Rose Zhang hadn’t missed a lot of steps along her way to becoming the greatest female amateur in the modern era.
Zhang checked off the U.S. Women’s Amateur at age 17 before she won the U.S. Girls’ Junior a year later in 2021. She won the individual and 2022 team NCAA Championship in her first season at Stanford. By the time she left the amateur ranks as a sophomore after repeating as NCAA individual champion in May – the first woman to win the national title twice – Zhang had compiled more collegiate victories (12) in only 20 starts than a notable fellow former Cardinal, Tiger Woods.
But there was one glaring omission on her dominant female amateur immortal bingo card: the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Zhang was 0-for-3 despite being the only player to reach the final round every year on the storied home course of the Masters Tournament. When she returned to Augusta in April for what she knew would likely be her fourth and final try to complete her version of the women’s amateur grand slam, Zhang was determined.
“I greatly wanted to win this,” said Zhang, of Irvine, California. “It was a huge desire, but at the same time, I didn't want myself to get too ahead in terms of my thinking and where my head was at. But I feel like coming back here for the fourth time is just such an honor. … Just getting the invite is a special moment, let alone playing in the final round all four times.”
Zhang’s storybook finish would not come easy. With a tap-in par on the second playoff hole, she finally secured the missing jewel in her crown of major amateur achievements after what was very nearly a painful collapse to Jenny Bae, who erased a six-shot deficit to force a sudden-death showdown.
“After that little putt went in, it was just a sense of relief, I would say,” Zhang said after surviving despite a 4-over 76 at Augusta National.
“And with everyone watching, with all the expectations, it was a little difficult to do so. But I'm really proud of how I handled everything.”
With that victory, there wasn’t really anything left for Zhang to prove in the unpaid realm. Despite spending less than half of 2023 as an amateur, Zhang was unquestionably the Global Golf Post female amateur player of the year. In her second season at Stanford, Zhang set the NCAA single-season scoring record at 68.80 – nearly a stroke better than her 69.68 NCAA record as a freshman. She won eight of 10 college events in which she played – Carmel Cup, Stanford Intercollegiate, Pac-12 Preview, Therese Hession Regional Challenge, Juli Inkster Invitational, Pac-12 Championships, NCAA Pullman Regional and NCAA Championships – the last of which surpassed Woods (26 starts), Patrick Rodgers (35) and Maverick McNealy (44), all 11-time winners, for the most in school history. Her 12 college wins tied Lorena Ochoa (Arizona) for the most in Pac-12 history. She collected the Annika Award as the top female college golfer for the second straight year.
When she turned professional following her historic repeat NCAA victory at Grayhawk Golf Club, Zhang had owned the No. 1 women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking for a record 141 consecutive weeks – exceeding the consecutive (130) and total (135) marks set by Lydia Ko and Leona Maguire, respectively. With lucrative NIL deals and two years of college eligibility remaining, Zhang was poised to set the amateur bar as high as she liked.
“... Regardless of what happens on the professional level, I’ll still be at school finishing out.”
“Wow ... it’s finally happening,” was the way the 20-year-old Zhang announced on Instagram that she was taking the next step in her golf journey.
“I wanted to see how well I played in college golf. I believe that if you’re not able to conquer one stage, then you won’t be able to go on to the next one and say that it’s time for the next step,” Zhang later said.
“So I wanted to see how I fared in college golf, and turned out well. That’s why I tried pursuing it. I thought, OK, now I can see where the trend is going. I see that I have potential going to the next stage. Therefore, I think it's time to make a plan.
“So I think just following through the sophomore year, battling the decision here and there, but made out to be a very good one. I felt like it was time for the next stage. Regardless of what happens on the professional level, I'll still be at school finishing out.”
Women’s golf doesn’t have an LPGA equivalent to PGA Tour University, which enabled male stars such as Ludvig Åberg and Gordon Sargent to gain status on the top men’s professional tour in the world based on collegiate success. The lack of guaranteed status didn’t deter Zhang. It didn’t even present a speed bump.
In her first week after lifting the NCAA Championship trophy in her final college start, Zhang picked up her first professional trophy at the Mizuho Americas Open, fittingly hosted by the most comparable former amateur phenom, Michelle Wie West. Zhang beat fellow Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff at Liberty National to secure her LPGA tour card before heading back to Stanford for classes.
“You guys will see me more on the LPGA Tour, as I am taking membership from now on, and I'll be playing in 2023,” Zhang said of a season that has included five top-10s, $1.46 million and an appearance in the Solheim Cup. “The expectation for me winning did not even cross my mind. 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.”
The instant professional success only enhanced her amateur accolades. Annika Sörenstam needed 34 professional starts to notch her first LPGA Tour win. Lorena Ochoa required 33. Lydia Ko achieved it in only 10.
Zhang did it the first time out.
“These are not things that I think about,” she said of the milestones she hits. “But I just can only say that this is just amazing, and I'm really just in a place where I want to improve myself and I want to keep on doing better and better. So, we'll be seeing what I do in the future.”
The golf world will be watching.
Top: Rose Zhang
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