Amateur golf legend Rose Zhang is officially a pro. Here’s how that’s going

A week after winning her second NCAA individual title, Rose Zhang is competing against the pros this week — as a pro.

The post Amateur golf legend Rose Zhang is officially a pro. Here’s how that’s going appeared first on Golf.

A week after winning her second NCAA individual title, Rose Zhang is competing against the pros this week — as a pro.

The post Amateur golf legend Rose Zhang is officially a pro. Here’s how that’s going appeared first on Golf.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — As Rose Zhang waited to address the media Tuesday morning at her first “hello, world” press conference as a professional, the already cramped tent at the end of the practice range here at Liberty National Golf Club began to feel even more crowded. There were only a few reporters in attendance, but LPGA and Liberty National officials had filtered in to hear Zhang speak. So, too, had an assortment of other golfing notables: Ty Votaw, the former LPGA commissioner; Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the former First Tee chief; Anne Walker, Zhang’s golf coach at Stanford University, her young daughter in tow. In the back row, another familiar face: agent Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports, the powerhouse agency that represents the likes of Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and now…Rose Zhang.

As the space filled up, Zhang stood by the entrance in an outfit emblazoned with enough sponsors to cover a stock car: Callaway, Delta, Topgolf, Adidas, East West Bank. The newly minted 20-year-old doesn’t yet have a watch deal but that, too, seems imminent given on Tuesday she was carrying a green pouch in her purse that contained a luxury timepiece. Moments before taking the stage, Zhang pulled out the watch, slipped it on her right wrist and tugged up her sleeve.

Pro move, one of the first of many to come.

By now, you likely know what led Zhang to this buzzy moment: a run of dominance like the amateur game has rarely, if ever, seen. If somehow you missed Zhang’s assault on the amateur and college ranks over the last three years, allow us to catch you up: 33-month stint as the world’s top-ranked amateur; 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion; 2021 U.S. Junior Girls’ champion; 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion; 12 wins in 22 starts at Stanford; first woman in NCAA history to win individual Div. I national championships in consecutive seasons. We could keep going, but it’s already starting to feel like gloating.

Tiger Woods comparisons generally are reckless, but it is not hyperbolic to say that not since Woods has such a high-powered amateur marched into the professional game. Zhang is that good, even if she’s reluctant to say it. Zhang will try to tell you that other junior and college players have been better than her; she’s just happens to be really good managing her game. On Tuesday, I asked another one-time amateur sensation — Michelle Wie West — about that sentiment. Wie West all but scoffed at Zhang’s modesty.

“There is no better player than her,” Wie West said.

“She can handle herself when the pressure is on her,” Wie West continued. “You saw it at ANWA this year and her back-to-back NCAA [titles]. She’s done that with all the eyeballs on her.” And with the additional wrinkle of having to deliver for sponsors. “The NIL landscape is a different story than before,” Wie West said. “I mean, she’s already living a life very similar to a professional golfer.”

That may be so, but until this week, when Zhang competed against the pros — as she has done in eight major championships, her best finish, a T11, coming at the 2020 Chevron — an (a) followed her name on the tee sheet. On Thursday, when she tees off in the  first round of the Mizuho Americas Open, she will compete for the first time as a professional.  

Zhang at the NCAA Div. I Championships last week. getty images

When Zhang entered Stanford, she had no vision for her path to the pro game, let alone that her journey would begin at a first-time LPGA event hosted by her fellow Cardinal, Wie West. Zhang says she wasn’t sure if she’d stay at Stanford for one year, or two or four. “But one thing is for sure: I wanted to finish my degree,” she said Tuesday of her communications major. “The second factor was 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.”

By the end of her sophomore year, which culminated with her win at the NCAA championships in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, Zhang hadn’t just conquered her competition, she had capped arguably the greatest college-golf career ever. As for her degree, she’ll continue to chase that, too, squeezing in credits as time allows, just as Wie West did. “Stanford is not exactly an easy place for academics,” she said. “I would like to take classes in the fall; winter is our off-season I guess in golf, so I’ll be able to take more classes there; and then spring quarter is kind of a speed run, so I’ll take a leave of absence and continue that route until I graduate.”

On Tuesday, I asked Zhang to identify her toughest class. “CS-106A,” she said, referring to a computer-science course. “Currently and still trying to grind in that class. It’s been a little unfortunate for me. I’m not a CS major. Will never code again after this class.”

Rose Zhang of Stanford celebrates with her team after winning the individual medalist after the final round of the Division I Women's Individual Stroke Play Golf Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club on May 22, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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On the LPGA, where she will play this season on sponsor’s exemptions with hopes of earning her tour card for 2024, Zhang will have different kinds of puzzles to solve — namely, stiffer competition week in and week out; tougher course setups (not the computer-science kind); and the grind of a heavy travel schedule. “I feel like right now the mindset is also very simple,” she said. “Try to adjust as much as possible to tour life, and figure out what it means to be a professional, what I want to do out here.”  

This week that has meant playing an event that’s new not only to Zhang but also to the entire tour. The Mizuho tournament is unique both for its setting opposite Lower Manhattan and its format. In a first for the LPGA tour, 24 girls from the American Junior Golf Association will play alongside the pros, all the way through the final round. On Tuesday, the youngsters could be seen banging balls on the range next to major winners.

“It’s actually kind of incredible to see,” Zhang said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with just the AJGA, but I came out here on Sunday afternoon and I saw so many of my friends that I grew up with from junior golf. I saw Lucy [Li], Megha [Ganne], my teammate, Alexa Pano, all these people I grew up with. I just immediately saw them, and it’s been a really relieving moment, I guess, because everyone on Tour is kind of the people that I’ve played junior golf with. … I have people who are familiar faces to me, and I’ll be able to kind of grow alongside them and also just catch up with.”

Just like old times, right? Well, yeah, sort of. But when you’re a player of Zhang’s pedigree, the pro game also comes with a slate of other duties, perks and opportunities.

After her press conference, I asked Zhang about that watch she had slipped on. She laughed and seemed almost embarrassed that I had noticed. “I never really thought of myself as, oh, coming down 18, you would have to put on a watch or some other kind of gadget before press conferences and interviews,” she said. “But this is also what I’ve seen ever since I was a young kid, and now that I’m in these shoes, it’s definitely something that I’m going to enjoy.”

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