Rose Zhang has become a bit of an expert on the Cold War, memorizing 94 terms for her final exam and writing 3,000-word term papers in the days leading up to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. With most of her Stanford friends majoring in Computer Science, Zhang will take history over quantum physics any day.
Last year, Zhang dropped a dumbbell on her foot in the months leading up to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and felt she wasn’t at her best in Georgia. This year, academic fatigue is more of a factor for the World No. 1, but her game is as pristine as the blades of grass at the iconic club.
“Pressure is pretty inevitable,” said Zhang of her fourth ANWA appearance, where her best showing was a share of third in 2021.
Throughout her dazzling amateur career, 19-year-old Zhang has risen to the occasion time and time again, winning as the favorite at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, NCAA Championship and Women’s Amateur. The ANWA would be the proverbial cherry on the sundae of a player who would surprise no one if she turned professional at the end the spring college season.
She’s the undisputed favorite in the field of 72.
Earlier this month, Zhang claimed her ninth career college title, tying a school record set by Andrea Lee. Zhang, a sophomore who has only teed it up in 16 events for the Cardinal thus far, has an eye-popping 13 top-two finishes in that stretch. Her only career finish outside the top 10 was a tie for 12th earlier this season at the Stephens Cup.
Tiger Woods (26 starts), Maverick McNealy (45 starts) and Patrick Rodgers (35 starts) hold the all-time record for most wins among both the men’s and women’s teams at Stanford with 11.
“I definitely don’t expect myself to be on top of the leaderboard every single time,” she said, “because I just feel like it’s something that no one can control.”
Zhang, a three-time recipient of the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top-ranked amateur in the world (2020, 2021 and 2022), views records as a byproduct of her play and not something she thinks about while competing.
She recently broke the record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking at 131, passing Lydia Ko, who currently tops the Rolex Rankings for professional players.
Should she stay in the top spot for the next month, Zhang will pass Leona Maguire for most total weeks at No. 1 on April 19 at 136 weeks.
“I would never think I would be in this position, ever,” said the ever-humble Zhang, who met with a group of reporters on Friday before leaving for Georgia.
Zhang is one of three Stanford players in the field this week, joined by Megha Ganne and Brooke Seay. 2021 NCAA champion Rachel Heck was forced to withdraw after undergoing surgery in early March for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which involved removing her first rib.
“I may be lacking a rib,” Heck wrote on Instagram, “but I am not lacking in the peace and comfort of the Lord or the immense love and support from everyone around me.”
This year’s ANWA will be held March 29-April 1, the week before the 87th Masters. Champions Retreat Golf Club hosts the first two rounds of the ANWA, played on the Island and Bluff nines. The top 30 players and ties will advance to Saturday’s final round, held over Augusta National.
Zhang said the 14th hole, Chinese Fir, is her favorite hole at Augusta National, though she admits that she correlates her favorite holes with how she plays them. She describes the 18th as “a dream.”
With that in mind, the par-5 13th might not be high on her list as an uncharacteristic triple-bogey there in 2021 derailed her run at the title. Zhang chalked it up to bad course management.
“I would say that when I play Amen Corner, I just have to strategize a little better,” she said. “It not like a stretch of holes where you can just mindlessly kind of go for something, which happens to be what I did. So I think I’ve learned a lot from that.”
When asked what part of her game she’s most satisfied with coming into Augusta, Zhang said she doesn’t think of herself as having too many strengths.
“Let me explain it,” she said, smiling.
Zhang views every part of her game as “very consistent,” working together like a team.
“It’s like everything kind of helping each other out, I would say,” she said.
In other words, there are no weaknesses.