Rose Zhang: In the past month it’s been very crazy, hectic, but I’ve been enjoying every moment”

Mark McGowan

Rose Zhang on 18 at Pebble Beach (Photo USGA/Darren Carroll)

Rose Zhang is preparing for her third start as a professional and her second major as a pro, and that she starts as many bookmakers’ favourite really says it all about how the 20-year-old phenom has transitioned out of the amateur ranks.

Victory at this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur was followed by Individual NCAA honours and she turned professional to a level of hype rarely seen in the 23 years following Tiger Woods’ ‘Hello world’ back in 1996, but Zhang did what Tiger couldn’t and won on her professional debut at the Mizuho Americas Open. She followed that up with a top-10 finish at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship a fortnight later and, as one of the few women this week who’s played competitively at Pebble Beach, the favourite tag comes as little surprise.

“It was super incredible,” she said of her experience last Autumn where, as a Stanford student, she shot a second-round 63. “That was the first woman’s collegiate event that was ever played here at Pebble. It was just a super exciting week for everyone. All the teams were super excited. We were in the lodge. They had accommodations for us, so that was really cool.


“That week was just a week of pure excitement. We had a bunch of dinners. At one point we were registering for our fall quarterfinal classes, so that was really exciting for us when we were just trying to figure out the school system.

“But that 63 as well, it came as a blur. It was the second round, and I was preparing myself to just be able to hit fairways and greens because that’s what you have to do here. The greens are tiny, and one of the caddies in our group actually kept all my stats for the round, and I apparently hit 18 greens. It was a little bit windy that day, so everything really did — it really does help when you are out here and being able to hit greens and giving yourself a lot of good birdie opportunities.”

Despite that 63, Zhang expects the golf course to be very differently set up this week and that there will be no repeats of the extreme low scoring she displayed at the Carmel Cup last year.

“It is a USGA kind of setup golf course, and it’s a major championship,” she explained. “The tee boxes are going to be a little further back. I’ve been playing a couple tees that were further than what I had at the Carmel Cup.

“You have longer irons in, and I think the greens are going to be a lot more firmer and quicker, assuming what the weather is going to be doing.

“By the time it comes to Thursday we are going to be having some quick greens, so that’s definitely going to change up a lot of how we’re playing this week and how we’re going to use numbers and figure out bounces.”

It’s been a whirlwind five weeks since she signed those professional contracts, but unsurprisingly, she’s delighted with the way her transition to the professional ranks has gone.

“In the past month it’s been very crazy, hectic,” she said, “but I’ve been enjoying every moment. There’s a lot more attention, a lot more media, but it’s kind of expected when you are doing well and when you are the rookie trying to go out here and play the best you can.

“So I’ve just been taking everything in my stride. I had a full collegiate season, two seasons, and playing the last two events as a professional. A lot of experience came out of those events, and I really felt that my game was ready for the next level, so here I am.”

Zhang will tee it up today alongside Annika Sorenstam in a practice round. 52-year-old Sorenstam is the oldest player in the field and is exempt in the field as the reigning U.S. Senior Women’s champion, and Zhang is relishing the opportunity to walk the fairways with the woman considered the greatest of all time.

“Oh, 100%,” she replied when asked if there were things she could learn from the experience. “Annika has always been such a great role model for younger generations, for even the golfers out here on how they should work to invest in their life after golf. She’s been such a pivotal person for the entire game.

“I think that just being able to talk to her, walk inside the ropes with her, kind of just gain some sort of advice, being alongside her you can learn a lot. I remember back in ANA junior inspiration she would have these little talking sessions with the juniors, and I was able to really ask her one question, which was: How do you prevent burnout essentially and how do you prevent yourself from losing your identity in the game?

“She’s always said to smell the roses, and that’s one of my favorite lines. Even to this day. So she’s just such a great person to talk to when it comes to the long longevity of her career.”

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