NCAA champ Rachel Heck claims favorite label at U.S. Women's Amateur, which might not be a good thing

August 05, 2021
Rachel Heck

Rachel Heck is the highest ranked golfer (No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking) remaining among the quarterfinalists at Westchester Country Club.

Darren Carroll

Rachel Heck, the reigning NCAA champion and college player of the year out of Stanford, is one of just two golfers inside the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking remaining among the quarterfinalists at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Yet considering the fate of the favorites this week at Westchester Country Club, the 19-year-old ROTC student from Memphis, Tenn., probably wouldn’t mind if you spared her that label.

Instead, call her a grinder.

In her third-round match on Thursday against Arkansas senior Brooke Matthews, Heck appeared as if her run in Rye, N.Y., was coming to a close when she lost the 15th and 16th holes to fall 2 down. But the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world, one of three women already picked for the upcoming U.S. Curtis Cup team, won the 17th with a par, then made a 15-foot double-breaking putt for birdie on the 18th to send the match to extra holes.

Back to the par-3 first hole, Heck safely hit the green ended the match with a two-putt par to keep her championship hopes alive.

“I think that's what this tournament is all about,” said Heck, avoiding the early exits that defending champion Rose Zhang and medalist Rachel Kuehn suffered in the opening round of match play. “You expect to have these kinds of matches. Really high pressure. My hands are shaking, my heart is beating so fast, but that's what's fun about it.”

A year ago, Heck lost in the Round of 16 to Zhang after claiming medalist honors. If she could go on and take the title over the weekend, Heck would become just the second player to win the NCAA Championship and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year, joining Vicki Goetze who did it while playing at the University of Georgia in 1992.

Heck is the biggest notable among a ragtag group of quarterfinalists, with the 42nd, 53rd, 61st and 63rd seeds still competing. Cara Heisterkamp, 15, is playing her first USGA championship and doesn’t appear in the WAGR rankings. Heck’s college teammate Brooke Seay is No. 166, Jensen Castle, a rising junior at Kentucky is No. 248 and Argentina’s Valentina Rossi is No. 288.

The only other players still alive who are ranked inside the top 100 are Emily Mahar, a 22-year-old Australian who’ll be a senior at Virginia Tech this fall (ranked 74th) and Yu-Chiang Hou, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Arizona who was the college freshman of the year in 2020 (ranked 21st).

Heck faces Kan Bunnabodee in their quarterfinal match on Friday. The 19-year-old from Thailand, set to begin her junior season at Purdue ,has had an impressive summer, winning the Women’s Porter Cup and reaching the quarterfinals of the Women’s Western Amateur. Playing in her first USGA championship, Bunnabodee knocked of World No. 10 Emma Spitz in 19 holes during the second round on Thursday, then cruised to a 6-and-5 victory over Kallie Vongsaga in the third round.

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1:00 pm: Valentina Rossi vs. Brooke Seay

1:10 pm: Cara Heisterkamp vs. Yu-Chiang Hou

1:20 pm: Jensen Castle vs. Emily Mahar

1:30 pm: Rachel Heck vs. Kan Bunnabodee