When Hannah Rabb was on her way to North Carolina for the U.S. Kids Golf World Teen Championship last week, her goal was to place in the top five of her age group.
After all, she placed fifth in the tournament in 2020, so it seemed to be a reasonable goal.
However, Rabb, a rising sophomore at Warrior Run, needed to re-evaluate her goal for the Girls 14 Word Teen Championship heading into the final day of the tournament at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
“After Day two I was tied for first, so I changed my goal,” Rabb said. “I said, ‘Let’s go win this.’”
That’s exactly what she did. Rabb shot an even-par 72 on Saturday to finish with an even-par three-day total of 216, which gave her the world title by six strokes.
“I was a little nervous to play in the last group because everybody would be watching,” Rabb said. “I was confident in my game. I knew if I was steady I had a good chance.”
She was definitely steady with one bogey and one birdie on the front nine, and one bogey and one birdie on the back nine in the final round.
That didn’t totally eliminate the nerves as she closed in on the world title, though.
“It was definitely very stressful on 18, even though I knew I was up by a lot,” Rabb said. “I didn’t want to mess up with everyone watching.
“I had an iron, and I told myself it was like every other shot. I hit it on the green, two-putted for par and walked off.”
At that point, the celebration began.
“I gave my dad a hug, and he was crying because he was so proud,” Rabb said. “Some of my good golf friends poured water on me and gave me hugs. I thought, ‘Wow, I actually did this.’”
Rabb plays in a tournament most weeks, and shoots low in plenty of them, but winning the world title was special.
“It was crazy to win a big tournament like that,” she said.
Only four players in the 65-player field recorded rounds under par, and only three players finished a round in even par. Rabb was the only player to do both.
“It was amazing to see her win,” said Spencer Graham, one of Rabb’s coaches. “She won against 90% — at least 80% — of the best 14-year-old girls in the world. That’s a really serious victory.”
Rabb said one of the things that helped her stay calm as she was closing in on the world title was that she was playing in the same group as Valentina Hurtado of Venezuela, who finished fourth.
“It took a lot of the pressure off to be playing with someone you’re good friends with,” Rabb said.
The other thing that helped was the swing change she developed with Graham last winter that helped give her more accuracy.
“Every time I hit a shot, I thought, ‘Wow, that is really pure,’” Rabb said.
Graham is the owner and head coach at Junior Golf Performance Academy in Naples, Florida, and Rabb became the 15th world champion that he’s coached.
One of Rabb’s good friends worked with Graham and suggested him, the Rabbs went down to Florida to try him out.
“We really liked him,” Rabb said. “I stayed down there for two months and practiced, and really got to improve my game.”
Rabb said she attended Warrior Run in person for the first half of the year — during which she won a district golf title and finished second at states — and finished the year by doing cyberschool, part of which she did from Florida.
That gave Graham a chance to change her swing.
“Her swing worked well for her for a long time as a junior golfer,” Graham said. “But as you get older and more powerful, length doesn’t necessarily equate to really good scores. Accuracy does.”
So Rabb said the biggest change was they made her swing shorter.
“It was pretty hard to get used to,” she said. “I’d been doing the same thing for my entire golf career. In the end, it helped me a lot.”
Rabb said she’s noticed a big difference and the swing has become natural to her, but she still sends Graham videos of her swing from time to time for fine-tuning.
“Belief in the new swing has allowed her to gain consistency and confidence,” Graham said. “She’s a great kid and a hard worker.”
Part of why they were able to make the swing change is because of Rabb’s natural ability, according to Graham.
“One thing about Hannah is she has a tremendous amount of speed in her golf swing,” Graham said. “She’s pretty powerful for a girl who isn’t very tall. That’s a good recipe for a long career in golf — length and accuracy.”
Rabb said she thinks what makes her a good golfer overall is her work ethic, and that after each tournament she reflects on what she needs to improve.
“There wasn’t too much to fix (from the weekend),” she said with a laugh. “I’ll just work on my overall game.”
Rabb said a couple of college coaches have started to follow her on Instagram, and Graham said at least three coaches “from high-level programs” have reached out to him since Rabb won the world title.
For now, she’s only got a couple of summer tournaments left before she suits up for the Defenders and begins defense of her district title.
The more pressing issue is making room on her shelf for her new world champion trophy, after her parents stop displaying it in their kitchen, of course.