NCAA Champ Rose Zhang Makes History With LPGA Debut Win

Fresh of her second consecutive NCAA individual title, Rose Zhang became the first player in 72 years to win an LPGA Tour event in her professional debut on Sunday when she made a clutch par on the second playoff hole against Jennifer Kupcho. The 20-year-old phenom finished the weekend at 9 under in the inaugural Mizuho Americas Open, which is hosted by Michelle Wie West and played at Liberty National in New Jersey.

With her par putt, Zhang secured a cut of one of the LPGA’s biggest purses outside of a major—$2.75 million—walking away with $412,500 just days after turning pro. The California native did so clad in Adidas apparel and playing with Callaway Golf clubs; in 2022, she became the first college athlete to sign endorsement deals with either brand, thanks to NIL.

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Zhang, the former No. 1-ranked amateur and 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur winner, became the first woman to win back-to-back NCAA DI individual titles when she won the NCAA championship a little over a week ago, on the eve of her 20th birthday. The victory gave her 12 tournaments wins in 20 starts for Stanford, surpassing Tiger Woods record for most wins in Cardinal history. (Woods, for what it’s worth, tied for 60th in his professional debut in 1996.)

With her win on Sunday, Zhang also became the first player to win an NCAA crown and an official LPGA Tour event in the same year. Zhang can now take an immediate LPGA Tour Membership and become an official 2023 LPGA Tour rookie.

Expectations were high going into Zhang’s professional debut, but she seemed to even surprise herself with the win.

“What is happening—I just can’t believe it,” Zhang said Sunday. “It was just last week when I won NCAAs with my teammates. To turn pro and come out here, it’s just been amazing.”

Zhang has played 13 LPGA Tour events as an amateur, with her best finish a tie for 11th in the 2020 Chevron Championship. Despite that experience and her amateur track record, which also includes a win in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April, Zhang had no status on the LPGA Tour, so she played on a sponsor’s exemption.

In so doing, she became the first sponsor invitee to finish atop the leaderboard on the LPGA Tour since Lydia Ko in 2013. In the last 20 years, only three players with sponsor exemptions have won tour events, according to the LPGA. Of course, the more impressive feat was winning in her pro debut, which Beverly Hanson was the last accomplish—in 1951.

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