Drew Hackett finds plenty of fairways on his way to Rice Planters Amateur win

Drew Hackett’s driver is something like a laser. The 20-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, didn’t make a bogey for the last 38 holes of the Rice Planters Amateur, a 54-hole event at Snee Farm Golf Club in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Attribute that kind of scoring to hitting fairways – lots of them. When most guys put the big club in the bag, Hackett trusts it, giving himself a shorter club into the green and setting up a big advantage.

The last time Hackett won a golf tournament, he was a senior in high school – it was a 2A event near Charlotte. Two years later, as he approaches the second half of his college golf career at North Carolina-Wilmington, Hackett is a winner again, this time at the Rice Planters Amateur. His 12-under total (71-67-66) for 54 holes left him three shots ahead of runners-up Mac Scott, who plays for Furman, and Lansdon Robbins, a UNCW teammate. The 2019 Rice Planters champ, Austin Fulton, was fourth at 8 under.

“All week I hit a lot of fairways,” Hackett said. “I was hitting the tee ball great and I’ll give a lot of credit to my driver. I was hitting it great, wasn’t really in trouble and that set me up to hit approach shots which definitely got better as the week went on. The week went on and today, I missed two greens. From tee to green, I couldn’t have played much better.”

Scores: Rice Planters Amateur

Hackett’s college coach at UNCW, Daniel Bowden, remembers Snee Farm well from his days coming up through amateur golf. He knew Hackett’s propensity for hitting fairways and knew that could play right into his hands. It was a course cut out for him.

“That’s why I recruited him, he could just hit driver everywhere and he wasn’t scared, it would usually go really straight,” Bowden said. “That set him up for a lot of birdie chances.”

This spring, COVID couldn’t have hit at a worse time for UNCW. Like many programs, the Seahawks sat out the fall season of competition. After navigating almost the whole spring safely – winning twice as a team in the process – quarantines hit right as the postseason began to ramp up.

UNCW had to sit out of its last scheduled regular-season start at the West Virginia-hosted Mountaineer Invitational, and couldn’t compete in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship.

By the time head coach Daniel Bowden regrouped his team, only six days remained before the NCAA Regional in Noblesville, Indiana. UNCW had earned an at-large bid into the postseason, and Bowden needed to select his team.

Hackett, a sophomore, had had an up-and-down spring – finishing second at UNCW’s own Seahawk Invitational but then losing his spot in the lineup after a T-69 at the Tar Heel Collegiate. In that last start, Hackett’s group was pulled off the first tee at the last minute because of a fog delay. Perhaps it was the effects of an awkward morning, but when Hackett got back to the tee, he drove it right into the lip of a bunker and walked away with a triple bogey on the opening hole.

“I think that was kind of some growing pains, a learning experience obviously, mentally how to handle that,” Bowden said.

As a junior golfer, Hackett hadn’t had a lot of instruction, so Bowden and one of Hackett’s teammates encouraged him to try out some instructors. Hackett landed a lesson with Allen Terrell, who has famously worked with Dustin Johnson, and the two hit it off immediately.

A tune-up before UNCW’s scheduled West Virginia trip had gotten Hackett’s game back in order and he was scheduled to play for the Seahawks in the tournament’s play-six-count-four format. COVID stood in the way.

“We kind of didn’t know where his game was at that point because we didn’t have a tournament,” Bowden said. “He earned his way back in (the lineup) and I felt like he should have been in all along, it just kind of was a terrible series of events – mentally, physically, you name it.”

Bowden set up a qualifier between Hackett and Patrick Sparks for the fifth spot in the regional lineup. After two rounds, Hackett had earned the spot. Despite the fact that UNCW hadn’t competed for six weeks leading up to the postseason, the Seahawks were eighth out of 13 teams, just outside the top-5 position needed to advance to the national championship.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since, as Hackett got right on a plane after regionals to head across the country to Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington, for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. He and teammate Chris Rahm made the match-play cut but fell in the first round.

Given all that golf, Hackett said his preparation entering the Rice Planters wasn’t all that different than it had been in previous starts.

“I came in and I was pretty loose,” he said. “I wasn’t like, I need to go win this thing, it’s like I need to go play well and I need to be confident out there and not a let bad swing get in my head.”

For his next feat? Hackett hopes to go back-to-back at the Carolinas next month. With that red-hot driver, the odds are in his favor.

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