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Rose Zhang Enters the Professional Ranks: A New Chapter Begins

Heorhii Rysak

As Rose Zhang waited to address the media at her first professional press conference, the tent at Liberty National Golf Club’s practice range began to feel increasingly cramped.

Despite the small number of reporters in attendance, officials from the LPGA and Liberty National joined the gathering to hear Zhang speak. Alongside them were notable figures from the world of golf, including Ty Votaw, the former LPGA commissioner, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the former chief of First Tee, and Anne Walker, Zhang’s former golf coach at Stanford University, who brought her young daughter along. In the back row, agent Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports, representing esteemed golfers like Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas, observed the proceedings.

As the venue grew more crowded, Zhang positioned herself near the entrance, clad in an outfit adorned with sponsors reminiscent of a stock car: Callaway, Delta, Topgolf, Adidas, and East West Bank. Although the newly minted 20-year-old had yet to secure a watch deal, it seemed inevitable, as she carried a luxurious timepiece in a green pouch inside her purse. Just moments before stepping onto the stage, Zhang retrieved the watch, gracefully slipping it onto her right wrist and adjusting her sleeve.

This poised action was merely a glimpse of the many professional moves she was bound to make.

Rose Zhang Enters the Professional Ranks

By now, you’re likely familiar with what brought Zhang to this exciting moment: an unparalleled streak of dominance rarely witnessed in the world of amateur golf. In case you somehow missed Zhang’s remarkable accomplishments in the past three years, allow us to bring you up to speed: she held the title of the world’s top-ranked amateur for an impressive 33 months, claimed victory at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur, secured the 2021 U.S. Junior Girls’ championship, triumphed at the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur, accumulated 12 wins out of 22 starts during her time at Stanford, and became the first female athlete in NCAA history to win consecutive individual Div. I national championships. We could continue listing her achievements, but it would soon feel like excessive boasting.

Comparisons to Tiger Woods are typically reckless, but it is not an exaggeration to say that there hasn’t been such a highly acclaimed amateur making such a grand entrance into the professional game since Woods. Zhang’s exceptional talent is undeniable, even if she hesitates to acknowledge it. Zhang often insists that there have been junior and college players who outperformed her, and she simply excels at managing her game. While speaking with former amateur sensation Michelle Wie West on Tuesday, I brought up the topic and shared this viewpoint. Wie West expressed her disagreement with Zhang’s modesty.

According to Wie West, Zhang is unrivaled as a player.

Rose Zhang

Wie West further commented that Zhang handles herself with composure when the pressure is on and pointed to her performances at the ANWA this year and her consecutive NCAA titles as evidence. She emphasized that Zhang has achieved all of this while being in the spotlight. Additionally, she mentioned that the NIL landscape has changed the game, and Zhang is already living a lifestyle very similar to that of a professional golfer.

Prior to this week, Zhang’s experience in major championships involved competing against professionals, with her best finish of T11 achieved at the 2020 Chevron. Until now, her name on the tee sheet was accompanied by an “a” signifying her amateur status. However, as she prepares to tee off in the first round of the Mizuho Americas Open on Thursday, it will mark her debut as a professional golfer.

When Zhang enrolled at Stanford, she didn’t have a clear vision for her path to the professional game. Little did she foresee that her journey would begin at a debut LPGA event hosted by her fellow Cardinal, Wie West. Zhang mentioned that she wasn’t certain if she would stay at Stanford for one, two, or four years. During her press conference on Tuesday, Zhang highlighted her commitment to finishing her degree as a communications major. She stated that another factor in her decision was the desire to assess her performance in college golf, believing that conquering one stage is essential before progressing to the next step.

By the end of her sophomore year, which culminated in a victory at the NCAA championships in Scottsdale, Arizona last week, Zhang not only showcased her dominance over her competitors but also solidified what could be considered one of the greatest college golf careers ever. As for her degree, she intends to continue pursuing it while fitting in credits whenever time allows, similar to Wie West. Acknowledging the academic rigor of Stanford University, Zhang expressed her desire to enroll in classes during the fall semester. She also noted that the winter, being the off-season for golf, would provide her with more opportunities to pursue coursework. Recognizing the intensity of the spring quarter, she mentioned her plan to take a leave of absence and continue on that trajectory until her graduation.

On Tuesday, I inquired about Zhang’s toughest class and she mentioned “CS-106A,” a computer science course. She stated that she is currently striving and putting effort into that class. Zhang described it as a bit unfortunate for her since she is not a computer science major and expressed that she will not code again after completing the course.

Rose Zhang

In the LPGA, Zhang will compete this season on sponsor’s exemptions with the goal of securing her tour card for 2024, exposing her to a fresh set of challenges. These include tougher competition on a weekly basis, more challenging course setups (not related to computer science), and a demanding travel schedule. She stated that her current mindset is to keep things simple, adapt to tour life as much as possible, and understand the true meaning of being a professional and her goals in the field.

This week has been significant for Zhang as she is participating in an event that is not only new to her but also to the entire tour. The Mizuho tournament stands out due to its unique location opposite Lower Manhattan and its format. It is the first time in the history of the LPGA tour that 24 girls from the American Junior Golf Association are playing alongside the professionals throughout the entire tournament, including the final round. On Tuesday, the young golfers could be seen practicing on the range alongside major winners.

Zhang remarked that it was incredible to witness the presence of her friends from junior golf when she arrived on Sunday afternoon. She mentioned seeing Lucy, Megha, her teammate Alexa Pano, and other familiar faces. Zhang found it comforting to know that many of the players on the Tour were people she had played junior golf with. She expressed excitement about growing alongside them and catching up with old acquaintances.

While it may feel reminiscent of old times, being a player of Zhang’s caliber in the professional game also comes with various responsibilities, perks, and opportunities.

