It takes a long attention span, a short memory and lots of control to be good at golf. And make no mistake; Rachel Heck is good at golf.
Memphis knows this. She was The Commercial Appeal's High School Golfer of the Year for a reason. She was also USA Today High School's Female Golfer of the Year. And Thursday afternoon, she's about to step on the biggest stage offered in women's golf.
Heck -- a sophomore at St. Agnes -- will be the youngest competitor in the field when the U.S. Women's Open gets underway Thursday at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. The 15-year-old earned her place in the season's third major by finishing second in last month's qualifier in Braselton, Ga.
"I'm definitely nervous but I'm more excited," she said. "It's a dream come true."
She is the youngest in the field of 156 players, but she's not the youngest to have ever golfed in the U.S. Open. She is though joining an impressive list of players.
Lexi Thompson, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, made her U.S. Open debut at 12 years old. Morgan Pressel, the youngest winner of a modern LPGA major championship, debuted at age 12 in 2001. The youngest to ever qualify? Lucy Li, who was 11 when she qualified in 2014.
Then there is Michelle Wie, who Heck was looking forward to playing a practice round with before the tournament opened on Thursday. Wie, the 2014 U.S. Women's Open champ, knows a thing about being the young one at the tournament, having been 13 years old when she played in 2003.
They also have another thing in common. Wie, who turned pro at 16, graduated from Stanford -- which is where Heck has committed.
"I may get a picture," Heck said, laughing. "She's a great player and a great person."
Heck's appearance at the U.S. Women's Open is the culmination of a remarkable run of junior golf over the last couple of years.
"If you go back over the last 12 or 13 events, she's been the most consistent junior golfer in the country," said her coach, longtime Memphis-area instructor Rob Akins. "She's always been right there."
After some strong showings -- including a tie for second at the ANA Junior Inspiration in January and a runner-up at the Thunderbird International in late May -- Heck broke through with a one-stoke victory (10-under 278) at the prestigious Rolex Junior Championship in Asheville, N.C., just one week after qualifying.
"That was a big step for her," said Akins. "She'd had some heartache at other tournaments but I think she's learned something with each defeat. I don't want to downplay (qualifying for the Open). It's a big deal ... there's going to be a big crowd. But I think she'll thrive."
She spent this past week helping the East team end the West's four-year winning streak at the Wyndham Cup, a Ryder Cup-style juniors event that also featured Brighton grad and Mississippi State freshman Aubree Jones.
"It's my favorite event," said Heck. "It's so much fun being part of a team ... you don't usually get to do that."
When she tees off from No. 10 at 1:42 p.m. CST in Thursday's final group, though, she'll be on her own.
It will be a far cry from her home course at Spring Creek Ranch and much different from the Division II-A state tournament, which Heck won by 15 strokes last year over her older sister Abby.
Akins says Heck's rise is due to her ability to learn and focus.
"She's a straight-A student but she's also a great golf student," he said. "She's really good at listening and over time she's learned how to control her body so that she can do the things she wants to do.
"She's not your average person."
Cynthia Giannini -- Heck's coach at St. Agnes -- agrees.
"She's got that competitive edge .. and just loves the game," she said. "But she's also a pretty cool kid. Sometimes after a bad shot or missed putt, she'll look at me and smile. Like 'Oh well. No big deal.' She's able to laugh off a bad shot."
This article is written by John Varlas from Commercial Appeal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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