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'Tough to see it end': With dad by side, Rachel Heck closes this chapter of her life

'Tough to see it end': With dad by side, Rachel Heck closes this chapter of her life

EVANS, Ga. – Rachel Heck needed a moment to collect herself.

The 22-year-old Stanford senior had just played her final nine holes Thursday at Champions Retreat in 6 over and upon exiting the scoring area, she sat a shot below the projected cut line, at 4 over. Even in unbearably gusty conditions, Heck knew she’d likely missed the cut in what could be her final Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

A couple hours later, it became official: Heck has missed advancing to Saturday's final round at Augusta National by a shot.

“Got super windy out there, and I just didn't play super well in that,” Heck said afterward. “I felt really confident with my game the whole time, felt good over every shot. Just wasn't quite working out there, so tough to see it end like that.”

Unlike her fourth- and fifth-year peers in college golf, Heck isn’t planning on playing professional golf. She announced last week in a first-person essay, penned and published on No Laying Up’s website, that she would remain amateur after graduation this summer and instead pursue an internship in private equity while also being pinned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.

“I do not want a life on the road and in the public eye,” Heck wrote. “I no longer dream of the U.S. Open trophies and the Hall of Fame. And I realize now that these dreams were never what my dad intended when he first put a club in my hand. He pushed me when I was young so that I could find myself in the position I am right now: Stepping into the future equipped with the skills to tackle any challenge and the courage to pave my own path.”

Robert Heck has been a calming presence on his middle daughter’s bag ever since Rachel was 3 years old and playing in six-hole Tennessee Junior Golf Association events on par-3 courses.

“He would caddie for me every time, and I would just hold his hand walking down the fairway,” Rachel said. “We had a bunch of those. I mean, I just had fun with him always. He always kept it lighthearted, fun. It's really crazy to look back on those pictures now and compare them to where we are today.

“Yeah, I'm grateful to have had him by my side throughout all these moments.”

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Screenshot 2024-04-04 at 7.02.32 PM.png

Robert also caddied for Rachel last summer as she advanced all the way to the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals, just days after Rachel spent 18 straight days at ROTC field training and not touching a club. He’s watched, from outside the ropes, Rachel rack up a list of other remarkable achievements, too, including Rachel winning six times in her first college semester, which culminated in her capturing the NCAA individual title and Annika Award as national player of the year. In five career major starts, Rachel made the cut in four of them. She played on two winning Curtis Cup teams and just last year represented the U.S. at the Pan Am Games.

Rachel’s missed 6-footer on the par-5 18th hole on Thursday might’ve signaled the end of this impressive chapter, but it certainly couldn’t dampen years of incredible memories.

“Bittersweet,” Robert said when asked to describe his emotions after the round. “It’s been a long road, it’s been great, she’s had a lot of success. She’s had a wonderful journey, and it’s sad that it’s coming to an end – I wish it were coming to an end a little later. It would’ve been nice to watch her play on Saturday one more time. But that’s OK; it’s been a great ride.”

While Rachel still wishes to play amateur golf, at No. 80 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, it’ll be a tall task to qualify for next year’s ANWA. There’s always hope, though; Emilia Migliaccio, who announced back before the 2021 ANWA that she’d eschew pro golf after graduation, secured an invite again this year despite ending her college career last spring. Migliaccio made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open last summer and remains top 50 in the world while juggling a career as a golf broadcaster.

Like Migliaccio, who lost in a playoff at that 2021 ANWA, Rachel hoped revealing her intentions early would take a burden off her. And it did.

“Things just didn't go my way," she said.

Now, Rachel turns her focus to her final couple months of college golf. She has played sparingly for the Cardinal this season – just three starts – as she’s battled nagging injuries. Last year, she logged just one postseason round after having a rib removed to combat her thoracic outlet syndrome, which she was diagnosed with a year ago.

But Rachel, who did tie for 37th last weekend at Arizona State’s tournament, says her absences from the lineup have been mainly to save her ailing neck and shoulder for one final postseason run with her fellow Cardinal.

“It's been a crazy, few years, so I'll just feel really fortunate if I'm able to see it through with them,” Rachel said.

Then it's off to other interests. (She's also a talented artist.)

That was Robert and his wife Stacy's plan all along.

"We’ve always tried to be balanced," said Robert, an orthopedic surgeon, who has two other daughters who play golf, Abby, who is currently in med school, and Anna, who is a freshman at Notre Dame. "Sports in general, and golf in particular, are very fickle. Even when she was on top, we knew it could end at any point, and so the plan was always to stay in school and find other interests … and she did. She found a lot of other things that she’s interested in. ... She’s very happy with it, so I’m happy for her."

Rachel said her decision to chase new dreams didn't come overnight. She had discussed with her parents the possibility of remaining amateur for years before making up her mind last fall.

"He knows it wasn't what I want to do," Rachel said of her dad.

Robert gives all the credit to his daughter.

"Watching her grow and develop and become her own person," Robert said of his favorite part of Rachel's journey so far. "Early on, I was her caddie, and she looked to me for advice on what to do and looked to me for support. By the time she was 15 and was in her first U.S. Open, she was calm and I was terrified, so at that point I was leaning on her."

In her piece, Heck wrote that, "Golf did, indeed, take me far."

She's now poised to go even further.