How elite amateurs Emilia Migliaccio and Rachel Heck are making their peers think twice about the future

EVANS, Ga. — Emilia Migliaccio was a teenager when she first came to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Now, she’s a 24-year-old married woman with several jobs in television broadcasting and a part-time amateur player who just remarkably beat a bunch of full-time players to snag another tee time at Augusta National on Saturday.

Migliaccio’s road to becoming the only player to tee it up on all five editions of the ANWA was, as she says, not a straight line. After thinking in a straight line for so long – the steps of her golf career ascending naturally, almost inevitably, to the LPGA – life took a drastic turn.

Migliaccio decided not to pursue professional golf, just as 2017 NCAA champion Monica Vaughn had done a few years prior. Rachel Heck, the 2022 NCAA champion, recently announced her plans to forgo a professional career in a poignant essay.

“It’s crazy how much pressure people feel at this level to go pro,” said 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jensen Castle.

When Castle won the Women’s Amateur, she had no thoughts of turning pro. But suddenly people were asking if she planned to finish the year.

“What do you mean am I going to finish the year?” Castle would say. “I’m going to finish the next three.”

While Castle, a fifth-year senior at Kentucky, does now plan to turn professional in May, she understands and respects why her Curtis Cup teammates have made other plans.

In fact, Castle believes that Heck’s essay detailing her decision will change lives.

“She’s inspiring a lot of other people to do other things,” said Castle.

Monica Vaughn and Janet Mao NCAA Golf
Monica Vaughn and Janet Mao NCAA Golf

Monica Vaughn and Janet Mao

When Monica Vaughn Fisher withdrew from LPGA Q-School seven years ago, she became the first NCAA champion to forgo a professional career before it even started since the NCAA started crowning them in 1982.

Fisher worked as a college coach at Oregon before taking a job in fundraising and becoming a mom to son Cosmos. Growing up playing volleyball and basketball in high school, Vaughn loved being part of a team. Professional golf was never really the goal.

Heck, however, wanted to be the best in the world. That was the goal from an early age. But as the injuries piled on and she found other interests, Heck began to realize that she didn’t want the lifestyle of a professional golfer. She didn’t want to live on the road and in the public eye. She no longer dreamed of winning a U.S. Women’s Open and getting into the LPGA Hall of Fame. What’s more, she realized that those dreams were never what her dad had intended when he first put a club in her hand.

On Thursday at Champions Retreat, the tears flowed as a crushing finish down the stretch cost Heck one more Saturday round with dad at Augusta National. She took a few extra minutes to compose herself before meeting with the press.

“I mean, it’s not the way you want to see it end,” she said.

The golf isn’t over, of course. Heck still plans to compete in amateur golf and, as she does, she’ll be a reminder of another path.

“I think we always tried to be balanced,” said Heck’s father, Robert. “Sports in general and golf, in particular, are very fickle. Even when she was on top, we knew it could end at any point.”

The Hecks wanted to make sure that Rachel had other interests, and she found plenty. When she graduates from Stanford this spring, she’ll also be pinned as a Lieutenant of the United States Air Force.

In recent days, Heck’s peers have approached to say thank you for being a voice that says golf isn’t everything. Parents have reached out to say how helpful they found her words.

“All that has meant the world,” she said.

Emilia Migliaccio of the United States talks with her caddie on the second hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club on April 03, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When Migliaccio’s not calling golf, she often finds herself talking to young players who want advice on weighing their options. Professional golf is a lonely road, and as Castle points out, a difficult one for those wanting to start a family.

Tour veteran Amy Olson once said she believed more people struggle on tour because of a lack of community and loneliness than a technical problem in their swing or putting stroke.

For many, there’s no doubt that money plays a big role. The majority of college players who decide to turn pro will spend their first few years on the Epson Tour spending more money than they make.

“They don’t want to put their parents in debt,” said FSU coach Amy Bond, “and they don’t want to be in debt.”

To see decorated players like Heck, Migliaccio and Vaughn walk away from the grind of professional golf gives players of all levels permission to ask tough questions of themselves and have perhaps even tougher conversations with family.

With so many of today’s young players specializing in the game so early, Bond also notes that it’s easy to see how their hearts and their bodies simply get tired.

“People are falling out of love with the game as they keep going,” she said.

2024 Augusta National Women's Amateur
2024 Augusta National Women's Amateur

Amanda Sambach of the United States prior to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club, Monday, April 1, 2024. (Photo: Shanna Lockwood/Augusta National)

Virginia’s Amanda Sambach enters the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur three back of Lottie Woad. The former ACC champion said she can relate to Heck’s words.

“Obviously golf has brought me so far,” said Sambach in the lead-up to the ANWA.

“I mean, I love golf … but the thought of trying and traveling by myself for years and years and years without having your whole heart in the sport – the thought of it is scary to me.”

The 21-year-old junior isn’t sure how long she’ll give golf a try after she graduates, but she already knows that her family will support whatever decision she makes. If golf isn’t the future, she’d like to go into the medical field.

One thing is certain: There are options.

“You can still compete,”  said Migliaccio, “but it doesn’t have to be your whole life.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek