In what could only be described as a back-and-forth battle of wills during the final round, Rachel Heck of Memphis, Tennessee, emerged as the victor at the 26th annual Rolex Girls Junior Championship at Biltmore Forest Country Club.
Heck, a rising high school sophomore verbally committed to Stanford, created the turning point on the back nine with a birdie on the par-4 No. 10. She distanced herself from the field on No. 15 with another birdie and ended the day at 10-under-par 278 to lift her first AJGA Invitational trophy.
The back-and-forth front nine featured seven lead changes between Heck, Rolex Junior Player of the Year Paphangkorn Tavatanakit of Thailand, and Erica Shepherd of Greenwood, Indiana. Tavatanakit, who won the 2016 Rolex Tournament of Champions and PING Invitational, led by three strokes after 54 holes. Two opening bogeys to Heck’s birdie on No. 4 evened the score after four holes.
Shepherd, a two-time Rolex Junior All-American and Duke verbal commit, shot a 5-under-par 31 on the front nine, including birdies on Nos. 3-5 and 7-8. She had a share of the lead with Heck and Tavatanakit after eight holes, and finished the day in second at 9-under-par 279. Prior to this top finish, Shepherd won the 2016 Justin Rose Junior All-Star Invitational and the AJGA Junior All-Star at The Virtues.
Tavatanakit birdied No. 8 to regain her lead but a bogey on No. 9 set up a three-way tie making the turn. Playing in her final AJGA stroke play event before college golf at UCLA in the fall, Tavatanakit finished third at 8-under-par 280.
"It means so much to me, to come close a lot over the years," Heck said. "I wanted this really badly, but I didn't want to think how bad I wanted it. But there were just so many great players here, and it's just such an honor to win this event."
Heck, whose sister Abigail won the Tennessee Women’s Amateur today 1-up, hadn’t finished outside the top seven in a national junior golf event since June 2016.
Tied for fourth at 4-under-par 284 were Californians Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, and Calista Reyes of San Diego.
Li, the 2017 ANA Junior Inspiration winner, made five birdies during the final round. Reyes, a 2016 Rolex Junior All-American, shot a 4-under-par final-round 68 and secured her first top-five finish at an AJGA Invitational.
Local Rachel Kuehn of Asheville, North Carolina, and Angelina Ye of Bradenton, Florida, tied for sixth at 3-under-par 285. Kuehn, a crowd favorite, won the Carolina Women's Amateur.
The previous AJGA champion and Wake Forest verbal commit played in the final-round leader group. Ye, who won the 2016 Callaway Golf Junior Classic and was a second-team Rolex Junior All-American, closed with a 1-under-par 71 during the final round.
The Stanford women's volleyball program has announced its fall schedule in conjunction with the Pac-12 Network releasing its 2017 television picks, Thursday. The Cardinal has 17 matches slated for coverage on the Pac-12 Networks and two on ESPNU.
It marks the sixth season of live women's volleyball coverage on the Pac-12 Networks. Stanford's first appearance on the networks in 2017 will be its home opener against Pacific, slated for Friday, Sept. 15.
Stanford's match at Oregon on Oct. 6 and at home against Washington on Oct. 19 have been picked up by ESPNU. All but two conference matches (home versus Washington State on Oct. 21 and home against Oregon State on Nov. 3) will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Stanford won the program's seventh NCAA championship in 2016, tying for the most women's volleyball titles in the nation with Penn State.
The Cardinal returns five starters, including AVCA National Freshman of the Year Kathryn Plummer and All-Americans Merete Lutz and Audriana Fitzmorris, from its championship squad. The Cardinal is under the guidance of first-year head coach Kevin Hambly, who spent the previous eight seasons at the helm at Illinois.