Rose Zhang’s highly anticipated first round as a professional at the Mizuho Americas Open is over. Her two-under par 70 debut at Liberty National met the hype. The 20-year-old sat inside the top 10 on the leaderboard, beating the early morning wave scoring average by three shots.
“The anticipation was for sure there,” Zhang said. “I feel like there has been a lot of things happening the past couple of days and past couple weeks, so for me to come out here and just try to stay composed, I feel like I did a pretty good job at it. Tried my best out there.”
Her best, which dominated the amateur game with a 2020 US Women’s Amateur title, the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur win, 12 individual victories at Stanford, two NCAA individual titles, an NCAA record scoring average of 69.24, and 142 weeks as No.1 in the Women’s Amateur Golf Rankings, the most in WAGR history, started out piping hot early.
The only misstep through Zhang’s first eight holes was the first-tee announcer accidentally calling her “Zhang Rose” as she was three-under at the time and had plenty opportunities for birdies.
The start differed from Zhang’s initial expectations of how day one as a professional would go. She told Golf Channel’s Kay Cockerill after the round that she thought she could shoot 80 on Thursday. However, that thought settled down early.
“Once I kind of played a couple holes I realised that, Hey, this is just another round of golf,” Zhang said. “I’m trying to go out there and shoot the best number I can.”
The high mark of Zhang’s round came on the 451-metre, par-5 13th. After flaring her drive right into the bunker, she advanced her second shot 75 metres. Zhang’s third put her just short of the right-hand side of the green where she then pitched to the back left pin, the ball landing halfway up the green and rolling until it found the bottom of the cup.
Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th brought Zhang back to one-under, but she closed with a birdie on the 18th, remaining composed even after her drive found the drain hole in the middle of the fairway, robbing her of 15 to 20 metres off the tee.
“I think a player like Rose and some of the greats of the game just have that ability to step into the bubble and defy any pressure or acknowledge it but know how to handle the pressure and still can go through the motions of hitting shots and making good decisions,” Cockerill said.
The sterling start to her career puts Zhang in an early position to beat her best-ever LPGA finish. She posted a T-11 at the 2020 ANA Inspiration, where she set amateur history again. Her total score of 280 is the all-time mark as the lowest amateur score at the major.
Sure, it’s early, but it also puts Zhang in a spot to accomplish something special: win and earn LPGA membership. Morgan Pressel, US Solheim assistant captain and Golf Channel commentator, noted on the broadcast that the captains had done their homework in looking for ways for Zhang to potentially make the squad.
For Zhang to represent the United States, she has to be an LPGA member. The only way to do that between now and September is win an LPGA event, in a similar vein as Finland’s Matilda Castren two years ago when she won a Ladies European Tour event and earned a spot on Europe’s Solhiem Cup team.
However, none of that is on Zhang’s mind now. Instead, her humble approach keeps her aspirations focused on playing her best and making the cut. When she finished she was five strokes behind Lauren Hartlage, who shot a seven-under 65.
“I think that’s just the beauty of golf,” Zhang said. “You’re always going to be on edge. I’m a competitor, so I’ve got tomorrow, potentially the weekend, if I play well. This field is very hard. It’s not a field that I’ve competed in on the regular, so I’m still trying to play the best I can. Knowing that there is a lot of great scores out there, I’m still trying to do the best that I can do.”