Stanford star Rachel Heck won’t be going pro — Inside Nelly Korda’s 10th tour win

The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, March 28, 2024

Happy Golf Thursday! In a heartfelt open letter posted on the No Laying Up website, Stanford standout Rachel Heck made a shocking admission that she will maintain her amateur status and won’t be turning pro. At the end of the spring season, Heck will hang her clubs up and find herself on a new journey; she’ll graduate with a degree in political science and is slated to begin an internship in private equity this summer.

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Heck’s junior career placed her in perfect alignment with Stanford head coach Anne Walker and the Cardinal. At just 15, Heck qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, she was the youngest in the field and made the cut to finish T-33. With countless state championship titles and AJGA wins, Heck sacrificed her teenagehood to live out her dreams of being a U.S. Open champion.

Heck recalls, “During my freshman year, I took the ACT and SAT, and in January, Coach Anne Walker offered me a coveted spot on the Stanford Women’s Golf Team. Someone once told me, “If you’re smart enough to go to Stanford, you’re not dumb enough not to go.” It was a no-brainer. Stanford would undoubtedly be the perfect stepping stone into a professional career.”

Detailed in the essay, Heck had explained that she struggled with how much of her life she gave up for golf, which came to a head during her junior year of high school when she suffered a side-lining back injury that kept her from playing in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

For the first time in her young career, she had to navigate life without golf for the time being, and that proved to be a dark and difficult time. “That fall, I became severely depressed. In that period of darkness, I realized I needed something more than golf, and I vowed that I would find it.”

Heck found her light in ROTC (she’s pinned as a Lieutenant of the United States Air Force), but how would balancing the military, Stanford academics, and Division I golf work?

Well, once she arrived on campus, she hit the ground running, winning a record six times in nine starts including being the NCAA individual champion in 2021 (the first in Stanford’s history).

But once again, injuries and illnesses would creep their way back in, causing Heck to sit out for a significant amount of time, missing the postseason in 2022.

With remarkable candor Heck wrote, “I was strongly considering attributing my decision to my injuries. It is true that even if I wanted to, I do not know if my body would hold up on tour. But frankly, after a couple of years of painful deliberation, I have come to realize that I do not want to play professional golf. I do not want a life on the road and in the public eye.”

What Heck outlined in her letter is a story that so many dedicated young athletes experience, myself included. So much of her life had been spent chasing a little white ball around, and it’s rather easy for it to consume you, and when faced with experiences that leave you without it potentially, you’re forced to ask yourself “Who am I?”

Burnout in our student-athletes is an epidemic and with social media ruling how we consume sports and sports media, it’s nearly impossible to escape the pressures to perform. The constant comparisons and over-analyzing of a player’s game has made golf feel performative at times, as if we’re constantly in search of the next greatest star, and how we can make them appear faster.

It’s a rather unhealthy cycle we have found ourselves in, not just in golf but across all sports, and perhaps a time for introspection is due. We want sports to thrive, especially women’s sports, but we can’t place every athlete in a pressure cooker and expect great results. Longevity and well-being must always remain a priority and we can’t allow ourselves as media, fans, and viewers to forget that.

As much as the world was waiting in anticipation for Rachel Heck and Rose Zhang to tackle the LPGA together, it’s special to see a young woman control her own narrative and recognize what’s best for her. Similarly, Wake Forest alum Emilia Migliaccio has taken the route of an on-course reporter for NBC Sports after landing an internship at the Golf Channel.

Heck is embracing her next steps and those around her, and we’re all excited to follow her into her next adventure.

“So here’s to new roads, and new challenges. Here’s to the people who made me, me. Not Rachel the golfer. Just Rachel. I do not know what the future holds. However, I am grateful to God for showing me the next step, and I am grateful to the game that gave me the world.”

Stathead Stat of the Week

Ariel Atkins scored 36 points for the Mystics on Sunday. She was one point away from tying Elena Delle Donne’s franchise record for the most points in a game.

Stathead is your all-access pass to the Basketball and College Basketball Reference databases. Our discovery tools are built for women’s basketball fans like you. Answer your questions in a matter of seconds.

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Five at The IX: Nelly Korda wins in Palos Verdes

Q. Two wins, two playoff victories this year. I know you say you like to keep it interesting. How does that tell you where your game is and mental fortitude as we hit the meat of the season here?

NELLY KORDA: I’m ready to not play a playoff and just win. (Laughter.) I’m stressing myself out.

No, I think as I said, with every win there is always a story of what you’re overcoming or going through. I never have the personality of I never back down. I make sure I give it my all 110% every single time, no matter what the circumstances are.

If I messed up or if I’ve finished eagle birdie, when you step on that tee in the first playoff hole, it’s time to go. It’s all fresh and new.

Q. Ten victories feels like a milestone number, to me at least. What does it mean to you? When you look back at the whole, did those ten victories come quicker than you thought or did it take longer than you thought?

NELLY KORDA: Yeah, I mean, I think I paused at eight for a pretty long time. I mean, seven, and then after 2021 I felt like I kept racking them up I guess, the wins and golf was so much fun.

And then 2022 I got one at the end of the year and last year was disappointing with no wins. I think it’s just golf. You got to take it as it comes. Everything happens for a reason. I’m always going to put 110% into everything I do, especially with how much I love the game.

I just think it’s so much fun competing. There is nothing better than that adrenaline rush coming down your last couple holes when you’re in the lead. When it comes to wins, obviously every event that I play in I want to win, but I also just love the experiences of playing in these events and learning more about myself.

Q. Given having some rust and going on to win, where do you see your game going from here with what the rest of the season might look like oops?

NELLY KORDA: Yeah, I have small goals and I’m continuously working on the same things. I think everyone will tell you throughout their entire career if they’re not making swing changes or changing coaches, they’re continuously working on the same things.

I’m not the type of person that wants to reinvent my swing or my game. I like to keep it very simple. I think when I play well I succeed well with a simple game.

Just making sure that everything is in line for me.

Q. With this win you are projected to return to the top of the Rolex Rankings. Was that one of those small goals to you? If not or if it is, what does that say about the state of how you’re feeling about your game?

NELLY KORDA: Yeah, I mean, gosh, I feel like the No. 1 ranking almost changes like the wind. It’s so back and forth. I would say I am so grateful and so proud that I have the world No. 1 ranking, that I got it back in 2021.

Would I say is it a goal of mine entering the year? I wouldn’t say it’s a goal, because if I play well and if I’m present and if I’m having fun out here, that all kind of comes with it.

So my goals are mainly very present of where I am right now, the week I’m playing, and just small little goals will eventually lead timeout big goals.

Q. To win a tournament with someone’s name like Seri Pak’s attached to it, what does it mean to be the first official championship of the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship?

NELLY KORDA: Yeah, actually this was the first time I got to speak and interact with her. Growing up, she inspired so many around, and me being one of them. She’s one of the greatest to ever play the game.

To get to meet her and talk to her and win her event is an amazing feeling.

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Written by Addie Parker