PALO ALTO, California – On the last day of her senior year, Rachel Heck sat outside the gates of St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, Tennessee, with friends – spaced out, of course – and shed some tears. Heck had been in school with more than a dozen of her 99 classmates since age 3. They’d parted ways for Spring Break on a Friday, thinking nothing of it, and never returned.
“The last day you run down the hallway and slam all the lockers,” said Heck. “There were so many traditions that we just didn’t get to do.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, the fall semester of college golf at Stanford was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While other conferences forged on, the Pac 12 did not compete. A lost Heck found herself sending out S.O.S. messages in the Zoom chat of CS106A, an intro to computer science class. One morning she got up at 8 a.m. to work on an assignment in her Memphis bedroom and by 3 p.m. had gotten nowhere.
“I had nothing on my screen and just started bawling,” said Heck. “I’m supposed to be on campus. I’m supposed to have resources.”
Mercifully, fellow Cardinal students came to her aid. She eventually found a local tutor.
Heck can laugh about it now. Sitting outdoors at a long table at Osteria Toscana in Palo Alto, many things have started to feel familiar again. Osteria is a frequent haunt for the Cardinal, a nice place to bring recruits on campus visits. Four Stanford teammates have gathered here on a pleasant spring evening to talk about recent detours and silver linings. Any mention of hardship is usually laced with humor.
There’s great perspective here.
Now three months into life as a college student-athlete, Heck, one of the hottest players in college golf, is still getting to know her teammates. The entire team lives in the same dorm on the same hall due to COVID-19 protocols. Running into each other throughout the day at the bathroom sink or dining hall has helped make up for the time spent apart.
After months of nothing, it’s now pedal-to-the-floor action at Stanford Golf Course. Two weeks after hosting the Pac 12 Championships (won by USC and Heck), the 17th-ranked Cardinal play host to NCAA regional action May 10-12, with 17 teams trying to advance to the NCAA Championship. The top six teams will move on to Greyhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, beginning May 21.
Other regional sites include Baton Rouge (LSU); Columbus, Ohio (OSU); and Simpsonville, Kentucky (Louisville).
With last year’s season canceled in March – wiping out conference and NCAA tournament action – junior Aline Krauter is the only member of the Cardinal lineup who has any postseason experience.
Krauter left campus last spring pretty quickly because her parents worried that she wouldn’t be able to get back into Germany. The planes and airports were eerily quiet. She admittedly was thrown off from the start, having not lived at home with mom and dad for an extended period since she left for boarding school in Florida at age 15.
Krauter’s family got acquainted with their backyard garden during quarantine, a welcome addition to their daily routine. When golf courses were closed, the German national team was able to practice at St. Leon-Rot, site of the 2015 Solheim Cup. She took advantage when she could.
Even though much in her life was canceled over the past year, good things happened too: Krauter met a new boyfriend after things started to open back up. She won the Women’s British Amateur at West Lancashire. The victory earned her a spot in the ANA Inspiration, where the international relations major realized her game was indeed big enough for the next level.
“I wasn’t sure coming in if I was going to hit the ball high enough to land it soft enough on the greens,” said Krauter. “I didn’t know if I hit it far enough. That doubt went away during the practice rounds and tournament.”
Sophomore Angelina Ye first came to visit Stanford at age 9. She was living in Shanghai at the time and playing in a nearby tournament. In the first grade, Ye wrote in an essay that she wanted to be No. 1 in the world so that she could buy her own plane to avoid having to purchase plane tickets.
“I was 7,” she said, laughing. “Cut me some slack.”
Ye played in her first China LPGA event at age 12 and finished third. At 13, she played in in the Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island. Not once has she imagined herself sitting behind a desk. Even so, her parents instilled in Ye the importance of an education. The decision to go to Stanford, she said, shocked a lot of people in golf back home in China.
“I think I’m the only one who’s playing at this level and at my age who has not turned pro yet,” said Ye. Most elite junior players stop attending school on a regular basis before high school. They were technically enrolled, she said, but mostly just took the final exams.
“When I got my acceptance letter it was a big deal back home,” said Ye. “I’m really happy that they see this as an option now.”
Ye, who enrolled in the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, during high school, returned there when the pandemic hit to stay with her mother and brother. Her instructors, Sean Foley and Mark Sweeney, were nearby, and courses only closed in the area for about a week.
Ye’s family has since moved about 25 minutes away from the Palo Alto campus. When the fall season was canceled, she could still go up to Stanford to practice.
Ziwi Yang, known as “Emily,” was the only member of Stanford’s team who stayed on campus all of last year.
The Beijing native was inspired to go to Stanford by the likes of Tiger Woods, Reese Witherspoon and Hannah Montana. An essay she wrote for Golf Digest China about her freshman year helped solidify Ye’s decision to follow in her footsteps.
Yang won’t be in the lineup at regionals. She has no plans to play professionally either, though she did consider it at one time. When the pandemic canceled Yang’s summer internship with the United Nations in Geneva, she got a position doing COVID-19 research at the Hoover Institution.
With the golf course, dining and workout facilities closed early on, Yang, who only had a couple of friends still on campus, took up running. Nothing made the ambitious Yang sweat more, though, than getting called on during a Zoom class for international law.
“I voluntarily took this class,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know why.”
Last November, Yang was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and will study 19th century history at the University of Oxford in England starting in the fall. She chose this particular subject area largely because the research will take her to Vienna, Paris, Istanbul, Germany and possibly St. Petersburg.
Talk of future travel and the fast-approaching NCAA postseason over hearty Italian food helped soothe disappointments from the past year. There’s much to look forward to at Stanford and beyond.
And stories that last a lifetime.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/09/stanford-detours-silver-linings-ncaa-postseason/