Professional golfer Reilley Rankin is a survivor, a true model of perseverance on and off the course.
Whether she’s been facing a personal loss, a life-threatening injury or the challenges of competing at her sport’s highest level, she just keeps moving forward.
Rankin lost her mother, Mary Reilley Rankin, last July after a long bout with cancer. She moved back to the area from Orlando a few years ago to help take care of her mother and to be closer to her large extended family.
“It’s still hard. I couldn’t imagine going through any of that without my family,” said Rankin, who grew up on Hilton Head Island and is now an honorary member at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton.
Though the past few years have also been tough competitively, Rankin plans to compete in several events in 2015. She is on the course every day, practicing and playing her way back into form.
“I’m going to play in as many (tournaments) as I can, and just work my way back to what I know I can be,” said Rankin, who plans to add to her competitive schedule through Monday tournament qualifiers.
An LPGA touring pro since 2004, Rankin found herself back in qualifying school after a difficult 2013 season. Though she did not qualify for fully exempt status for the 2014 season, she finished high enough to retain limited status on the LPGA Tour and the Symetra Tour.
“It’s been a very difficult few years, working my way back to where I can be,” said Rankin, who will turn 36 this month. “I just recently started working with a new teacher (Mike McGetrick), and I am very excited about my game. My game finally feels like it’s coming around.”
Her mother’s death isn’t the only challenge Rankin has had to overcome. In 1998, as a college student at the University of Georgia, she was severely injured after jumping 70 feet from a cliff into an Alabama lake. She broke her back and sternum and severely bruised her heart, lungs and aorta. Doctors told her she would never play competitive golf again, but after a two-year recovery, Rankin helped guide the Bulldogs to the 2001 NCAA championship.
“When I had the accident, and going through (the recovery), I was only focused on going forward,” she said. “I never looked at where I was as overcoming something, because I was so focused on going forward.”
Rankin grew up on Hilton Head, and said both her family — the Reilleys are well-known on the island — and the opportunities afforded to her as junior golfer growing up in Hilton Head helped her golf career.
“I’m very appreciative of all the golf opportunities that I’ve had here over the years. The community has helped make me who I am today,” says Rankin, who cites the IJGA, the Junior Masters and the Women’s Lowcountry Golf Association as instrumental as in her development.
After finishing up her eligibility at Georgia, she turned pro in 2001, winning twice on the Futures Tour in 2003 and earning full membership on the LPGA in 2004, with her career best finish coming at the 2007 Mizuno Classic in Japan, where she came in second.
In 2013, the LPGA recognized Rankin’s determination and perseverance with the Heather Farr Player Award. Her acceptance speech included a special thank you to her sister — and frequent caddie and manager — Caroline, who helped Rankin navigate the years since her accident on and off the course
“It never crossed my mind that I’d receive an award related to my accident. It was really one of the first times I had to sit down and re-live the entire accident, and it brought back a lot of emotions,” Rankin said. “Getting that award really put things into perspective again. … It was definitely an honor.”