The most exciting aspect of the latest edition of ‘The Match’ is that Rose Zhang is playing.
Forget your Ludvig Äberg’s and your Nick Dunlap’s, Zhang was already here before they came along and she remains the hottest young prospect in golf.
Although, how many people really know who she is, or have seen her play?
Well, now you will and golf has inadvertently stumbled upon an initiative that might actually ‘grow the game.’
Rory McIlroy will be the headline act alongside Zhang, Max Homa and Lexi Thompson with the two LPGA Tour stars set to become the first females to ever feature in the event.
The Match has seen Rory, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau feature, even stars from other American sports (Charles Barkley, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady etc) have featured in previous editions.
But women were always omitted and it’s about time they were included if golf really wants to keep this novelty event going.
Since Michelle Wie began fading into the background of women’s golf before her retirement from competitive action last year, it was Lexi Thompson who became the poster girl for the LPGA and the player who would go up against the lads in end of season PGA Tour events.
Nelly Korda has dipped her way in and out of these events but the reality is these fields have often been bereft of star quality so the attraction to tune in and watch has rarely been there.
This is different. 12-hole skins is a format golf fans never see on television and playing under floodlights only adds to the attraction.
McIlroy is obviously the main attraction here as he is wherever he goes and Homa is one of the most popular figures in the men’s game while Thompson is arguably the most well known player in the women’s game.
But 20-year-old Zhang is the player golf fans should be the most eager to see. She is the next big thing.
A professional since May of last year, Zhang won on her maiden professional start on the LPGA Tour, becoming the first player to do so since 1951.
She also registered three top-10 finishes in the major championships last year on top of the T11 (Chevron) and T28 (Women’s Open) she has as an amateur.
As an amateur Zhang spent a record 141 weeks as the world number one amateur and also won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Before Äberg and most recently Dunlap came along, Zhang was the name on everyone’s lips.
Despite all this it’s far more likely that it’s the two youngsters on the PGA Tour that everybody knows about and not this young golfing superstar.
This isn’t really golf fans fault. The LPGA Tour isn’t broadcast anywhere near as often as the PGA Tour, nor are the players marketed as much as their male counterparts and putting a couple of women into PGA Tour fields in the winter doesn’t really do anything for developing the game.
Even when it comes to LIV Golf and the TGL, the women have been overlooked.
Thompson and Zhang are going to be front and centre, getting the same coverage as McIlroy and Homa. This will be a great way to showcase how good some of the players on the LPGA Tour are, despite playing a different style of golf.
It’s the contrasting styles that will be most intriguing in this 12-hole exhibition. The bombing drives of McIlroy vs the deadly accuracy from the fairway of Zhang at 74.7%.
A sample of this was given in the Grant Thornton mixed team event at the end of 2023, although slightly hampered by the ridiculous format, it was brilliant to see the men and women team up in a competitive environment and more of it should happen to capitalise on the ever increasing growth of the women’s game.
The Match is the perfect platform to grow the women’s game and the presence of Thompson and Zhang breathes new life into an exhibition event that had exhausted itself in its current form.