How Golf Prodigy Rose Zhang Is Adjusting to Life as a Pro

Zhang was the first player to win an LPGA tournament in her pro debut in 72 years

September 11, 2023 6:12 am
Rose Zhang of the United States.
Rose Zhang is a rising star on the LPGA Tour.
Oisin Kenir/R&A via Getty Images

Still the biggest name in professional golf even though he hasn’t won a major since getting his fifth green jacket at the Masters in 2019, Tiger Woods had an exceptional amateur career before he joined the PGA Tour and was an 11-time tournament winner in college despite playing in just 26 tournaments in his time at Stanford.

You’d figure with a record like that, the 15-time major winner would be the best golfer in NCAA history. He isn’t. And, as it turns out, Woods isn’t even the best golfer who hit the links as a Cardinal.

That’d be Rose Zhang, who delivered a school-record 12 victories in just 20 collegiate events over her two NCAA seasons. A two-time Pac-12 Golfer of the Year, Zhang performed like she was still in school during her pro debut in June and captured the inaugural Mizuho Americas Open title in a two-hole sudden-death playoff with LPGA major winner Jennifer Kupcho. With the victory, Zhang, who plans to remain enrolled at Stanford and pursue her degree in communications, became the first player to win her LPGA debut since Beverly Hanson in 1951.

Zhang, 20, may have passed Woods in the Stanford record books, but the 47-year-old isn’t mad about it and was very complimentary to the LPGA’s newest star when the two crossed paths at Augusta in April. “He said congratulations at Augusta and told me I was doing well and to keep it up,” Zhang tells InsideHook. “That’s kind of all you need to hear from Tiger, especially with him being so busy and having his own career and responsibilities to attend to. It’s not like Tiger and I are buddies, and we don’t really talk, but he has been an encouragement for me that I’m on the right track.”

That track has taken Zhang, who has joined Phil Mickelson in endorsing high-end golf sunglasses brand Uswing, to the 31st spot in the Women’s Golf World Rankings. Earlier this month, we spoke to her about how she got there and where she expects to go.

InsideHook: Has your approach to getting yourself ready to play changed since joining the LPGA?

Rose Zhang: Somewhat. I don’t have a lot of weeks in between tournaments anymore. I’m always playing and on the go, which is why I’ve taken a bit of a different outlook on how to prepare myself and how to make sure that I am performing well now but also understanding that this is going be long-term and it’s only the start to many years. So, it’s taking care of myself but also realizing that every round I play, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, it’s important not to freak out and not think that it’s the end-all, be-all. I haven’t always been a player who’s like that.

Speaking With Jason Kokrak, Elite PGA Tour Player and Obsessed Bourbon Collector
Kokrak’s bourbon collection is currently about 250 bottles strong — and it is growing

IH: What physical toll has the increased schedule had on your body?

RZ: The swing does a lot. The body isn’t really built to be rotating so much and to be taking so much impact. The muscles tend to become really tight. Posture becomes really tight. A lot of people have lower back issues, but it’s usually muscles in the neck and the upper body for me. They get pretty locked up, and understanding how to relieve yourself after that is important. Also, it’s very blinding when you’re spending your entire day in the sun. The sun reflecting off of bunkers and the grass makes your eyes tired. It’s concerning when you’re super young and still have a long way to go in terms of your health and your life. Being able to wear the Uswing shades has helped me with viewing the greens and grass, and they’ve also made me feel better on and off the golf course.

IH: What percentage of the game is physical for you versus mental or maybe even emotional?

RZ: I think a lot of people make that mental part of it to be the majority of one’s game when they play well and I don’t disagree with that. At the same time, I think all three have to be in sync with one another. Physically, it all has to be there. But in order to play well you have to have a good game plan and understand how to manage and play the course. That’s all based on the mental game and decision-making. Emotionally, as an athlete, we have to really understand how to stay composed. That’s one of the greatest things about golf. It’s a slow sport, and you’re spending a lot of time thinking so it’s between you, the golf course and the ball.

IH: What’s been the best part of becoming a rising superstar? 

RZ: The best part is I’ve realized there are so many things to be grateful for. I’m really grateful for my team and for having a platform I am inspired to keep up and to be someone who can encourage others to become better in their own right. That comes with responsibility and you have to really learn how to perfect your craft. It’s important for me to be able to execute what I need to do. I’m three months in, so I’m still thinking about how to process everything and how to guide myself. Tour life and how to live it is still somewhat new.

IH: What do you think you’ll do to celebrate your 21st birthday?

RZ: It’s next year in the middle of the year, so I haven’t thought about it. I am not a drinker, so I don’t really know what I’ll do. I’ll probably just hang out with friends and eat a good dinner. I’m a huge foodie, I can eat anything and everything. I love Japanese food and Chinese food. I’m a big fan of rice. It’s always a comfort meal.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!