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EVANS, Ga. – Rose Zhang was asked her expectations heading into the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. After all, she’s the top-ranked amateur in the world. She’s the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. She wins practically everything at the junior level – and just two weeks ago, in her first-ever Symetra Tour event (and just her second tournament in seven months), she lost in a playoff.
But the 17-year-old doesn’t talk like the world-beater she most certainly is. “I usually come into any event with no expectations,” she said, “and as long as I play my own game and satisfy my own criteria, I think that I would feel accomplished.”
That runs counter, of course, to what most superstar athletes verbalize in an interview setting. They’ll say they’re there to win, nothing else. That second place sucks. But Zhang doesn’t go there, at least not in public. She said she didn’t even view herself as the prohibitive favorite this week – that she doesn’t even think like that – even though most everyone would agree that she was.
“It’s a mentality,” said her caddie/trainer Josh Loyo. “She always plays with no expectations. I really like that, actually, because it’s really different than any player I’ve seen. I work with a lot of LPGA players, and her mental game is beyond her age – far beyond her age. She doesn’t really think about too much out there, stays in the moment really easily, and forgives quickly, too, if she does make a mistake and moves on.
“It’s hard to believe, but she really doesn’t.”
With only round left in the ANWA, it’s hard to ignore the end goal now. Despite some uncharacteristic bogeys coming home, Zhang posted 1-under 143 and is tied for the lead with Ingrid Lindblad. Seven other players are within two shots as the top 30 head now to Augusta National – first for a practice round on Friday, then the nationally televised third and final round.
Three shots clear at one point Thursday, Zhang had to settle for just a share of the lead after making bogey on three of the four par 5s. She closed out her round with a miss inside 5 feet on 18.
“Overall, I think it’s a pretty solid day,” Zhang said. “Just a lot of small mistakes out there.”
Those mistakes were magnified on a day when the temperatures plunged more than 20 degrees (Thursday’s high: 59) and the wind gusted up to 25 mph. That made what was already a difficult setup at Champions Retreat even more challenging.
Zhang and Lindblad were the only players to finish two rounds under par; the last time this event was played, in 2019, there were seven.
The cut line fell at 7 over – four shots higher than in 2019.
“I think we played the best we could have played out there,” Loyo said. “Her ball-striking is the best I’ve seen it.”
Loyo was on the bag when Zhang made her first appearance at Augusta National in 2019. Then just 15, she tied for 17th despite being unable to reach the par 5s in two shots and playing more conservatively into the par 4s because she couldn’t hit her approach shots with the necessary height. As she’s matured – and, thanks to Loyo, developed a workout regimen that has packed on muscle – Zhang has gained 20 yards off the tee and now hits her iron shots about a club and a half longer.
“The 2019 experience, getting to Augusta was the big goal,” Loyo said. “This year, I think our goals are a little different.”
It’s to win. Even if she doesn’t say it.