By AJGA Staff, October 28, 2020
Rose Zhang of Irvine, California, repeats as the top female junior golfer in the world with the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Junior Player of the Year award. Kelly Chinn of Great Falls, Virginia, earned the top honor in the Boys Division and joins Zhang on a historical list of Rolex Junior Players of the Year: Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, Ariya Jutanugarn and Inbee Park.
Zhang becomes the first back-to-back player to receive Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors (2019 and 2020) in the Girls Division since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2011 and 2012. She is the sixth female player to receive the honor in consecutive seasons (Zhang, Jutanugarn, Victoria Tanco, Beth Bauer, Kellee Booth, Vicki Goetze) and eighth girl to add the multiyear accolade to a standout junior golf career (Grace Park and Heather Farr won in non-consecutive seasons).
Chinn becomes the first Virginia native to receive Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors. Both juniors also are honored as first team Rolex Junior All-Americans with this distinction.
The Rolex Junior All-America Teams annually recognize the world’s premier junior golfers. The 2020 class includes 48 boys and 48 girls, ages 14-19, from 26 states and seven countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, and the United States. These young men and women distinguished themselves through exceptional play in 108 national junior golf events, 99 of which were conducted by the AJGA. The teams were determined exclusively through the Rolex AJGA Rankings as of October 14.
Zhang, Chinn, and the 2020 Rolex Junior All-America Teams will be honored virtually through a Rolex Junior All-America Awards celebration on Friday, December 4. “The Greatest Night in Junior Golf” will recognize the accomplishments and celebrate the achievements of the Rolex Junior All-America teams, AJGA Scholastic Junior All-Americans and Jerry Cole Sportsmanship Award recipients.
Prior to the digital event, Rolex Junior All-Americans and a field of top players in the Rolex AJGA Rankings will compete at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, November 23-28 at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
In the 2020 season, Zhang added three AJGA Invitational victories to an already impressive junior golf resume. The 17-year-old has not finished outside the top three in AJGA play since 2018. Zhang has compiled nine career AJGA victories, including seven Invitationals. She ended the season where she started, at No. 1 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. She has held the position for more than 88 consecutive weeks.
Becoming a Rolex Junior Player of the Year is the greatest honor in junior golf. This award is truly something all talented junior golfers work hard to receive, and I’m extremely thankful to all my competitors who pushed my limit. I feel so thankful to be playing the game of golf, especially in this historic year. With the world experiencing so many difficult situations, having my best year in my golf career is special because I feel grateful to be even participating in events at a time like this.
Days after officially being crowned 2019 Rolex Junior Player of the Year, the high school senior began a repeat campaign by winning the 2020 AJGA season opener at the Rolex Tournament of Champions. She bested the 72-player field by 11 strokes and carded the low-round of the tournament in the Girls Division with a 5-under-par 67 on the Fazio Course.
Zhang continued her solid play in January with a T3 finish at the ANNIKA Invitational USA presented by Rolex, before golf paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
When Zhang resumed tournament play in August, she won the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur while recovering from a pre-event wrist injury. She defeated 2019 defending champion Gabriela Ruffels in 38 holes to also mark the second-longest final match in championship history.
Two weeks later, Zhang put together a wire-to-wire performance to win the Rolex Girls Junior Championship, with help from a first-round amateur course record of 8-under-par 64. Zhang rounded out the four-day tournament with four-straight birdies to win her second Invitational of the season. With this victory, Zhang became just the fourth player to hold all three prestigious Rolex titles in the same season: Rolex Junior Player of the Year, Rolex Tournament of Champions and Rolex Girls Junior Championship.
In addition to national junior golf, Zhang also competed in an LPGA major at the ANA Inspiration in September. She broke the amateur scoring record and finished one stroke out of the top 10. Her tournament total of 8-under-par 280 was also the lowest score ever recorded by an amateur in the event. Zhang previously won the AJGA’s ANA Junior Inspiration in 2018.
Zhang’s nearly flawless season ended with dominant play at The PING Invitational at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She found herself in an unfamiliar place, four shots off the lead entering the final 18 holes. She put together a bogey-free 5-under-par 67 that held up for a come-from-behind win. Zhang’s 5-under-par 67 was also the low round of the tournament in the Girls Division. Combined with her win at the 2018 PING Invitational, Zhang joined three-time Rolex Junior All-American and 2009 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Jordan Spieth as the only two-time champion in the event’s 14-year history and the first girl to accomplish the feat.
Cementing herself as one of the best amateur golfers in the world, Zhang is also No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and was honored with the Mark H. McCormack Medal, co-awarded by The R&A and USGA to the world’s leading female amateur golfer. With her 2020 selection, the Stanford verbal commit earned a fourth consecutive berth on the AJGA’s Rolex Junior All-America first team, and her fifth overall honor.
Zhang also represents one of 11 Rolex Junior All-Americans who receive financial assistance through the AJGA’s ACE Grant program, established in 2003. Over the years, more than 2,400 talented junior golfers have turned nearly $4.7 million in junior golf opportunities into $15+ million in college scholarships. The program provides financial assistance, subsidized by private donations including by AJGA professional alumni, who believe all talented junior golfers should have the opportunity to compete for a college golf scholarship, no matter their family’s financial situation.
More than 200 junior golfers in 2020 utilized the program to combat even greater financial challenges.
Without the ACE Grant I wouldn’t be able to play in these prestigious events, get these experiences or become the player I am today. [It] is quite tough sometimes, and there are a lot of junior golfers who have financial hardships. For me, the ACE Grant has relieved such a burden from my parents’ shoulders, and I cannot thank the donors and sponsors enough for their support. It is an honor to be an ACE Grant recipient.
Zhang’s 2020 highlights:
- Five-time Rolex Junior All-American, four consecutive years on first team
- Two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year (2019, 2020)
- Defended her 2018 title at the 2020 PING Invitational (2019 event was canceled due to weather impact)
- Won, Rolex Girls Junior Championship and set an amateur course record in the first round
- Won the first event of the 2020 season at the Rolex Tournament of Champions
- T11 at the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration with the lowest 72-hole total score ever by an amateur
- Won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur in a playoff, the second-longest final match in championship history
- Never finished outside the top three in AJGA tournaments in 2020 – tied for third at the ANNIKA Invitational USA presented by Rolex
- Nine career AJGA victories
- Honored with the Mark H. McCormack Medal as world’s leading female amateur golfer, co-awarded by The R&A and USGA
- No. 1 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings for more than 88 weeks
- No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings
- First Rolex Junior Player of the Year to also be an ACE Grant recipient in 2019