Rose Zhang leads by two, stares down victory in first start as professional
There’s special, then there’s leading your first event as a professional special.
Rose Zhang falls into the second category, carrying a two-shot lead into the final round of the LPGA’s Mizuho Americas Open just 12 days after capturing her second consecutive national championship for the Stanford Cardinal. She’s the only woman to win the individual national championship twice.
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Despite breaking record after record throughout an illustrious amateur career, even Zhang is a little surprised to be in this position in her professional debut.
“I was expecting myself to scramble into the cut,” Zhang said. “That was the first priority for me. But I’ve been enjoying every moment. I feel like the weekend is something that I’ve been, I’ve experienced before but as an amateur, so obviously it is a little different.”
You wouldn’t know it’s any different from watching her play Saturday.
Zhang – who just turned 20 on May 24th – opened with a birdie at Liberty National and never took her foot off the gas.
Three more birdies on the front nine sent the Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion out in 4-under 32, and she would add birdies at Nos. 14 and 16 to post a bogey-free 6-under 66.
“Today was pretty much what I expected,” Zhang said. “The golf course was playing a little more difficult, especially with the winds gusting up a little bit more and it’s in a different direction. So there was nothing that I didn’t anticipate when I went out here, and Jason and I, we just did a great job getting our numbers in. I was just committed to every single golf shot that I hit today, so I think all that allowed me to shoot the best score that I could.”
Zhang’s poise can’t be overstated.
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell whether she’s trying to win on the LPGA or playing with friends on a Tuesday.
The young star just continues to do what she’s always done.
“I do feel little small butterflies here and there,” Zhang said. “I’ve been pretty comfortable when I’ve been on the golf course. I’ve been able to tap into my zone and I’ve just been trying to think about how this is the sport that I’ve been playing for the last ten or so years. I’m just doing what I need to do and going back to what my body knows.”
As special as Saturday was, Sunday will be a different test.
A win would mean full LPGA membership, which would also make her eligible to represent the United States in the Solheim Cup this fall.
“I’ve been in this position before, but I haven’t been in this position as a professional, since this is my first week, so I’m really just learning everything that I could,” Zhang said. “Tomorrow, I’ll be just trying to figure out what it feels like to be in the final group, navigate my way through, and I’m sure by the end of the day I’ll be able to, you know, just build my character more.”
If things go according to plan, she’ll be building a bigger trophy case, too.