Stanford’s Rose Zhang announces plans to turn professional after back-to-back NCAA titles, set to play all four summer majors
Rose Zhang says it’s time to move on. After the best two-year stint in the history of college golf, the Stanford star has announced her decision to turn professional and the anticipation of what she might do to grow women’s golf is palpable.
There hasn’t been an American player this promising since Michelle Wie West, though for vastly different reasons. Wie West’s head-turning power and presence dazzled on the professional stage long before she earned a paycheck.
Zhang’s awe-factor and respect, however, comes from the titles she has won against her peers. Simply put, she has won everything that matters – sometimes twice – and often in dominant fashion. She has won every way there is to win, most notably hanging on at Augusta National last April in brutal conditions when she mostly looked uncomfortable. She has won time and again when she’s expected to win.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from her is that she’s nowhere near perfect,” said Stanford teammate Megha Ganne, “and that her score seems as though she is. She puts it together better than any player I’ve ever seen.”
Zhang took to Instagram to deliver the news after becoming the first woman to win two NCAA Championship titles. She’ll make her professional debut at next week’s inaugural Mizuho Americas Open, hosted by Wie West, and enjoy a packed summer of LPGA starts, including four major championships.
“She is truly spectacular,” Wie West told Golfweek. “There’s so much pressure on her and yet she delivers time and time again.”
Non-members are allowed up to six LPGA exemptions per season, plus special invitations from the U.S. Women’s Open and AIG Women’s British Open. Zhang has received special invites from both championships, held this year at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Walton Heath Golf Club, respectively.
In addition, she’ll compete in the KPMG Women’s PGA at Baltusrol, the Dana Open, Amundi Evian Championship, CP Women’s Open and Kroger Queen City Championship.
Last year, the LPGA changed its top-10 rule to allow non-members to earn a start in the next week’s field after a top-10 finish in designated events. In other words, strong play could help Zhang earn even more professional starts in 2023.
Zhang could play her way onto the LPGA and avoid Q-Series in December with a victory on tour or by finishing the season with CME points that are equal to or greater than the official points earned by the LPGA member in 40th place.
The new NIL era makes the financial transition easier for Zhang, given that she already had relationships with several high-profile companies, including Callaway and Adidas. Her full portfolio of sponsorships is expected to be released next week, but Zhang’s off-the-course earnings have the potential to be the strongest for a U.S. player since Wie West made her professional splash nearly 20 years ago.
Zhang won 12 times in 20 starts at Stanford, including eight wins this season. Tiger Woods once won eight times in a single season at Stanford.
Zhang’s 12 career titles sets a school record at Stanford, besting Woods (26 events), Patrick Rodgers (35 events) and Maverick McNealy (45 events) who all won 11 times. Zhang matched Lorena Ochoa for the most wins in Pac-12 history. She finished the season with a 68.81 scoring average over 31 rounds, nearly a stroke better than her 69.68 NCAA record from freshman season.
Head coach Anne Walker told Zhang during the recruiting process that where she could help her grow the most was to become better prepared to be a professional. Zhang no doubt leaves Palo Alto more comfortable in the limelight, more confident with her position in the game, and with a better of understanding of what it means to be the CEO of her own company.
“She has a great board of directors around her,” said Walker. “At the end of the day, no matter who’s on the board, you have to make the decision, and right or wrong, you’re the one who has to take the accountability for that. When she showed up, I’m not sure she was the one making those calls.”
Zhang’s performance as CEO will no doubt impact her ability to succeed long-term at the next level, that includes everything from the makeup of her team to where she plays and what contracts she signs. There will be no shortage of opinions.
Walker said when she’s asked, “What’s the biggest thing you’ve taught Rose Zhang?” the answer is to stop giving away her cell phone number to folks who come out to watch her play.
That’s the kindness that people often talk about with Zhang. As her star-power grows, she remains the same humble player she’s always been – thankful that people came out to watch.
Wake Forest’s Emilia Migliaccio appreciates the way Zhang takes the interact with new people at events, recalling at time at the ANWA when she saw Zhang having dinner several younger players.
“She doesn’t need to do that,” said Migliaccio, but she does because she knows that it means a lot to people.
“People aren’t asking her questions about golf. They’re just enjoying their time with her. So, yeah, when it comes to growing the game, she’s kind of the pinnacle of what that is.”