BY BRENTLEY ROMINE – 2/17/22
Rose Zhang is getting in on the NIL action.
The Stanford freshman and world’s top amateur has signed with Excel Sports Management for name, image and likeness representation.
“Personally, I thought NIL was a great opportunity, and I really wanted to capitalize on it,” Zhang told GolfChannel.com.
Excel launched its women’s golf division, led by agent Kevin Hopkins, last year and celebrated the occasion by signing six women’s pros, Sierra Brooks, Bronte Law, Kristen Gillman, Andrea Lee, Albane Valenzuela and Jillian Hollis. The company also inked an NIL deal with Zhang’s Stanford teammate Rachel Heck last October and represents Stanford sophomore Michael Thorbjornsen on the men’s side.
But Zhang wanted to wait before diving into the NIL waters.
“I had just graduated high school and then played summer golf, and going into college, I wanted to have that adjustment period before I decided to do much with NIL,” Zhang said. “It’s such a big transitions from junior golf to college golf, and I wanted to make sure I was well adjusted before I did anything.”
Toward the end of a fall season in which she won all three of her college starts and also captured the Spirit International Amateur, Zhang reached out to a few management companies, including Excel. While no NIL deals have been announced yet, Zhang, arguably college golf’s biggest recruit in decades, is expected to attract many potential sponsors.
How much? Zhang doesn’t know, but she knows there’s opportunity. Heck, the reigning NCAA individual champ, has inked a few deals already, including with Ping, Stifel, Whistle Sports and Six Star Pro Nutrition.
“A lot of people were skeptical of how much amateur golfers can bring in money-wise, but personally, I thought that it was still a great opportunity to earn a bit of money, and I didn’t feel like golf was a sport that would be lacking in that area,” Zhang said. “Now is a great time for women’s golf and especially with NIL, there are more female athletes who can be promoted and build their brands, and I feel like it’s such an amazing time to do so.”
The big question surrounding Zhang is how long she will stay in school. While not speaking specifically to her situation, Zhang believes that NIL could theoretically keep student-athletes in school longer as they’re able to be compensated while still working toward their degrees and competing collegiately.
“I do see that happening,” Zhang said. “For a lot of college players, it’s very normal for athletes to want to come out of college and want to earn a living immediately. NIL definitely takes some of the burden off of their shoulders and their families’ shoulders, and it’s a really good way to enter the professional world. It’s a good in-between and transition. With this change, it changes a lot of peoples’ decisions and what they want to do.
“People who need the money but still want an education can do so with NIL.”
With a big step in NIL now out of the way, Zhang is excited for what lies ahead, both off and on the golf course. Though Zhang and Stanford saw their undefeated seasons end on Tuesday at the Lamkin San Diego Invitational – the Cardinal finished second to San Jose State and Zhang tied for fourth individually – they haven’t been deterred.
In fact, Zhang argues that the loss will make them better.
“Our ultimate goal is just to become better as a team, and we felt like it was a perfect time in the season to be doing so, so we didn’t really feel like this event was a ‘failure,’ and I don’t think it was a failure at all,” Zhang said. “It’s just the start of the season and there’s a long way to go. We all have a really good goal to work toward and it’s pretty simple. We’re all on the same page and the team dynamic is amazing, so I feel like even through heartbreak, we can continue to become stronger and better.”