The signs of Rachel Kuehn’s composure and competitiveness on the golf course were there before she was born.
Back in 2001, her mother, Brenda Corrie Kuehn, famously played the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles eight months pregnant with Rachel, experiencing contractions as she scrapped her way through the difficult layout. The following Sunday, she gave birth weeks ahead of schedule.
Clearly, she had an eager golfer on her hands. And if it was somewhat of a joke then, it since has become reality – the now 19-year-old Rachel, from Asheville, North Carolina, has been one of the most intriguing names of the past year in women’s amateur golf.
Corrie Kuehn says she already envisions a level of play for her daughter that can go beyond what she accomplished in her playing days. That included authoring an All-American career at Wake Forest, and going on to play in the U.S. Women’s Open nine times and in the U.S. Women’s Amateur 16 times.
“She is already so much better than I ever was,” a proud Corrie Kuehn said. “A lot of people love the story of the mother and the daughter, but you know what? This is her path. This is her legacy now.”
The results speak for themselves.
It began last fall after Kuehn chose the daunting task of playing at her mother’s alma mater, and then stunned the women’s college golf world by going wire-to-wire at the stacked Annika Intercollegiate to win by five strokes. She ended the abbreviated season with a 71.23 stroke average and never ventured out of the top 20 in her five starts.
“She is already so much better than I ever was,. A lot of people love the story of the mother and the daughter, but you know what? This is her path. This is her legacy now.”
brenda corrie Kuehn
Then came this summer. Kuehn captured the Women’s North & South at Pinehurst in a playoff against Southern California’s Allisen Corpuz and then blew away the field by six strokes to win the Ladies National Amateur in Tennessee a week later. Both fields were strong enough to warrant U.S. Women’s Amateur exemptions being available, although Kuehn already qualified for the event that takes place this week at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland.
The North & South victory was symbolic of Kuehn laying down firm roots on her own while maintaining a wonderful and often humorous relationship with her mom. The two talk quickly and have no issues poking fun at each other, all while keeping space for a mutual admiration.
After making a 5-foot par putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Corpuz – and ending a marathon final day that started at 5 a.m. with a Snapchat of the moon still shining – Kuehn found her mom beside herself.
“I walked off of the 19th green and my mom was in tears,” Kuehn said. “She was almost more excited than I was, to be honest. I’m like, ‘Mom, pull yourself together, come on.’ Before the tournament she told me that she had a medalist Putter Boy trophy and a runner-up Putter Boy trophy, and it was up to me to bring her home a first-place Putter Boy.”
For her part, Corrie Kuehn says she is still floating on cloud nine.
“You would assume that I was the one who hit all the shots and did all the work,” she joked. “I was a nervous wreck. … We’ve formed a great relationship in this journey, and I’m blessed that she’s let me be a part of her journey.”
While the mother-and-daughter story has plenty of overlap, it wasn’t always looking to be that way. Kuehn won a state tennis title in high school and didn’t play on a high school golf team because her school didn’t have one. Also, she has a diverse athletic family history – her father, Eric, played baseball at Wake Forest; her uncle, Brad, played baseball at Georgia; her uncle, Jeff, played baseball at Furman; and her grandfather, Jack, played golf and basketball at MIT.
When she did fully turn to golf and became a strong junior player, Kuehn made it absolutely clear that she was not attending Wake Forest like her mother and father had. In many a conversation, Corrie Kuehn remembers her daughter animatedly waving her finger saying that Wake Forest was her parents’ school and she wanted her own experience.
That was until she half-begrudgingly visited the small, picturesque campus in Winston-Salem and felt an immediate connection, calling her mom on the way home to dryly tell her, “I guess I’m going to Wake Forest.” Corrie Kuehn, angry that her daughter hadn’t called or texted the entire day to that point, was far less upset when she heard the news.
“Originally I didn’t want to go and be their daughter, if that makes sense,” Kuehn said. “I wanted to be Rachel. And I think when I chose to go there, my mom was excited because she knew I could make it my own school.”
Wake Forest head coach Kim Lewellen didn’t originally recruit Kuehn to come to Wake – she had badly wanted Kuehn to play at the University of Virginia where Lewellen coached for 11 years. When Lewellen was hired in 2018 to lead the Demon Deacons, her first phone call was to Kuehn.
“I said, ‘Goodness, I had to change schools to be your coach,’” Lewellen joked. “She’s blossomed as a college player, but I recognized right away that she has all the tools. She just has this competitive nature in whatever she’s going to do, whether it’s a chipping contest or a game of wall ball. Her sports IQ is very high, and you combine that with being a tremendous athlete.”
When asked to name a player that is similar to Kuehn and how she plays, Lewellen mentioned the legendary Seve Ballesteros and lauded Kuehn’s artistry being able to work the ball both ways and finding different solutions around the green.
“She has great hands and great creativity, which to be honest, you don’t see that much in modern golf,” Lewellen said. “Our equipment allows us to hit it so straight and our balls are launched without a lot of spin. She has the soft skills and finesse to do those things, which sets her apart.”
Lewellen also boasts about Kuehn’s determination. In the run-up to the North & South, Kuehn called Lewellen and explained that she needed a top-two finish at the event to earn an invitation to the U.S. Women’s Am before declaring that she was going to win. She had earned an exemption with her ranking before the North & South victory, but that didn’t stop her from following through on her goal.
“She’s relentless when she gets her mind on something,” Lewellen said.
Kuehn missed playing with NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho by a year, but the team was still No. 1 in the country without her and would have been in the mix for a national championship had it not been for COVID-19. The Atlantic Coast Conference has canceled golf for the fall season, leaving Kuehn to focus on amateur events until a hopeful return in the spring.
“This whole thing puts golf in perspective,” Kuehn said. “Safety and health come first. For a lot of collegiate athletes their sport is the center of their world like it is for me with golf, and I think this has given me a chance to step back and realize that golf is not that important in the grand scheme of things.”
It will take time before the resumption of Kuehn’s Wake Forest career, but there are signs of something special materializing in the interim.