Rachel Heck arrived on campus at Stanford 101 days ago. For a while there, she wondered if the day would ever come. Like so many, she’d been a remote college freshman since the fall, studying and practicing on her own back home in Memphis.
A happy Heck couldn’t wait to put on a Stanford uniform, live beside her teammates and create hype lists for the van. The Cardinal fell short of the ultimate goal, a team title, when they lost to Arizona in overtime on a heartbreaking putt in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship. But Heck put together a season the golf world won’t soon forget.
“I don’t really think that any of us can wrap our arms around it,” said Stanford coach Anne Walker.
On Monday, Heck was crowned NCAA individual champion. Now she’s the 2021 ANNIKA Award presented by Stifel winner, given to the best player in Division I golf based on a vote by her peers, plus coaches, golf media and SIDs. The honor also comes with an exemption into the Amundi Evian Championship, an LPGA major.
Heck remembers being a junior player, excitedly running to her mother to share the news that the ANNIKA Award’s Instagram account had followed her personal account.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she said. “I thought maybe one day I could crack the list possibly. To actually be on the list and then actually win the award.”
Heck won six times over the course of nine starts, becoming only the third player in history to sweep the postseason by winning conference, regionals and nationals. Annie Park did the same at USC in 2013 as a freshman. Arizona’s Marisa Baena became the first player to do it in 1996, also as a freshman. Both Heck and Park pulled off the trifecta in their first semester in school.
Anne Walker, Rachel Heck
Heck, who next week competes in the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic, competed in the 2018 Evian Championship, an LPGA major, and finished tied for 44th, calling it one of the best weeks of her life.
“I can’t wait for another family trip to France,” she said.
Heck won her last five consecutive events in college and had 12 consecutive rounds in the 60s, including a 66 at Olympic from tees that are longer than the USWO setup and from Sunday hole locations used at the 2012 U.S. Open. Her closing 74 at the NCAA Championship was her first over-par round since mid-March.
She ended the season ranked No. 1 by Golfweek and boasts the lowest scoring average in NCAA history, putting up a 69.72 average in 25 rounds. Alabama’s Lauren Stephenson set the previous record of 69.76 in 2018.
Heck’s parents came out to watch at Grayhawk as did Nora Tyson, the retired Navy vice admiral who helped inspire Heck to join the ROTC at Stanford in hopes of serving in the Air Force Reserve after she graduates.
“I think on the outside I looked OK,” said Robert Heck after watching his daughter battle down the stretch for the NCAA title. “On the inside, I’m amazed I was able to stay on my feet.”
Heck suffered a back injury in the summer between her sophomore and junior year of high school that put her in pain for the better part of 18 months. She went through several rounds of injections and dutifully did 90 minutes of therapy with her mother daily.
She was miserable on the golf course, her father said. Heck said she was drowning in self-afflicted pressure. It was during that time period that she started to explore the idea of the military. When she came back to golf after the injury and the pandemic, Heck reemerged with a new perspective.
“Her day and her mood is not defined by score,” said Robert, “and that has freed her up.”
For Heck, the fact that her peers play a role in the award is especially meaningful.
“They’re the reason I play golf,” she said, “the reason I look forward to these tournaments … of course I love golf, but I was just so excited to hang out with my friends and have ping pong and putting contests.”
STANFORD, CA – MAY 12: Rachel Heck during the final round of the NCAA Stanford Regional at Stanford Golf Course on May 12, 2021 in Stanford, California.
List of ANNIKA Award winners
2020 – Natalie Srinivasan, Furman
2019 – Maria Fassi, Arkansas
2018 – Maria Fassi, Arkansas
2017 – Leona Maguire, Duke
2016 – Bronte Law, UCLA
2015 – Leona Maguire, Duke
2014 – Alison Lee, UCLA
Stanford leads by 20 at NCAA Championship with freshman Rachel Heck in position for a rare postseason sweep
Stanford's Rachel Heck, a favorite to win NCAAs, wants to play on the LPGA while serving in the Air Force
Natalie Srinivasan brings Furman to the forefront as ANNIKA Award winner