EVANS, GEORGIA | Rose Zhang was stumped. “Yeah,” she stammered as her mind turned and her silence grew longer. “I mean, in college I haven’t really had that … yikes.”
She grew silent again and kept thinking. “Good question,” she added to the filibuster.
Who knew such a simple question could be so difficult for an 18-year-old Stanford freshman: Can you remember the last tournament you played where you had to dig yourself out of a hole?
Rose Zhang doesn’t dig holes. The reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur champion – the No. 1 female amateur golfer in the world going on three years – typically doesn’t walk off golf courses after shooting 4-over 76 and in 39th place.
But that’s where she was after the first round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where sustained wind and rock-hard greens made life difficult for the 72-player field on Wednesday at Champions Retreat. Zhang conceded it was “rough” and she struggled “to get my numbers right” and “it was definitely a grind out there” and that she “came into this event not having the sharpest game.”
That last part is obviously relative. Because relative to most golfers, Rose Zhang’s game is hard to match. Relative to her standards, that’s another story. Zhang did finish 10th in her last start, at the Ping/Arizona State Invitational – her only finish outside the top four since missing the cut at last summer’s AIG Women’s Open. Zhang arrived as a freshman at Stanford and promptly won the first three collegiate tournaments she played in – a feat no other Cardinal golfer, not even Tiger Woods, has done.
“I needed to stay composed. The atmosphere when you’re on the cut line is very thick. … I think I definitely had something to prove because going into this event I didn’t have my A-game.” – Rose Zhang
So you can forgive her unfamiliarly with the concept of digging out of a hole.
“I mean, I’m sure there’s an event where I wasn’t playing the best in the first round and I had to come back,” she insisted. “I’ve definitely been in the position of, like, just playing well the first day, and then the second day faltering a lot, and then just coming back.”
Then it hit her: “I do have one,” she said excitedly. It was the recent Juli Inkster Invitational as Stanford nearly erased a 14-shot deficit in the final round thanks to Zhang’s course-record 8-under 64.
“I didn’t think much of it, but it really catapulted our team to be second,” she said.
Zhang now has a definitive answer. She arrived for her third ANWA as the presumptive favorite, a position with which she is very familiar. A year ago, she seemed to be cruising to a victory at Augusta National when her round derailed with a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole when she put two balls in the hazard.
“It was quite eventful – the first eventful hole I had in a while. Not a pretty hole,” she said then, lamenting her course management and admitting she had much to learn from the experience.
She missed a playoff by one stroke.
To have any chance to settle that score this year, she would first have to make the cut as one of the top 30 players through two rounds at Champions Retreat. Sitting 39th after one round, six shots behind the co-leaders Benedetta Moresco of Italy/Alabama and 16-year-old Californian Anna Davis, was suboptimal positioning heading into an extended second round marred by morning thunderstorms and long delays.
However, she drained a 25-footer for birdie on her last hole Wednesday to avoid being T52 and deeper in the hole.
“Any stroke on this golf course is needed. Just being able to have that putt go in on the last hole, it really sets the mood for (the second) round,” she said. “Just have to work on a couple things and should be good to go.”
She dug a little deeper in the weather-extended second round, dropping another shot before play was suspended, then waking up Friday morning to make a bogey that had her 6 over and outside the cut with only three holes to play. She promptly birdied the last three to climb all the way to T9 and into the final round at Augusta National, her 1-under 71 tying for the low second round at Champions Retreat.
“I left my par putt an inch short on 6, and it really kind of stimulated me to just go for it on the last three holes,” she said. “I knew I was around that cut, so I really just had to go for it and take a chance. The last three holes were just very smooth sailing.
“I needed to stay composed. The atmosphere when you’re on the cut line is very thick. … I think I definitely had something to prove because going into this event I didn’t have my A-game. I don’t even think I had my B-game. I really had to grind through every single golf shot I hit on this golf course. Just being able to come from below the cut line to inside the cut line really showed that I have the grit and the perseverance.”
The burden of always being expected to win doesn’t faze Zhang, even if she’s not her sharpest due to a potentially fractured toe from a dumbbell dropping on her foot and hitting herself with a wedge that prompted her not to practice for six days before showing up in Augusta.
“You just have to keep yourself in the right mindset,” she said. “I already knew that going into this event it’s going to be a grind, and I’m continuing to have that mindset.”
Zhang said last year she didn’t “want to take any bad memories away from here.” And she doesn’t put any extra pressure on herself.
“I feel like I’m always hungry for just being better at my golf game,” she said. “I don’t really think about just having to win. I feel like that is a mindset that can actually kill you on the golf course. So I try not to think about that a lot. But I think that last year was great; year before (2019) was great as well. I’m just going to have those memories in mind and really just try to play my best.”
Zhang is one of five Cardinal golfers in the ANWA field (not counting its next high-profile Stanford commit, Megha Ganne, also competing). Zhang joined superstar teammate Rachel Heck this week in acquiring something pretty special: an NIL deal. On Tuesday, Callaway announced Zhang as an official member of its team with an NIL agreement that will pay her to keep playing the Callaway woods, irons, Odyssey putter and Chrome Soft balls that she already used anyway.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Zhang said. “I’ve been with them since I was 13. I was on their Callaway junior staff program. I’ve just formed the best relationships with … all those people.
“It was very natural to just talk about having an NIL deal with them since I’ve been with them for so long. I’m so honored. I feel like just being able to have Callaway on my hat, being able to play their golf clubs, golf balls, it’s just truly, truly a blessing. It does keep the consistency going.”
It also lifts a weight off her as it does Heck feeling any pressure to jump to the professional ranks to start earning money. She can take as long as she needs to develop and strengthen her game before heading out on tour.
“I think it’s really cool for both of us to be able to sign those NIL deals and have that advantage,” Zhang said. “I feel like we can be a college athlete while starting our own business, golf brand, and whatnot. I think that both of us are really blessed to be able to have that step into the real world without actually stepping into the professional world.”
Just another hole Zhang won’t need to dig herself out of when the time comes.
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?