Tour Confidential: Rose Zhang’s wondrous win, Rory’s Sunday stumble
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Rose Zhang taking the pro golf world by storm, Rory McIlroy’s lackluster Sunday and more.
Rose Zhang, at just 20 years old, beat Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff to win the Mizuho Americas Open, making her the first player to win in their professional debut on the LPGA Tour since Beverly Hanson in 1951. She was a decorated amateur prior to turning pro this week and much was made about her first pro start, but still, did we expect this?
Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): Gosh, it’s hard to balance the hype she had coming in with the realization that players don’t typically play this well in their pro debuts. Rose Zhang clearly proved she’s just different. On the broadcast, her amateur career was compared to Tiger Woods. Neither one of them played all that well in pro events before turning pro. But even Tiger took a couple of events (exactly two) before he started contending and winning in his fifth. Now it’s always difficult and borderline unfair to be compared to Tiger Woods, but Rose has already broken his Stanford wins record and now she won much faster at the pro level than he did. I certainly didn’t expect this, but at the same time, we shouldn’t have been surprised.
On a side note, have we ever seen someone become mononymous faster?
James Colgan, News and Features Editor (@jamescolgan26): Man, I certainly didn’t. Rose entered the week as one of the most hyped young talents to enter the women’s golf scene in a long time. Now, seven days later, she’s one of the most hyped talents to enter golf in a long time. What an epic week.
Claire Rogers, Social Media Manager (@kclairerogers): Rose Zhang didn’t look like the new kid on the block when I spent a few days at Liberty National earlier this week. The junior golfers wanted to hang with her, but so did the pros. She had a lot of media to do, and she handled it all with grace. I expected that she’d make the cut. Maybe finish top-25 if she had a great week. But to win in her professional debut after a long college season? Incredible. This was the most fun I’ve had watching a golf tournament in a long time.
What is it about Zhang’s game that allowed her to win on the top women’s tour so soon? And how close is she to becoming the top player in the women’s game? What’s her ceiling?
Hirsh: She won in a fairly similar fashion to how she won three months ago at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur when she let a big lead slip away but came up clutch in a playoff. She did the same thing, albeit with a slimmer lead to start. Not only did her second shot on the second playoff hole prove she knew how to win, but I was more impressed by her par putt on the first playoff hole. It was the same line as the one she missed in regulation, but to remember how it broke is also to remember that you missed it, which is not the greatest thought process. However, she handled it expertly. There’s a difference between playing really good golf and then actually winning, but it’s clear Rose Zhang knows how to win.
Colgan: As with most of the great ones, it was composure that won her the tournament on Sunday. Rose’s game has all the pieces of greatness (her final six holes on Sunday more than proved that), but it’ll be her even keel that carries her there. It was striking how unbothered she seemed by the whole spectacle, particularly while I was clinging to the edge of my seat. To think she has all that at just 20 years old? Wow. Just wow.
Rogers: I think it was her patience. The birdies were not flowing for Zhang on Sunday — she didn’t make a single one all day. But she kept at it and made really steady pars until she could make her move on the second playoff hole. I don’t think she’s “close” to becoming a top player in the women’s game, I think she already is. No other Stanford golfer (male or female) won as many times as Zhang did. She already made history at Augusta National. She has already done incredible things and now gets to continue to do so at the professional level. There’s no ceiling for Zhang, and her NCAA career proved that.
The aforementioned event, the inaugural Mizuho Americas Open, was hosted by Michelle Wie-West and featured 120 LPGA players competing alongside 24 top-ranking junior golfers on the American Junior Golf Association Tour. What’d you think of this format? And do you see it as a long-term success?
Hirsh: Rose said on Golf Central this evening that the presence of juniors was actually “pivotal” to her win because she was more comfortable around a lot of girls she knew, like Anna Davis. As someone who played in a pro-junior tournament in the First Tee Open on the Champions Tour, these events are incredible experiences for the juniors. You have to accept pace of play will be slower because of foursomes. I’d prefer a more typical pro-am format rather than the juniors simply playing their tournament. That way you wouldn’t have to use the Stableford format and juniors could simply pick up when it’s likely their pro would beat them. I also think that will help make the format easier to understand for viewers watching at home. Now that the LPGA has a pro-junior event, I think the next step is for the PGA Tour to create one as well.
