How did Rose Zhang’s pro debut go? One response says it all
There were maybe some nerves. How could there not be? This was the next-big-thing’s first big thing, after all.
So please pardon the first-tee announcer at Liberty National Golf Club for this hiccup:
“Please welcome …
Whoops. All good, though. Folks still clapped. And the woman of the hour — Rose Zhang, that is — settled in for her professional debut.
OK, OK, so how did she do, you are now begging to know? Zhang, you may remember, has a resume longer than her eventual opening drive on Thursday at the LPGA’s Mizuho Americas Open, which yes, did find the fairway. She’s the first woman to win two NCAA Division I individual crowns. She won 12 times at Stanford, and no, not even that Tiger guy did that. She’s won the U.S. Women’s Am. In April, she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. And on and on. But, but, but. We’ve seen phenoms before. And some have been phenomenal. And some have been less than. The weight of expectation is great.
Which makes one answer on Thursday oh so good.
But first the basics. She played well, thank you very much. Zhang birdied five holes and bogeyed three and shot a two-under 70. She chipped in on 13. She missed just one fairway. And only four greens. But she took 30 putts, and she lamented some of those afterward. She’ll start Friday five strokes off the lead.
And then they asked her about her first-ever birdie. It came two holes in, on the par-3 2nd.
And if you really want to know both how things went and how things could go, well, check her response.
“Did it occur to you that, oh, this is my first birdie as a professional on the second hole? Did that thought cross your mind at all?”
“Definitely not, because I — you know, as a golfer, you know there are so many holes after that [and] you can get a birdie on one hole and then triple the next.
“So I’m just keeping everything into perspective, keeping things realistic, and I felt that I was pretty composed out there.
“I didn’t have too many nerves once I started playing. After that tee shot, I was smooth sailing.”
Dang, Zhang. If you’re a fan, you were happy she carded that first bird. But you’re downright ecstatic she wasn’t lost in that moment. Or awestruck. Of course, was she being sincere there? We’ll never know. Maybe there was some inner exhalation going on. Still, you’d like to think she wouldn’t answer that way if she didn’t at least think it. It’s part of her process.
There’s more. A reporter then asked this:
“Did you think at any point during the round, oh, I’m a professional? Did it feel different? Did that reality affect you at all?”
“I would say I realized that the label of me being a professional is definitely different. I thought about it once or twice, but from the whole perspective, I was just like, this is another 18 holes. I’m still competing.
“I think it helps that I played LPGA events before as an amateur, so I understand what the pressure is like, what it’s like to have a couple crowds out here, and playing against the best in the world.
“Nothing felt too different, but it was definitely a different experience.”
It’s here where we’ll note that Zhang plays golf. And golf has only one winner. And there will be second-guesses and double bogeys along the way. But for day one, she played well. And she sounded good, didn’t she?
Or at least better than the first-tee announcer.
We’ll end things with this exchange:
“You’ve come to the Tour and there are a lot of people expecting you to be the next great player. How do you handle that?”
“I don’t know. I just genuinely think there are people around me who treat me very normal, treat me as I am, and that keeps me grounded.
“I have a very great support system around me, and that enables me to just do what I’m doing. I don’t really have to think about other people’s expectations. Like I said before, I think of it as a compliment that they think I’m capable of more.
“But on the overall level, I think I have people that just want me to do the best I can and they push me to be better.”