What makes this Rose Zhang story so magnetic? These 3 letters
Of all the drives (so powerful!), of all the irons (so pure!), of all the pitches and chips and putts (so precise!), of all the birdies (so many!), maybe the most wonderful moment of this Rose Zhang party came Thursday, day one, three days ahead of her almost improbable breakthrough win at the LPGA’s Mizuho Americas Open, her first event as a pro. You may have missed it.
But it features … you!
A reporter had wanted to know about the gallery vibe at Liberty National Golf Club. After all, there were more than a few folks who came out to Jersey City, N.J., to see what all the fuss was about. Was the woman of the hour expecting more? Less?
Way, way, way less, not that you mention it.
“I was a little surprised that there were people out there,” Zhang said. “You know, it’s early in the morning. It’s a Thursday. I don’t expect anyone to be out here and be like, oh, go, Rose.
“I guess there is a lot of significance to this round for me in particular, but I felt really just loved out there. I think everyone, every single putt I made, every single shot that I hit, it got a lot of little claps, little cheers.
“It was great to see some of my family, friends. Coach Walker [Stanford coach Anne Walker] was walking with me, and Kevin, my agent, too. So I saw a bunch of faces out there that, you know, really just made me happy.”
Awwww. That’s something, ain’t it. It’s unpretentious, sure. And we don’t expect warmth from our stone-cold killers, of which Zhang certainly is. But there’s more there. Sure, sound swings are built on sound minds, but it’s not that, though it doesn’t hurt. It’s why this burgeoning legend is so appealing. We won’t use big words here. And just three letters.
Zhang is just having fun with all of this, too. F-U-N. And how fun is that?
But I had to check in with some folks in the know to be sure. Notably, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said as much on Sunday morning on his Golf Central show. He compared Zhang to Nancy Lopez. The legend always smiled too, while punching her fellow pros in the face.
On the grounds at Liberty National, the feeling was the same. I messaged Gemma Dryburgh on Sunday afternoon. She’s my LPGA drinking buddy. (If you’re new to this space, Gemma is backed by the St. Andrews Brewing Co., so yeah, we talk golf and beer. She’s an expert in both; I’m not in either.)
“Hi again, Gemma! I got to ask: What’s your thought on Rose Zhang? Could you have done this at her age and with the attention? How’s she doing it? Pretty wild. Hope you’re doing well!!”
“Hey Nick! Had fun playing with Zephyr in the pro am this week. What Rose is doing this week is unreal. I would not have even been close to doing this at her age. I definitely needed my four years at college to develop to even get close to this level. So what’s she’s doing at this stage is very impressive. Think she’ll be amazing for the women’s game!”
I messaged Claire Rogers. She’s my teammate here on this website, and on Wednesday, she ate ice cream on a boat with the subject of this story — and you should watch the video of it all here. Claire would have the scoop. (Sorry, not sorry for that word play! Remember what we’re trying to have here.)
Hey, Claire! I’m kinda workshopping an idea for Rose and a story. Am I right in thinking that she’s kinda just having fun out there? Like, not that other players don’t, and not that she’s not a killer, but yeah, she’s having a blast. I’ve been thinking that for a while, and then with your video and all. What do ya think?
“I think so too! She doesn’t seem to put too much pressure on herself.
“Did you see her transcript from yesterday?”
“I think she kinda said something similar.”
Claire was right! There was even more of what we heard Thursday. This was particularly wonderful from Zhang: “I was talking to my caddie in between shots, but just seeing everyone supporting me and everyone’s reactions to some of my good shots, I just think it’s so funny.” There’s that word again. All that from the first woman to win two NCAA Division I individual crowns. And the player who won 12 times at Stanford, and no, not even that Tiger guy did that. She won the U.S. Women’s Am and U.S. Junior. In April, she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
And it just kept going and going on Sunday. No, it wasn’t pretty. But it was fun. There’s that word again!
How about that shot on the par-4 12? At this point, Zhang was up one, then hooked her tee shot left and onto another hole. And then? She knocked her ball over a tree, ran up a slope to see where the heck it was going — and smiled after it stopped 10 feet from the cup. There was more!
How about the par-4 17th? She was still up one. She ran her birdie putt 10 feet past. And then? She rammed her par putt in. She fist-pumped. There was more!
How about the par-4 18th? The result? Well, that stunk. Zhang bogeyed. Her tee shot had rolled into a fairway bunker. But on her escape, she ran again. She smiled. When she missed her 7-footer for par and started her walk toward a playoff with Jennifer Kupcho, she smiled again. No way! There was more!
How about the first hole of the playoff, back on 18? After three shots, Zhang was back in the same spot on the green as she was in regulation. This time, she was good. This time, she fist-pumped again. This time, she smiled again. They headed back to the 18th tee.
And how about what came next? Tee shot down the left side of the fairway. Fairway metal to 10 feet. Two putts. Winner! Smiles! Hugs! Super agent Mark Steinberg even gave her one. Zhang is now an LPGA member. She’s eligible for the Solheim Cup. She’s the first to win an LPGA event in her pro debut since Beverly Hanson did so at the 1951 Eastern Open. For those doing the math, that’s 52 years older than Zhang.
“Rose, what an absolute tremendous performance,” Golf Channel’s Karen Stupples told her just off the 18th green. “Just two weeks ago, you were winning the NCAA championships. In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that you would be standing here an LPGA champion?”
“What is happening?”
OK, OK, Zhang won’t win ’em all. She didn’t really close on Sunday. She was up two to start the day, didn’t make a birdie and shot a two-over 74. That won’t cut it. And maybe when adversity like that strikes again, this all crashes. Does it continue? Who knows?
So we’ll be guarded.
Then again fun, like winning, can be contagious. And for now at least, after win one on week one, she’ll keep having it.
And oh, so will we.