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U.S. Women’s Open betting favorite Rose Zhang endured a nightmare travel odyssey

PEBBLE BEACH, California – Nothing about Rose Zhang’s professional career thus far has been typical. She begins her first U.S. Women’s Open as the betting favorite this week – in only her third professional start. The modest Zhang, who is ranked 12/1 at several sportsbooks, takes it all in stride.

“It’s just such an honor to be a betting favorite,” Zhang said from Golf Channel’s “Live From” set, just off the 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links. “I would’ve never imagined myself to be in this position starting out last month, but it’s really cool. As always, I still have pretty low expectations for what I’m going to do when I’m out there.”

Zhang, a 12-time winner at Stanford, said at the start of the Mizuho Americas Open that she simply wanted to make the cut in her first professional start. She, of course, became the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to make her first professional start an LPGA victory. She said something similar about making the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA at Balustrol, where she contended late on Sunday and tied for eighth.

Annika Sorenstam said Zhang, a two-time winner of the ANNIKA Award, is already raising the level of play on the LPGA.

“I think the attention is there, well deserved,” said Sorenstam, who knows a thing or two about the spotlight. “I think she’s going to bring a lot to the game, there’s no doubt.”

It’s not simply that Zhang put together the best amateur resume in the modern game, or played mind-blowingly well in her first two starts as a pro that makes her the favorite this week. It’s what she’s already accomplished on a course that few women in the field know so little about.

Zhang hit 18 greens and made miles of putts on the day she recorded a course-record 63 at Pebble Beach Golf Links last fall at the Carmel Cup, calling it a “stripe show” and a “pretty dreamy week.” It was one of eight collegiate titles in her sophomore year.

Zhang had big plans on how she wanted to prepare her game for this week’s championship but, like many in the field at KPMG, she had trouble getting home. After a Monday outing at Merion Golf Club, her flight from Philadelphia was canceled after being grounded on the plane for several hours. By the time she got rebooked, there were no rooms left in the city. So at 2 a.m., she slept on the couch in the lobby of an Embassy Suites.

Later that day Zhang took an Uber to Baltimore, only to have that flight canceled as well. She then made her way to Atlantic City, where she boarded a private flight with her Excel team and Travis Kelce, who was headed to Las Vegas for The Match. Kelce happened to be on the Jersey Shore for a charity outing with his brother.

Zhang ultimately made it to Los Angeles on Wednesday night, losing several days of major prep work.

“I was tired,” she said. “My back was really tired … I was sitting the entire time those two days.”

After a well-deserved massage, Zhang spent three to four hours each day for the rest of the week practicing with friends she grew up with.

This week at Pebble, Stanford’s most decorated player practiced with her former Cardinal teammates Kelly Xu and Sadie Englemann on Monday and then played nine holes with Stanford graduate Michelle Wie West on Tuesday afternoon. This will be Wie West’s final event before she officially steps away from the game.

“She’s incredible,” said Zhang. “This is her last stretch, but I’m really honored to be able to just be a part of it.”

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Story originally appeared on GolfWeek