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Rose Zhang is juggling her golf career and studying at Stanford – with a little help from Tiger Woods

Balance is a word that encapsulates Rose Zhang’s world.

On the golf course, it underpins a swing that has rocketed her through record upon record en route to a historic start on the LPGA Tour. Away from the greens and fairways, balance is everything for a 20-year-old juggling a fledgling professional golf career with a Stanford University degree in communication.

It’s a mammoth exercise in multi-tasking, but one that the California native signed up for wholeheartedly – even amid some questioning as to whether collegiate golf was the best path to a pro career.

Despite her incredible professional career, Zhang is still studying at Stanford University. - Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
Despite her incredible professional career, Zhang is still studying at Stanford University. - Philip Pacheco/Getty Images

“A lot of people were a bit shaky about it … but I felt like it was necessary for me to take that extra step, for me to be my own independent person,” Zhang told CNN Sport on Wednesday.

“I’ve seen a lot of players, they’ve essentially burned out later on in their careers or they got injured, and I felt like I needed something that could make me better and not have me just identify myself as a golf player.

“Just being a college golfer and being around people my age, being inspired by how incredible they are in their own right – that’s really what pushed me to become better on my own.”

Better on her own and better than any before her. Zhang turned pro in May having become the most decorated player in the history of women’s amateur golf, signing off by becoming the first women’s golfer to ever win back-to-back individual NCAA national titles.

It put a huge spotlight on her maiden professional start less than two weeks later, and the prodigy responded with a blinding performance, besting major champion Jennifer Kupcho in a sudden death playoff at the Mizuho Americas Open to become the first player to win an LPGA tournament on her pro debut in 72 years.

Since then, she’s recorded back-to-back top-10 finishes in her first two major starts and arrives at this week’s Evian Championship in France already ranked 35th in the world.

Zhang had a brilliant amateur career before turning professional. - Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Zhang had a brilliant amateur career before turning professional. - Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Tiger the tutor

So far, the balancing act has been faultless, but Zhang is expecting things to become a little dicier as she edges closer to the target of finishing her studies within two to three years.

A devout Christian, Zhang is confident her faith will help her navigate challenges. School counsellors, family and friends are expected to play a supporting role, as well as one individual – perhaps the only one in the world that can claim to have walked in Zhang’s shoes – who she met at The Masters in April: fellow prodigious amateur and Stanford alumni Tiger Woods.

“Honestly, anything that comes out of Tiger’s mouth and when he is directing it at you, I’m already in awe, I’m listening,” Zhang said, laughing.

“He just said, ‘Congratulations, I’ve seen you on TV and couldn’t be more proud of you. Go Card!’” – a reference to Stanford’s athletics teams being known as the Cardinal.

"Anything that comes out of Tiger’s mouth and when he is directing it at you, I’m already in awe," said Zhang. - David Cannon/Getty Images
"Anything that comes out of Tiger’s mouth and when he is directing it at you, I’m already in awe," said Zhang. - David Cannon/Getty Images

Woods put together one of the greatest amateur careers of all time before dominating the men’s game, but Zhang surpassed the 15-time major winner’s record for NCAA career victories with her national title defense.

Even if Woods never completed his economics degree at Stanford, leaving after two years when he turned pro, the similarities in the duo’s early careers mean they share a unique connection.

“It’s just incredible how he went to Stanford too, I think that’s the little bond between us,” Zhang said.

“But at the same time, Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. He completely changed the game, modernized it and I was really just happy to be in his presence and watch him play his practice round.”

Solheim dreams

On Thursday, Zhang made a solid start on her Evian Championship debut, carding a first round two-under 69 in Évian-les-Bains, France.

The major calendar then wraps with the Women’s British Open at Surrey’s Walton Heath Golf Club in August, but Zhang’s breakneck year ideally won’t culminate there. In September, the Solheim Cup touches down at Finca Cortesin in Andalusia, Spain, and Zhang already has one eye towards making it onto the plane.

Twelve players will comprise the US Team as it looks to halt a European three-peat. The top seven players on the Solheim Cup points list automatically make the roster, joined by the top two players on the world rankings not already qualified under the previous criteria.

Currently 19th in the points list, it means Zhang’s likeliest chance of making a dream Solheim debut rests on being selected as one of Stacy Lewis’ three captain’s picks.

Zhang won the Junior Solheim Cup in 2017 and 2019. - Andrew Redington/WME IMG/Getty Images
Zhang won the Junior Solheim Cup in 2017 and 2019. - Andrew Redington/WME IMG/Getty Images

“Nothing’s better, just because you’re representing your own country. You’re representing the red, white and blue,” said Zhang, who was victorious on both appearances at the Junior Solheim Cup in 2017 and 2019.

“Being able to play against the best pros, alongside with the best pros, these are all experiences that I really wish to have going forward.

“It’s something different, so unique, so incredible. I will say that it’s the biggest honor that an athlete can have if they represent their country and play for the Stars and Stripes.”

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