After the press conference, I inquired about the watch Zhang had put on. She chuckled and seemed slightly embarrassed that I had noticed. Zhang shared that she had never really considered the need to wear a watch or any other gadget before press conferences and interviews. However, she acknowledged that it was something she had observed since she was a young child. Now that she found herself in those shoes, she admitted it was something she would enjoy.

Making her professional debut this week at the Americas Open in Jersey City, N.J., Zhang brings a distinctive perspective to women’s golf as a prodigy who has competed in the realm of American collegiate golf. Her career, regardless of its duration or the victories it brings, is bound to serve as a compelling case study in athletic development, long-term planning, and effective marketing, particularly in light of recent changes that now allow college athletes to monetize their talents, a prospect that was prohibited merely two years ago.

The economic opportunities presented in college sports have attracted top athletes, enticing them to pursue degrees, nurture their skills, and earn income while resisting the immediate allure of turning professional. However, these possibilities had a lesser impact on Zhang’s decision. Hailing from Irvine, Calif., she made the choice to attend college before a series of state laws pushed the N.C.A.A. to relax its regulations in 2021.

Results of Rose Zhang’s Collegiate Career:

The following table provides a comprehensive overview of Rose Zhang’s performances in various golf events, spanning from collegiate championships to professional tournaments. The table includes details such as the week of the event, country, event name, finish position, event type, power ranking, format, divisor, and average points earned. It showcases Zhang’s remarkable journey and highlights her achievements in both the collegiate and professional golfing realms.

Week Ctry Event Finish Event Type Power Format Divisor Pts Avg
21/2023 us NCAA Womens Match Championship Participant Collegiate 786.6688 M/P 0 2.2476
21/2023 us NCAA D1 Women’s Championship 1 Collegiate 959.7371 S/P 1 24.2954
19/2023 us NCAA Pullman Regional 1 Collegiate 673.3835 S/P 1 19.2842
16/2023 us Pac-12 Women’s Championship 1 Collegiate 719.6266 S/P 1 20.0935
15/2023 us Silicon Valley Showcase 5 Collegiate 353.9829 S/P 1 7.9101
13/2023 us Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship 1 All Ages 998.7214 S/P 1 24.9776
10/2023 us Juli Inkster Meadow Club Collegiate 1 Collegiate 642.6592 S/P 1 18.7465
07/2023 us T. Hession Regional Challenge 1 Collegiate 863.4872 S/P 1 22.6110
44/2022 us Nanea PAC 12 Preview 1 Collegiate 710.1910 S/P 1 19.9283
42/2022 us Stanford Intercollegiate 1 Collegiate 827.0155 S/P 1 21.9728
41/2022 us Jackson T. Stephens Cup Stroke 12 Collegiate 860.6727 S/P 1 9.2727
35/2022 us Carmel Cup 1 Collegiate 713.9809 S/P 1 19.9947
34/2022 fr World Amateur Team Championship – Espirito Santo Trophy 1 All Ages 973.5057 S/P 1 20.4136
31/2022 gb-sct AIG Women’s Open 28 Pro 3391.0150 S/P 1 21.4544
29/2022 fr The Amundi Evian Championship 65 Pro 3426.9314 S/P 1 16.6362
26/2022 us Arnold Palmer Cup Participant Collegiate 986.8999 M/P 0 2.8197
23/2022 us Curtis Cup Participant All Ages 718.4427 M/P 0 2.0527
22/2022 us U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica 40 Pro 3646.6012 S/P 1 20.9526
21/2022 us NCAA D1 Women’s Championship 1 Collegiate 973.5203 S/P 1 24.5366
21/2022 us NCAA Womens Match Championship Participant Collegiate 850.4775 M/P 0 2.4299
19/2022 us NCAA Stanford Regional 2 Collegiate 704.5187 S/P 1 15.5921
16/2022 us Pac-12 Women’s Championship 2 Collegiate 818.5576 S/P 1 17.1352
13/2022 us Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship 12 All Ages 996.3137 S/P 1 9.7207
12/2022 us PING / ASU Invitational 10 Collegiate 853.6778 S/P 1 9.5950
10/2022 us Juli Inkster Meadow Club Collegiate 2 Collegiate 643.8727 S/P 1 14.7740
09/2022 us The Gunrock Invitational 2 Collegiate 545.7005 S/P 1 13.4085
07/2022 us Lamkin San Diego Invitational 4 Collegiate 886.9314 S/P 1 13.7412
44/2021 us Spirit International Amateur Championship 1 All Ages 760.1223 S/P 1 20.8021
41/2021 us Stanford Intercollegiate 1 Collegiate 866.3667 S/P 1 22.6614
40/2021 us Windy City Collegiate Classic 1 Collegiate 890.8175 S/P 1 23.0893
39/2021 us The Molly Collegiate Invitational 1 Collegiate 576.9612 S/P 1 17.5968
34/2021 gb-wls Curtis Cup Participant All Ages 711.3450 M/P 0 2.0324
33/2021 gb-sct AIG Women’s Open 67 Pro 3384.5272 S/P 1 16.2302
31/2021 us U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship 33 All Ages 939.2969 Both 1 6.7358
29/2021 fr The Amundi Evian Championship 58 Pro 3228.6435 S/P 1 16.3890
28/2021 us U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship 1 Junior 443.2810 Both 1 15.2574
22/2021 us U.S. Women’s Open 126 Pro 3680.3853 S/P 1 14.5489

This table exemplifies Rose Zhang’s exceptional talent and accomplishments across a range of golfing competitions. From her remarkable victories in collegiate championships to her participation in prestigious professional events, Zhang’s performances have solidified her as a rising star in the world of golf. The data presented here serves as a testament to her skill, dedication, and future potential as she continues to make strides in her career.