Sweet, smart approach paying dividends for Hecks

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Sweet, smart approach paying dividends for Hecks

Junior

Sweet, smart approach paying dividends for Hecks

Editor’s note: this story originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2017 digital issue of Golfweek Magazine.

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The running joke in the Heck family is that Robert got his three daughters into golf so that he wouldn’t have to sit through ballet recitals. His main tactic: bribe them with ice cream.

For Rachel it was cotton candy; Abby and Anna preferred the rainbow flavor. When Robert got home from his work as an orthopedic surgeon, he’d take them to the range at Chickasaw Country Club in Memphis, Tenn.

At age 5, Rachel played in the club’s three-hole championship and cried because the other girls kept hitting balls back and forth over the green.

“I thought they were skipping my turn,” said Rachel, laughing at the memory.

The plastic clubs and ice cream scoops worked out well for Robert, who will see his oldest daughter, Abby, off to Notre Dame next fall on a golf scholarship. Rachel, 15, has verbally committed to Stanford, and 12-year- old Anna begins her AJGA career in the coming months.

Feb 18, 2017; Reunion, FL, USA;  Racheal Heck (left) poses with her mother during the 2017 ANNIKA Intercollegiate NCAA women's golf tournament Presented by 3M . Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Rachel Heck (left) poses with her mother, Stacy Heck, during the 2017 ANNIKA Invitational. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Rachel stood next to the range at Reunion Golf Resort wearing a black Stanford pullover and hat, her Cardinal headcovers perched not 2 feet away. A freshman at St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, Rachel heads her class with a 4.7 GPA and an aggressive golf game. A conversation with the grounded overachiever is laced with “Yes ma’ams” and giggles.

At the ANNIKA Invitational (she finished T-5), Rachel – No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings and the first in her class – was one of two players in the class of 2020 who had made a verbal commitment. After watching Abby go through the recruiting process, Rachel decided to take the ACT and PSAT (finishing in the 99th percentile among those her age) as a freshman so that a school such as Stanford could take an early verbal.

Last fall Abby and Rachel shot 7-under 29s in back-to-back weeks at high school matches on different courses. They’ve finished 1-2 in the state championship the past two seasons, each taking a title.

Instructor Rob Akins has guided the young careers of David Gossett and Philip Barbaree, AJGA Players of the Year nearly 20 years apart. He helped David Toms get to the PGA Tour and Shaun Micheel win a major.

The Memphis-based Akins began working with the Hecks more than three years ago. He credits a growth spurt for much of Rachel’s recent success. The fundamentals they’d honed suddenly came with power, and she now cranks drives 270 yards. Akins thinks that in the next year or two Rachel could be one of the longest players in junior golf.

“I always like to go for par 5s,” Rachel explained. “Probably not always making the smartest decisions. But I think that’s what makes me like it so much … taking risks.”

This summer Rachel will try to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur for the first time. Her mom said they’ve always liked to have a mix of tournaments. Some Rachel goes in feeling she can win (like the ANNIKA), and others where she simply hopes to hang with the best.

The brainy Heck, it would seem, is well ahead of the curve.

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