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Inspired Rachel Heck wins NCAA women’s individual title at Grayhawk

 SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As she ready to tee off in one of many greatest rounds of her life, Stanford’s Rachel Heck heard one thing that caught her consideration. It was the identify Victoria A. Pinckney, a 27-year-old Air Force captain, spouse and mom who died eight years in the past in Kyrgyzstan throughout Operation Enduring Freedom.

Every participant within the subject throughout Monday’s last spherical of the NCAA Women’s Championship represented a fallen U.S. serviceman or servicewoman.

Only one in every of them wrote down their solder’s identify on their scorecard.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Stanford head coach Anne Walker mentioned, “but I also thought that even with the stage as big as it was, how fast I’m sure her heart was racing, everything that she had going on, the fact that she was still present enough, that that was still more important to her, that she went over to get that name and write it down, I’m just flabbergasted.”

Added Heck: “It just gives you perspective.”

Perspective has been one of many major themes throughout Heck’s glowing spring run, which continued Monday with the Cardinal freshman successful for the sixth time this season whereas turning into Stanford’s first NCAA medalist with a one-shot victory at Grayhawk Golf Club.

It wasn’t way back that Heck was a budding prodigy, an AJGA participant of the yr and a 15-year-old low beginner at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, who struggled to fulfill unrealistic expectations within the wake of her many accomplishments. It didn’t assist that the summer season earlier than her junior yr of highschool she harm a disc in her again.

“I was playing, hurting and putting so much pressure on myself,” Heck mentioned. “I was nervous every time I stepped out on the course – and not a good nervous. I thought if I don’t play well, then I’m a failure. I’m supposed to be the best junior golfer, I won player of the year and I’m playing terrible right now, and now when I go home I can’t even practice; now I have to get more injections. My mind was just in a terrible place.”

Added Heck’s mom, Stacy: “She felt like everyone was looking at her like she lost her game.”

But by the point Heck arrived on campus at Stanford – in mid-February due to COVID-19 protocols – she was a unique particular person, blissful and grateful. She didn’t let numbers on a scorecard outline her self-worth, and he or she enrolled in Air Force ROTC, hoping to in the future serve her nation whereas enjoying on the LPGA.

Her golf benefitted. Heck rapidly turned not only a chief on her staff however top-of-the-line gamers within the nation. She gained the Pac-12 Championship, after which regionals, and now the NCAA Championship, becoming a member of USC’s Annie Park (2013) and Arizona’s Marisa Baena (1996) as the one gamers to brush the Division I postseason. All have been freshmen, and Park and Heck did so of their first faculty semesters.

How Heck blocked out noise to capture NCAA title

Heck appeared as if she would win in a desert runaway, constructing a five-shot lead over teammate Angelina Ye after 54 holes. But when she awakened Monday morning, Heck was probably the most nervous she’d ever been.

“She had so much pressure on her, let’s face it,” Walker mentioned. “It’s really hard to close big leads like that.”

So, Walker shared with Heck some recommendation that Tiger Woods gave Stanford’s 2015 squad simply earlier than it gained the NCAA staff title at Concession. Woods informed the Cardinal that day that it was a privilege to be nervous, that there have been many individuals sitting at house wishing they have been in that place.

More perspective for Heck, who later that morning, with Pinckney’s identify in her pocket and reminiscence in her coronary heart, took a deep breath, piped one down the golf green and off she went. She delivered a gutsy efficiency, preventing via a rocky first 12 holes that included an enormous break at the par-5 sixth, the place Heck hooked her second shot behind a bush however was in a position to take free aid from the cart path and keep away from worse than bogey.

Heck’s lead ultimately shrunk to at least one, and UCLA’s Emma Spitz had closed in 68 and posted 7 beneath when Heck stepped on the 18th tee at 8 beneath. Heck then hit the golf green and left herself 190 yards into the inexperienced at the ending par 5.

By the time Heck had reached her ball, Walker had already reminded her star freshman that she was laying up. Heck agreed, remembering just a few years in the past when she misplaced the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior by one shot at Grayhawk after hitting her second shot within the water.

Heck needed to put as much as 65 yards. She settled for 64, and after wedging onto the inexperienced, Heck instantly reached down and picked up Walker’s empty water bottle that she had dropped. That gesture, Walker mentioned, sums up Heck completely.

“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” mentioned Walker, after Heck calmly two-putted for the victory, which all however locked up the Annika Award as girls’s faculty golf’s participant of the yr. It additionally helped Stanford safe the No. 1 seed for match play, which begins Tuesday morning. The Cardinal will face Arizona.

About an hour after the ultimate putt dropped, after the celebratory water-bottle bathe, the trophy presentation and the numerous media interviews, Heck’s cellphone rang. It was Annika Sorenstam calling to supply her congratulations.

As Heck chatted with the LPGA legend, Walker and Heck’s dad and mom watched from afar.

“I’m amazed I was able to stay on my feet,” mentioned Robert Heck, who has been anxiously following his daughter all week and plans to caddie for her at subsequent week’s U.S. Women’s Open.

Stacy Heck had arrived at Grayhawk for the ultimate spherical after attending Rachel’s older sister’s commencement at Notre Dame (Abby Heck discovered Thursday evening that she had been accepted into medical faculty at Washington University in St. Louis), and he or she struggled to seek out the correct phrases whereas preventing again tears.

Heck, with her infectious smile and laughter, battled comparable feelings within the wake of her monumental win. But not due to something she did.

Instead, it was whereas chatting with Golf Channel about Pinckney, whom she by no means knew but revered a lot for making the final word sacrifice.

“We’re playing a golf tournament; that doesn’t matter,” Heck mentioned. “These people gave their lives for this country, so I didn’t want to lose sight of that. When I missed a putt that I thought was going in and looked down at my scorecard and saw her name, it kind of brought me back to real life and reminded me of what’s important.”

Perspective, and just a little inspiration.

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