Rachel Heck was destined to become a golfer from an early age, when her father, Robert, first put a golf club in her hands. But rather than demand his middle daughter play the game, he devised a plan to pique Rachel’s interest each time they arrived at the course.

The enticement to excel was a frozen treat Rachel continues to associate with the sport, even as a high school senior with outsized promise thanks to performances such as her 1-under 71 in Wednesday’s second round of the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Heck’s two-day total of 4-under 140 left the Memphis native in first place at the conclusion of stroke play at Woodmont Country Club, where the top 64 finishers from the original 132 in the field continue onto the match-play portion of the event that concludes with Sunday’s championship.

“Everyday after work, he would take my two sisters and I out to the course,” Heck, 18, said. “And he would bribe us with ice cream, so we would have this stupid little game like okay, if you get the ball 20 yards, we’ll go for ice cream, so in my mind golf just equaled ice cream."

Her early indoctrination yielded countless trips to her favorite scoop shop, serving Heck quite handsomely during her time in junior golf, including an appearance at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017 in Bedminster, N.J., her first attempt at qualifying.

Heck was the youngest player in the field of 156, a bit of trivia she learned when her mother, Stacy, texted her the information.

Both Stacy and Robert accompanied Rachel to the U.S. Women’s Amateur, where spectators are prohibited but players may bring a maximum of two guests, including a caddie. Many players chose to bring their parents rather than a coach or regular caddie, meaning one parent often is on the bag this week.

In this case, Robert is carrying Rachel’s bag. He did the same for Rachel at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“When we were little, my dad told my mom, he said, ‘They’re going to be golfers,’” said Heck of her and sisters, Abby, the oldest, and Anna, the youngest. “My mom said, ‘You can’t make them like golf,’ and he was like, ‘Yes I can.’”

Abby Heck wound up attending Notre Dame on a golf scholarship. Rachel, meanwhile, is headed to Stanford in the fall after having committed as a freshman at St. Agnes Academy, where she won three state championships and was named Tennessee girls’ golfer of the year three times.

Heck pocketed a memory for life when she met Stanford’s most famous golf alum, Tiger Woods, two years ago in France. Heck was playing at the Junior Ryder Cup at Disneyland Paris, and sank a 10-foot birdie putt that secured the title for the United States.

She and her teammates then visited Le Golf National, site of the 2018 Ryder Cup. Woods was a member of the U.S. team that lost to Europe, 17½ to 10½, and took the time to shake hands with the future Cardinal and offer words of encouragement.

“Part of the reason that I probably wanted to go there since I was little, not that I knew much about Stanford, the academics or the team,” Heck said. “I just knew Tiger Woods went there. It’s got to be pretty good. Michelle Wie went there, so it’s got to be cool.”

Heck’s first audition for Cardinal golf coach Anne Walker came at the 2015 Cathy Whitworth Invitational in Fort Worth, Tex., one of the premier junior tournaments in the country. Walker followed Heck for a few holes as Heck finished tied for 46th.

Three years later, Heck was raising the first-place trophy. Now she’s put herself in position to challenge for the most coveted girls’ amateur title.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA championships as well as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, leaving the U.S. Women’s Amateur as the crown jewel on the girls’ amateur circuit this year.

“Players here, it’s not like they’re that far off from the pros, which is really cool to see,” Heck said. “Having length on this course is definitely an advantage. With all the rain we got yesterday, it’s playing super long, so if you can hit it long and hit it in the fairway, then you’re in good shape.”