Colgan: The format could use a little bit of work — especially as it relates to moving around the juniors to speed the pace of play come Sunday afternoon. But the tournament was an unbridled success. One of the biggest obstacles facing the LPGA is corporate support. To earn this for title-sponsor Mizuho in the first year of a flagship new event? That’s an unbelievable break.
Rogers: I think the fact that Rose Zhang ended up playing with a junior she’s teed it up with before allowed the format to work on Sunday. The fact that two weeks ago, these two could’ve played alongside each other in an amateur event made it seem somewhat normal. I definitely liked having the juniors around, but I don’t think the format was well-explained on the broadcast. It’s definitely a fun format to keep around, but it might need a little reorganizing.
Rory McIlroy held a share of the 54-hole lead at the Memorial, but he stumbled to a final-round 75 and finished four shots out of a playoff (in which Viktor Hovland beat Denny McCarthy). Based on his recent results, including a missed cut at the Masters earlier this year, are you more surprised by this lackluster day, or concerned?
Hirsh: McIlroy surprisingly said he feels decent about his game and better about it than after a final-round 69 at Oak Hill. He had a noticeably different tune this week than he did at the PGA, which to me shows he’s getting closer to the form that helped him win three times last year. That said, he’s entering his toughest stretch of the season where he’ll play four weeks in a row, including the U.S. Open in two weeks. All that really matters to him right now is ending his major drought, so if the way he played this week leads to him peaking in L.A., then he’s on the right track. I’m not really surprised or concerned about his 75, which was the field average Sunday.
Colgan: Not surprised. His game isn’t fully there yet. But disappointed, sure. Sunday was a glimmering opportunity to get the kind of win that could set an uneasy season back on the right path. Rory missed that opportunity. Still, the arrow is pointed in the right direction for LACC, provided he can figure out his irons.
Rogers: I think this was a very positive step in the right direction for McIlroy. I’m not concerned that he didn’t get it done today. I’m deciding to “trust the process” when it comes to all things Rory McIlroy.
In one of the most bizarre stories we’ve heard in some time, five-time PGA Tour winner J.B. Holmes was involved in a big-money scramble but was entered under the name John Bradley — his first and middle name, which he’s seldom known by in pro golf — and his team was eventually DQ’d from the Calcutta portion of the event once organizers found out exactly who he was. Some people thought this was funny; others were deeply offended. Where do you land?
Hirsh: I don’t have enough money to be playing in Calcuttas, so I’m not entirely sure how this works. That said, it sounds like it swayed people from not betting on his team. But on the other hand, Holmes says he didn’t enter himself and he didn’t technically break any rules of the event since he was the only player who would be a plus-handicap on his team. I think it was a pretty funny story that is also a classic example of too much money ruining a good time on the golf course.
Colgan: Well, if I’d paid a ton of money to be in an event and one of the winners turned out to be on the PGA Tour, I’d probably be more than a little miffed.
Rogers: I didn’t pay too much attention to this story, but there’s this mental game I play when I’m bored called “Which golfers could (and could not) go to the mall without getting recognized?” While the ones who would definitely get recognized, such as Tiger and Rory, definitely have a lot of advantages, Holmes proved that being on the other side comes with some perks as well, like flying under the radar at a scramble event. Do I think it’s hilarious? No. Am I offended by it? Also no!
GOLF released its first-ever Top 100 ranking of the best golf courses in Asia-Pacific, shining a light on must-play destinations beyond North America and Europe. What’s one course on this list you’d most like to check off your bucket list, and why?
Hirsh: I have never brought golf clubs east of Scotland so all of these courses are new to me. Obviously, Royal Melbourne looks insane, but I’d kinda like to go as exotic as I can and say Tara Iti. Sure it’s a more modern golf course design but it’s got everything you want. Dunes, ocean views, mountain views of the island in the distance, conditioning that promotes the ground game, etc. Plus I’ve played it in the video game and it’s sick.
Colgan: My number one bucket list destination in the world right now is Vietnam. Send me there for two weeks and give me fiveish hours to stop eating for long enough to play a round of golf. Doesn’t matter where, but Hoiana Shores sounds nice.
Rogers: I’ve only played golf in the United States. In fact, I think all of my golf has been played in like, eight states, so I’d love to check any of them off of my bucket list. One that definitely stands out is Tara Iti. I’ve seen a few flyovers from there and it looks incredible. I’d go so far as to say it’s worth the 24-hour trip from Boston to New Zealand!