Rose Zhang makes history winning LPGA pro debut at 2023 Mizuho Americas Open

Rose Zhang came into her pro debut at the Mizuho Americas Open expecting to scramble to make the cut. She was surprised to see fans in the grandstands Thursday morning to watch first tee shot as a professional. Such is the humble mindset of a champion whose legendary status rose to another dimension on Sunday when she became the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to win on the LPGA in her pro debut.

Hello world, indeed.

Zhang didn’t make a birdie all day but stayed patient throughout a painstakingly long final round at Liberty National to win in a two-hole playoff against Jennifer Kupcho with the most important par of her life.

“What is happening?” said Zhang as she held a bouquet of red roses. “I just can’t believe it.”

Thirteen days removed from winning her second NCAA title, celebrating her 20th birthday and announcing her professional plans, Zhang took on the best players in the world and beat them all.

The player known as “Rosie” by her Stanford family, absolutely dazzled – whether the round came easy or required a persistent grind

A 12-time winner at Stanford, two-time USGA champion and the reigning Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, Zhang carried enormous expectations into the week as her accomplishments in the amateur game have been unmatched in the modern era. Zhang considers the expectations of others to be a compliment, and she embraces the challenge, knowing deep down the results don’t define her.

It’s a mature-beyond-her-years outlook that should translate into staying power at the top of the game.

Zhang’s highlight reel for the week included a chip-in birdie on a 29-foot curler on the par-5 13th in her opening round; a tee shot she nearly aced on the drivable par-4 16th on Saturday; and a recovery shot from the rough on Sunday that looked so good she ran to see it.

The LPGA hadn’t seen a more anticipated American pro debut since Michelle Wie West in 2005. Wie West happened to be the tournament host at Mizuho and joined fellow former prodigy Morgan Pressel in the Golf Channel booth Sunday during Zhang’s back nine to talk about her sensational debut.

“I look up to her,” said Wie West, “she’s just such an amazing player.”

Zhang spent three hours with the media Tuesday and seems poised for whatever comes next.

The victory gives Zhang immediate LPGA status. She also receives the 500 CME points for the win, a rule that was changed in 2021 after the Sophia Popov uproar.

Zhang, who was playing the Mizuho on a sponsor exemption, became the eighth player since 1992 to win their first professional start on the LPGA, joining Hinako Shibuno (2019 AIG Women’s Open) and Karrie Webb (1995 Weetabix Women’s British Open).

Now that she’s an LPGA member, Zhang is also eligible for this year’s Solheim Cup in Spain, captained by Stacy Lewis.

Zhang’s historical debut carried plenty of drama down the stretch. After missing a birdie putt inside 5 feet on the 16th hole that would’ve given her a two-stroke lead, Zhang faced a 10-foot comebacker for par on the penultimate hole to maintain her advantage. Zhang drained it like a boss to transcend the world of women’s golf.

Up next: Final exams at Stanford.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek