Her sport doesn’t require life-threatening skills or bone-defying flexibility, but as the daughter of Cirque du Soleil acrobats, Annick Haczkiewicz was ready for the curtain to go up in her first start in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
Haczkiewicz, 17, of Las Vegas, Nev., has grown up watching her parents flip and soar through the air in Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere show in her hometown, but just as it goes with her high-flying parents, the teen has learned that performing at a top level is more about trusting well-practiced skills and less about fear.
“When it’s time to hit a shot, I know I have to focus on what I’m doing, and when it’s time for my parents to do a trick or make a pass, they definitely have to know what they’re doing,” she said.
“Maybe there’s a parallel because we both have to be confident in our skills and do what we know,” added Haczkiewicz. “For example, if it’s time to do a flip and they’re not confident, they’re going to crash. And for me, I have to know my shot and my distance before I can hit it.”
Haczkiewicz’s development as a golfer got its start with some extraordinary athletic genes. Her father, Marek, a former world-ranked trampolinist from Poland, and her Slovenian-Canadian mother, Ursula, once an alternate on a Canadian Olympic gymnastics team, met in France when both were performers with a Cirque du Soleil traveling troupe in Europe.
Marek auditioned for the Las Vegas show and earned a spot there, where he has performed for 20 years. Ursula ended her tenure at Mystere when their third child, Christian, was born. She now teaches pilates in Las Vegas.
Their eldest daughter, Monika, now dances with the Atlanta Ballet and Christian, 9, plays recreational tennis and soccer.
Annick, the middle child, participated in gymnastics and contortion and gravitated at about age 8 to Latin ballroom dancing, in which she competed for four years with smooth moves in salsa, samba, cha-cha and rumba.
“It was super fun, but when you’re younger than 14, you don’t get to wear those pretty Latin dresses,” she said.
Haczkiewicz eventually traded the dance floor for the practice range, where she began spending more time with her father, an avid single-digit handicap golfer.
“I did a couple of group golf lessons, but my dad started teaching me how to play around age 10,” she said. “I thought it was fun being outside with him and there were jack-rabbit bunnies everywhere on the golf course.”
As a junior at Palo Verde High School, Haczkiewicz made a huge leap in her performance last October when she carded a Nevada high school record-setting 9-under-par 63 for medalist honors in the Class 4A Sunset Region. That score included eight birdies, one eagle and a single bogey, and helped her team advance into the Class 4A state tournament.
“I was playing with some really good girls – like Sydney Smith, my (U.S. Women’s Amateur) Four-Ball partner, who’s my best friend – so I said, ‘I’ll just try to make as many birdies as I can,’” said Haczkiewicz, who also won her 2015 high school state and regional tournaments.
On the first hole of last year’s regional, Haczkiewicz hit her approach shot over the green, chipped and saved par. With birdies on the next two holes, her putts started dropping. After a 3-putt green on No. 9 for bogey, the teen played her next nine holes at 6-under-par.
“That tournament made me realize that I can shoot low scores,” she said.
In May this year, Haczkiewicz and Smith paired up for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was the first USGA championship for the teen and turned into what she calls “one of my best golf weeks ever.”
The Las Vegas duo earned the No. 6 seed in the match-play bracket with a 10-under-par total of 134, then found themselves 3 down after the first five holes of their opening match. But they rallied back to combine for five birdies and a 2-and-1 victory. They also ended their second match on the 17th hole. Smith was on the green with a makeable 6-foot putt, and the pair instead closed out the match, 2 and 1, in dramatic fashion when Haczkiewicz holed out from a bunker.
They lost in the quarterfinals, 2 and 1, to Sammi Lee and Mary Ellen Shuman, but it was an eye-opening experience for Haczkiewicz in her USGA championship debut.
She got into this week’s championship after being the first alternate in a sectional qualifier at Las Vegas National Golf Club. Smith led the way with a score of 72, and the two flew together to Missouri for this week’s championship.
“This is only my second USGA event, but I’d like to qualify for match play,” said Haczkiewicz, who shot 3-over 74 in the first round of stroke play on Monday. “I’m just going to try to go as far as I can.”
With one more year of high school remaining, Haczkiewicz has committed to play college golf at Brigham Young University. She’ll be leaving Las Vegas in fall 2018, taking another big leap on a new stage five hours from home.
It’s a transition that excites the teen – just as she relishes testing her skills in each tournament she plays. She’s not afraid to fail, or fearful when it’s time to perform.
“I’m more excited than nervous,” she said. “And I never really think about who’s watching.”
Spoken like a true acrobat’s daughter with a golf club in her hands.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.