Still recovering from broken toe, Rose Zhang changes caddie, catches fire and moves into ANWA contention

APRIL 1, 2022 – EVANS, Ga. – Rose Zhang is used to hunting titles, not chasing cut lines.

Apparently, she’s able to do both.

The world No. 1 needed a late rally Friday at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur just to crack the top 30 and secure a final-round tee time at the home of the Masters. She’d just bogeyed her sixth hole (the 15th of the round) and was outside the projected cut line with a few holes remaining.

“It really kind of stimulated me to just go for it on the last three holes,” she said. “I knew I was around that cut, so I really had to just go forward and take a chance.”

It’s been a relatively rocky few weeks for the wunderkind who – to this point – hasn’t encountered much turbulence during her decorated career.

Last fall, Zhang became the first player at Stanford (male or female) to win her first three college events, surpassing even her own lofty expectations for what was possible as a freshman. But in December, someone in the Cardinal weight room dropped a 15-pound dumbbell on her left foot, fracturing her small pinky toe. That curtailed her practice time during the offseason, and she went six days without picking up a club before the Cardinal’s recent tournament at Arizona State.

Zhang is talented enough to remain competitive without much practice time (four starts, four top-10s) but she remains without a win this spring. Normally she attacks a course with machine-like efficiency, but the toe injury has led to more stray shots than usual.

“The first thing that I like to think about is shifting my weight to the left side when I come down, and I’m not able to do that that because I feel hindered with a little bit of a sting when I come down,” she said. “I’m just putting all my weight on the back foot, and then I’m duck-hooking. Then when I’m duck-hooking, I try to push it, and then I end up going right. So it’s, like, all of the above.”

Her slight dip in performance has carried over here to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where she opened with 76 and sat outside the cut line with one qualifying round to play.

Between rounds, Zhang decided to part ways with a local Augusta National caddie in favor of her father, Haibin. Last year at the ANWA, with her trainer on the bag, Zhang was in position to capture one of the game’s most prestigious amateur titles when she made a mess of the par-5 13th and carded a triple bogey. She wound up a shot out of the playoff after a closing 75. This time, she was hoping for better memories.

“We just make a really good pair,” she said. “He is very emotional on the golf course. But I guess it just brings out my chill mood.”

But this was no chill moment.

Zhang was 6 over par, with three holes to play, likely needing at least a birdie in the chilly conditions to get into a playoff for the top 30.

So into the seventh green, she fired a wedge. Ten feet. Birdie.

“That putt really gave me confidence,” she said.

On the par-3 eighth hole, she clubbed up and stuck her tee shot to 20 feet. Her putt dripped in. Another birdie.

Now she was cruising, in position to make the cut, only wanting to make a par on the closing par 5 to preserve her spot. But her tee shot found the rough and picked up a clump of mud directly on the back of the ball. She knew her second shot could go anywhere – and it did, sailing into the trees and coming to rest in the pine straw, 162 yards away. All of a sudden, there was a moment of stress: A bogey (or worse) could drop her into a playoff.

Then she showed her mettle, once again. “I hit a crazy shot,” she said. Her 5-iron kicked up onto the green, rolled onto the back tier and came to rest 3 feet away for a closing birdie – her third in a row to end her round.

Once chasing the cut, Zhang is now back in a familiar position: hunting titles. Her second-round 71 (one of just three under-par rounds) put her in a tie for ninth, only three shots off the lead with one round to go. Everyone on the top of the leaderboard will be keenly aware of her presence.

“I definitely needed something to prove myself this week because going into the event I didn’t really have my A-game; I don’t even think I had my B-game,” she said. “I really had to grind through every single golf shot that I hit on this golf course. Just being able to come from below the cut line to being in the cut line, I think it really showed that I have the grit and I have the perseverance to just being able to execute regardless of where I am. I think that really proved a lot to me.”

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