The Augusta National Women’s Amateur championship has shone a spotlight on rising female golf stars like never before. In that brightness, the world has watched Rose Zhang grow into a woman in full: Saturday’s triumph in her fourth ANWA try was the only fitting way her Augusta journey could end.
“The first time I played Augusta National was when I was 15,” said Zhang as she reflected on her ANWA path, which started with her grinding away as a high-schooler and now has her dominating the collegiate game as a Stanford sophomore.
“I’ve grown so much as a person and a player. I’ve been able to play so many team events, and I really have kind of found my identity outside of golf. So that allows me to have this mindset of, you know, you need to play the best that you can, make sure that your profession is still a good priority, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re not playing your best.”
Zhang did not play her best in Saturday’s final round at Augusta National, shooting a 76 that allowed the University of Georgia’s Jenny Bae to erase a six-shot deficit and force a playoff. But it’s how Zhang handled the discomfort and adversity – especially after making the mistake of going against her better instincts and trying to reach the par-5 15th in two that cost her a bogey and the last of her once-large lead – that is significant.
That kind of error has scuttled the hopes of many in the Masters through the years as they are more often than not unable to recover from such blunders at such a critical stage of the final round. Zhang, however, simply carried on and grinded out a series of clutch pars at 16, 17 and 18, as well as both playoff holes, to lift the trophy she has long seemed destined to own.
As Hannah Darling, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, put it: “She’s No. 1 in the world for a reason.”
Zhang’s longevity as the top woman amateur in the world has made her somewhat of a legend for the upcoming generation, a Stanford icon in a similar vein to Tiger Woods when he took the golf world by storm. Gianna Clemente, a newly minted 15-year-old who became the youngest player to make the cut in the ANWA, speaks of meeting Zhang with reverence.
“She makes it look very easy, and obviously there’s years and years of preparation and focus, and it’s obviously not as easy as it looks.” – Emilia Migliaccio
“I played with her in a practice round at an AJGA event before she graduated, and I remember stepping on the first tee and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m playing with Rose Zhang,’” Clemente said. “Even though it was still a practice round, I was definitely watching her game closely and comparing it to mine. Yeah, I’ll never forget that practice round. I mean, she’s Rose Zhang.”
Zhang has become a role model for other young women to follow. “In her junior career, amateur career and collegiate career, not only has she won, but has shown so much poise and so much experience,” Clemente said. “She is incredibly accomplished, so I think most of us do (look up to her).”
Emilia Migliaccio, a playoff runner-up in the 2021 ANWA and part-time analyst for the Golf Channel, has gotten to know Zhang well as a competitor. Asked to give one word to describe her, Migliaccio reflexively replied, “Humble.” And for Zhang’s game? “Elegant.”
“I feel a lot of people compare her to Lydia Ko, and Lydia Ko’s game is just elegant, and that’s Rose,” Migliaccio said. “She has such a smooth rhythm. She’s so calm. She makes it look very easy, and obviously there’s years and years of preparation and focus, and it’s obviously not as easy as it looks. Despite all the success, she probably feels more pressure because she has very high expectations for herself, which makes it more impressive how she handles herself every time. She’s set on stage, and she’s just able to win.”
Zhang says her Stanford teammates once had the wrong impression of her notably calm demeanor no matter the intensity of the moment on the golf course. “The whole joke in my freshman dorm was that Rose just doesn’t have any emotion. She’s just dead inside,” Zhang said, looking back in the room toward her standout teammate Rachel Heck for confirmation that they no longer believe that. “I kind of played along with it, thought it was funny and something that I guess I’m proud of.”
Zhang’s calm nature, talent and humility have all been on display at Augusta National, particularly in the last three years as she’s carried the burden of being No. 1. She lost with grace in both 2021 and 2022. She won with the same grace on Saturday as she added the missing jewel in her “amateur slam” résumé that already included the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2022 NCAA championship.
“I greatly wanted to win this … it was a huge desire. But at the same time, I didn’t want myself to get too ahead in terms of my thinking and where my head was at. I feel like coming back here for the fourth time is just such an honor.” – Rose Zhang
Zhang was never presumptive about the outcome despite a five-shot lead after consecutive record-breaking rounds of 66 and 65 at Champions Retreat and the five-event winning streak she carried into the week.
“I’m just super blessed to be in this kind of position,” she said before the final round in challenging winds. “I know that it’s very rare, and I believe it’s just something to keep in mind that no matter what happens, I’m always super proud of everything that I’ve accomplished thus far. The job’s not done yet.”
When the job was finally done after two playoff holes with Bae, Zhang expressed “relief” as her primary emotion.
“I greatly wanted to win this … it was a huge desire,” she said. “But at the same time, I didn’t want myself to get too ahead in terms of my thinking and where my head was at. I feel like coming back here for the fourth time is just such an honor.
“Being able to play competitively at Augusta National is certainly different from any other venue I’ve played in. It’s funny, because the last four times I played here, I remember my scores being nowhere near under par. So I always knew that Augusta National is a battle, and I see a lot of work that I can improve on.”
Zhang says she can’t rank her ANWA win above any of her others because each accomplishment means so much to different stages of her golf journey. “This win is definitely up there in prestige, but I feel like it’s something that I can’t really rank because every moment that I’ve had in my past wins has been so special in its own way,” she said.
Her journey will eventually take Zhang to the next level as a professional. In the meantime, she says she is still learning more about herself as she enjoys her “precious” collegiate years.
“I think that being at Stanford is such an important stage for me, to kind of step toward professional golf,” she said. “I really wanted to figure out who I really was and my independence… So it really allowed me to get my own space and really understand what I’m about, and that allows me to improve on my golf game because I realize that a profession is a profession, but (knowing) yourself is also something that you need to work on.”
At this stage and with Saturday’s victory, Rose Zhang’s maturation is pretty much complete.
Top: Rose Zhang’s victory at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur gave her the missing piece to the “amateur slam” that already included the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2022 NCAA championship. Photo: Chris Trotman, Augusta National.
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