[PHOTO: Michael Reaves]

Rose Zhang arrived at her press conference at the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions with a never-ending list of responsibilities on her mind. She stayed up until 1am the night before doing homework for her week-old winter quarter at Stanford University before a 7:30am pro-am. She is learning the gaps in distance between her new Callaway irons, which she’s putting into play this week. Zhang finished her second move after relocating from southern California to Las Vegas and recently returning to the Bay Area for classes. Zhang, 20, is also grappling with a stomach issue that is causing excess bloating, which she explained was due to extra stress from her rookie season.

“There has been a lot of moving parts. It’s been fun,” Zhang said.

At least after this week, Zhang can focus on everything away from the course instead of the LPGA. The rising star will play only this event between now and mid-March when the tour returns to the United States, skipping four tournaments to focus on her four classes at Stanford. Already, she’s hearing grumbling from professors about missing the second week of the quarter.

Rose Zhang: The Future

Zhang will probably play only once in the early part of the season for the next few years, as she intends to take a similar course load every northern winter to graduate in 2026. The native of Arcadia, California is about halfway through her course load to earn her communications degree.

The time spent at Stanford is not only about finishing her education but is a needed respite for Zhang from the spotlight she resides under. Instead of the self-described people-pleaser having to learn to manage her on and off-course responsibilities, she slides right in among an excelling group of peer students.

“You’re kind of just a fish in the sea where you can do whatever you want and you prioritise your own kind of needs and responsibilities,” Zhang said.

Those needs include dealing with her stomach issues. Her body has not been processing food like it did before her extensive travel last year. She would eat vegetables and feel bloated, which is not what Zhang was accustomed to her body doing. She is working with a nutritionist who has her cutting down on gluten and dairy and anticipates getting healthy over the next few months.

She’ll also have plenty of time to figure out her new clubs, particularly her new putter. She explained that her putting has disappeared since the Women’s British Open last August. Since then, Zhang has been focused on learning what feels good, tinkering with lie angles and setup to visualise the ball going in. With the shortened offseason – having played in the Grant Thornton Invitational only a month ago – Zhang hasn’t spent much time practising. She also switched her irons for a different style for the first time since she was 13.

“I’m not trying to tweak anything in my game, but rather in my clubs because there is some significant need to change,” Zhang explained.

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There is an opportunity cost for Zhang stepping away from the tour for her classes. She limits her chances of moving up the world ranking by missing out on the next few tournaments, which is particularly important this year with the Olympics. The 60-player field will be finalised in about five months, on June 24, and Zhang will spend two of those away from the LPGA. She is currently 25th in the Rolex Rankings and to qualify must either be one of the top two Americans in the ranking or within the top four if she is inside the top 15.

Instead of Zhang worrying about the possibility of those falling through, she appreciates the opportunity to continue her studies, noting that few athletes get the chance to finish their education.

“Obviously there is a lot of big-time events coming up with the Olympics, Solheim [Cup], but in my own mind, if I play well in the events that I have, then naturally I’ll have the opportunity to play those events,” Zhang said.