Rachel Heck doesn’t have any expectations before her final U.S. Women’s Amateur. And she has good reason.
Last week, Heck earned her Prop and Wings after graduating from the Air Force’s grueling ROTC field training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Heck spent 17 days going through rigorous training, drills and more, all a part of her journey to becoming a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force once she graduates from Stanford.
“I didn’t have my phone, and there was no golf,” Heck said. “We woke up at 4 a.m. every day, and they even took our watches so we didn’t know what time it was.”
Come Monday, she’ll tee it up alongside 155 of the world best women’s amateur golfers at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. It will be her seventh appearance in the oldest women’s amateur championship in the world.
And it was those 17 days in Alabama that will help prepare her for the Women’s Amateur as well as the rest of her life, whether that’s on the golf course or serving her country.
“It was definitely the biggest mental and physical challenge I’ve ever faced,” Heck said. “It was also by far the most rewarding and transformational. I learned so much. I left with new family.”
Heck has long been known as one of the greatest amateur golfers in the United States. She reached the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur and won medalist honors after stroke play in 2020. In her freshman year at Stanford, Heck swept championship season, winning the Pac-12 title, the NCAA Regional and NCAA Championship en route to earning the 2021 ANNIKA Award for women’s college golfer of the year.
In the midst of all of that, she was a student at one of the most academically prestigious universities in the country while participating in the Air Force ROTC program.
She joined the ROTC program her freshman year, deciding to give it a try. The original plan was to do it for a year and feel it out. She fell in love.
“I realized very quickly I needed something else in my life besides golf,” Heck said. “I didn’t feel like I was going to live a fulfilling life by putting all of my eggs into one basket.”
Heck had plenty of people tell her she couldn’t handle the duties of being a Division-I athlete, let alone at Stanford, and be in an ROTC program.
That made the feeling even sweeter when she earned her Prop and Wings last week. She described the feeling to what she felt riding from the 17th green to the clubhouse at Grayhawk Golf Club after winning the team national title in 2022.
“It was really special because there were so many times where I’ve doubted myself and I’ve gotten overwhelmed and everything piles up and I’m just drowning in work and can’t handle it all,” Heck said, “but every time I managed to push through and was able to do it on my own.”
Heck credits the support system around her, especially her family, teammates and coaches, for supporting her in her journey, which hasn’t been easy this year.
In March, Heck had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, which involved removing her first rib. She didn’t play a round of competitive golf because of the injury from October until the first round of the NCAA Championship. Heck shot an 82 and was emotional in the moment after her round.
The rest of the championships, however, she embraced her role as a leader and helped Stanford capture the stroke-play title, even if she wasn’t playing.
Now, Heck is back healthy and heads to Los Angeles to end her summer trying to capture the Robert Cox Trophy for the first time. She knows that may be difficult, considering she has likely had the least amount of practice as anyone in the field thanks to her field training. However, Heck said the benefits of being in the Air Force ROTC have outweighed the sacrifices she has made in her golf game.
“I feel super blessed. I feel so much gratitude to be playing golf,” Heck said. “But it has been a very, very rewarding few years culminating in a very, very rewarding 17 days.”
Heck has one more year in ROTC, this one being a freshman squadron commander, where she’ll get to showcase her leadership.
She hasn’t played Bel-Air before but gets practice rounds Saturday and Sunday before her afternoon tee time come Monday. She said her final amateur USGA event has given her a chance to reflect on her incredible amateur career.
“They do such an incredible job with this event,” Heck said. “I’m just excited. I’m full of gratitude. I have a great perspective on the game and on life after everything that has happened this past two years.”