There’s a crowded office wall in Irvine, Calif., telling why Rose Zhang is golf’s hottest talent.
He sits in his parents’ home and the trophies, medals and plaques are a shrine to his various records, some of which belonged to Tiger Woods until this whirlwind 20-year-old arrived on a journey that takes him this week at the British Open.
Ahead of this rally at Walton Heath, his fourth major as a professional, Zhang takes Mail Sport on a virtual tour of the staging positions of a pretty amazing amateur and junior career and they’re pretty much all there – his 12 wins in 20 starts for Stanford University, passing the 11 in 26 managed by Woods, and there are the two NCAA titles, another record.
And then there is the United States. Women’s Amateur title, and those for the rest of the greats, from US Girls’ Junior, World Amateur Team Championship and Augusta National Women’s Amateur 2023. They are markers of a time in the unpaid ranks where she was World No. 1 for 141 unprecedented weeks, and together they paint a crowded and glorious picture of the most decorated amateur in women’s golf history.
But what you won’t find among ribbons and bows and pots and pans is anything for second place. Zhang smiled at this.
Rose Zhang (above) will be among the favorites for the Women’s Open this week
“I started throwing them away when I was 10,” she says. “I think I threw away at least 10 or 15. I had more golds than silvers and I was like ‘Silver is not necessary’. So I had to throw them away.
“What I will say is that I was very competitive growing up. I was thinking, “Screw second place.” Geez, I was pretty strict on myself when it came to first place.
Zhang is a phenomenon. The kind of talent that, even at such a young age, needs to be seen to be appreciated. The kind that was signed by Rolex, Beats and Adidas, and the kind that came under suffocating pressure when she turned pro at the Mizuho Americas Open in June.
She was up against seven of the top 10 women in the world. She won, becoming the first to do so on her debut since 1951.
“It’s been a little crazy,” she says. ‘I didn’t expect that for sure. But I’m just very happy that it’s all going like this and I’m kind of in on the game.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect everything. At the end of a tournament, it’s not just about skill, because anything can happen – you’re playing against the best players in the world. I’ve played against the best college and amateur players in the world, but when you take that leap, it’s hard to say, “Oh, I’m going to come here and win.” It’s not going to happen like that. So yeah, whatever happened like that happened, I just don’t think it was something that was in my vision or in my mind.
What followed that victory plays into the attention Zhang has garnered through his rise, but also his potential to be a crossover star of his sport.
“Tiger reached out to me – it was kind of crazy,” Zhang says. “Also, I look up to Steph Curry a lot, and he yelled at me, which I never would have imagined. But there were also a lot of random people who recognized me, which I didn’t really expect.
“I don’t think it’s an element of that, me being scared or intimidated, but it’s certainly telling for me that I have a huge presence now in everything I do.” It was quite surreal.
His transition to the paid ranks was surprising, even beyond that initial victory. In the three majors she has played as a professional, she has yet to finish below a tie for ninth, so Zhang will rank among the favorites at Walton Heath at a time when women’s golf is teeming. already talented.
“Everybody wants to win – who doesn’t?” she says. “For me, The Open is such an amazing event. I went to the British Junior Open in 2018 and I was just a little junior and now I’m fast moving towards this. I feel like the sky is the sky. limit.
The 20-year-old won the Mizuho Americas Open just nine days after turning professional
Zhang has won 12 starts in 20 for Stanford University, surpassing Tiger Woods’ 11 in 26
Comparisons with Woods, both for their early success and the business accolades he has already brought, are likely to become unhealthy. A burden for a young woman who remains a student halfway through a degree at Stanford.
“I don’t think about it much,” Zhang said. “If I win and break one of Tiger’s records, that’s definitely super cool.” And I’m honored to be able to accomplish all of this. But I don’t think of it as if I should continue to follow in her footsteps, even if people ask, “Is she the next Tiger?”
“I believe everyone’s timing is different. And everyone’s life path is different.
Granted, women’s golf hasn’t seen many like Zhang, or that office wall in her parents’ house.