By: Ali Palma, March 21, 2021
Defending U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang had a weekend to remember in Mesa, Arizona, finishing runner-up in the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic to Ruixin Liu after Liu birdied the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
The 17-year-old Zhang, from Irvine, California, played in the Symetra Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption and fired back-to-back rounds of 66 on Saturday and Sunday at the Longbow Golf Club to finish the week at 17-under par, good enough for the clubhouse lead. But Liu, who held the lead after the first round and reclaimed it on Saturday, had a birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to win outright. When she missed, Liu and Zhang headed back to 18 for extra holes.
Despite still being in high school, Zhang is no stranger to the big stage. In 2020, she faced off in the U.S. Women’s Amateur final against 2019 champion Gabi Ruffels. That event also went to extra into overtime. Zhang won with a par on the 38th hole in what was the second-longest final in U.S. Women’s Amateur history. A month later, Zhang was low amateur in the ANA Inspiration, finishing tied for 11th in the LPGA Tour major championship. That finish moved Zhang into the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and earned her the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top amateur of 2020.
Despite her youth, Zhang’s experience showed. After opening with rounds of 70 and 69, she fired a seven-birdie one-bogey 66 on Saturday. On Sunday, Zhang opened with a bogey on the par-5 first hole she reeled off seven birdies in the next 17 holes. But she failed to capitalize on the par-5s, playing them one-over par on Sunday and then making two pars on the par-5 18th in the playoff.
“I think that this counts as a great debut for the Symetra Tour. I am super proud of myself for how I carried myself throughout the four days. Just being here with the pros and learning so much has really given me motivation to keep playing well,” Zhang said. “Rachel played amazing so congrats to her and I am super happy for her. It’s a good step towards the right direction for me.
“I think my biggest take away was being able to stay composed throughout the four days and watching everyone play. Everyone has an amazing game and it shows me that I can continue working hard and keep in my stride.
“This course was not a very long course, especially in Arizona the ball tends to go a bit further. Even though there is a slight amount of wind in air it still carries a lot. I was able to hit a lot of wedges which helps my game a lot and I was able to convert some putts throughout the week. I think it I was able to make a few more putts it would have been a little different.”