Zhang completes dream pro debut as Maguire saves best till last

Mark McGowan

Rose Zhang poses with the trophy after winning the Mizuho Americas Open (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Rose Zhang’s ‘Hello World’ moment may not have captured quite the headlines that Tiger Woods’ did when he turned pro back in 1996, but less than a week after turning professional – and less than a fortnight after turning 20 – the starlet is an LPGA Tour winner after overcoming Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff at the LPGA Mizuho Americas Open at New Jersey’s Liberty National.

Zhang had taken a two-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round after a scintillating moving-day 66, but winning is never easy and, with the breeze up and the course playing tough, she’d be pursued down the stretch by fellow former Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Jennifer Kupcho, and, after making a lengthy par-save on 17, Zhang took a one stroke lead to the long par-4 18th.

A closing bogey meant we’d be heading for a playoff, where, on the second sudden-death hole, a pinpoint 4-hybrid from 180 yards into the wind set Zhang up for a six-foot birdie putt and when Kupcho could only make bogey, Zhang had two putts for victory on her professional debut. And when you have two, take two.


She did, and capped off a memorable week in style, earning full LPGA Tour status and thrusting herself firmly into the mix for Solheim Cup selection.

Earlier in the day, Leona Maguire carded seven birdies on her way to a five-under 67 that was bettered only by Ashleigh Buhai’s 64. Maguire’s round elevated her to a tie for seventh at -6, and coming on the back of a third-place finish at last week’s LPGA Matchplay, sees the Cavan star coming into the business part of the LPGA Tour season brimming with confidence.

Prior to that, Stephanie Meadow had signed off with a closing 73 to end the week in a tie for 49th at +4.

“Answer is still no,” Zhang said to a chorus of laughter after she was asked for the second day in succession if she foresaw winning coming into the week.” 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.

“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, et cetera.

“So with that my mind, 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.”

Unusually for a professional athlete, Zhang is still technically a student, having elected to turn professional after her final college golf event last week, and still has final exams to look forward to. “It is most certainly on my mind,” she replied, when asked if she could now refocus on her studies. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with that. I’ve got an essay due, PSAT due for CS. We’ll figure that out. I’m also moving on the 13th, so I have a busy week ahead of me, and that’s not golf related.”

“I will say it’s good for the story,” she said when asked if in some ways a playoff victory was a more fitting end to her first pro tournament. “It’s good for the storytelling part of it. I’ve done this before, especially at ANWA, so I’m just so thankful. I can’t begin to express how amazing this day has been. Being under pressure, having the thrills, 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, so hope you guys enjoyed the show.”


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