academics as it is for its golf program.”
We have no doubt that Rachel will continue exceling in her golf career and look forward to watching her succeed on and off the golf course in years to come. A big thanks to Rachel for being this month’s featured player!