By Mike Ritz
It’s just after 8 o’clock Monday morning and Rose Zhang appears on the Today Show live in New York City. That’s a big deal. The 20-year-old just turned pro, just won her first LPGA start as a pro and now is on America’s most popular morning TV show, promoting women’ golf just by being there. That’s a big deal.
Zhang charms everyone as she talks about how she needs to head back to Stanford to take three finals, finish her sophomore year, pack up her dorm room and move off campus as she starts her career as a member of the LPGA Tour. She has already done more to boost the LPGA than the vast majority of her fellow members.
Zhang has an engaging smile, bright eyes and a sharp wit. She’s intelligent, articulate and wise beyond her years. And, Rose Zhang has a golf game that may very well be unmatched.
When she won the LPGA tournament at Liberty National in New Jersey, Sunday evening, a star was born. Actually — no — that’s not accurate. Zhang was already a star. Now she is a magnetar — the most magnetic star in the universe.
Zhang is so humble she doesn’t even know she’s humble.
Had she expected to win? She laughed as she answered. “No, I honestly didn’t even expect to make the cut, and the reason why I say this is because I don’t think about my expectations a lot,” Zhang explained. “I think about playing the golf course. I think about trying to shoot the best score that I can. Obviously I have frustrations, disappointments with my game, but I never once think about where I finish, where I should finish.”
All of this wisdom and golf-maturity from a 20-year-old. “The expectation for me winning did not even cross my mind,” Zhang said. “I was just playing my game. I was having a good time out there. This is the game that I love, and I’m so thankful to be a professional doing it now.”
Know you how roses came to grace the world?
A feather from an angel’s pinion fell. (Ruby Archer)
The LPGA Tour was founded in 1950 with Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs dominating the fledgling circuit. On September 16 of that year, Beverly Hanson won the US Women’s Amateur Championship. Three weeks later, Hanson won the LPGA’s 14th event in that inaugural season. The next year she turned pro.
On July 1, 1951, in her very first start as a professional, Hanson won the LPGA Eastern Open. No one had matched that feat until now. Zhang. the only other player in the 73 years of LPGA golf to win her debut as a pro.
Zhang became a shooting star when she won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur. That started a run of 141 consecutive weeks as the No. 1 ranked women’s amateur in the world. The streak only ended last week because she turned pro.
Zhang was only 17 when she won the Women’s Am, so the next year she was still young enough to play in the US Girl’s Junior Championship, which she won at the age of 18.
She has been called the greatest college golfer ever, winning 12 college tournaments in just 20 tries. As a freshman at Stanford, Zhang broke the record for the lowest scoring average for a season at 69.98. Then, this year as a sophomore, she set a new scoring record — a ridiculous 18-hole scoring average of 68.81. Zhang is the only woman to win two consecutive NCAA Individual championships — the second was just 13 days ago.
The only accomplishment missing from Zhang’s stellar amateur career had been the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. When she won that prestigious title this spring, there was nothing left for her to accomplish as an amateur. Zhang had, literally, done it all.
Now one professional start, one win and full membership on the LPGA Tour. “I can’t begin to express how amazing this day has been,” she said. “Being under pressure, having the thrill, the crowds, it’s just — I don’t know. I can’t explain how great, how well written this whole day could have ended. But that playoff definitely provided a little bit of flavor, some thrill for everyone.” Zhang laughed. “Hope you guys enjoyed the show.”
A rose is a rose is a rose.
Loveliness extreme. (Gertrude Stein)
It is glaringly obvious the LPGA needs some star power. It was impossible not to notice that as Zhang and Jennifer Kupcho played the 18th hole in their playoff, only a few hundred fans were there to watch. Two of golf’s most exciting, young female players were dueling in the largest market in the United States with New York’s stunning skyline in the background. Yet, the size of the crowd was embarrassingly small, especially when compared to the gathering outside Columbus, Ohio for the men on the PGA Tour. 20-thousand fans surrounded the 18th green at Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village to watch Viktor Hovland defeat Denny McCarthy in a playoff there.
Maybe Zhang will be the one to grow the ladies’ game. Another great amateur who played golf at Stanford for just two years comes to mind.
That world-number-one amateur was also just 20 years old when turning pro. That young star changed the game and brought more eyes to golf than ever before. That player was Tiger Woods.
This will not be the last time Rose Zhang and Tiger Woods are mentioned together.