28 Nov 2022
by Jim Young of AmateurGolf.com
Her résumé speaks for itself, which is a good thing because Rose Zhang isn’t someone who seems overly impressed with herself, although she has every right to be.
With two USGA championships, seven NCAA individual titles, including the 2022 NCAA individual championship, four U.S. Women’s Open starts and a pair of Curtis Cup appearances, three McCormack Medals as the top-ranked female amateur in the world to go along with an impressive collection of junior titles, it’s hard to forget sometimes that Zhang is only 19.
The 2022 ANNIKA Award winner as the top female player in collegiate golf, Zhang has been the undisputed No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking since her triumph over Gabriela Ruffels in the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
A few months before arriving at Stanford, Zhang won the U.S. Girls’ Junior to become the eighth player to have won both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior titles, but the first to capture the latter second.
As a young child, she was called a prodigy. Stanford men’s golfer Michael Thorbjornson has referred to her as a “sage” but to the ones who know her the best she is just Rose.
Her face lights up when she talks about her Stanford teammates, puffs her cheeks a bit and exhales before she speaks about balancing the demands of a rigorous academic curriculum demands with her golf schedule and she laughs easily at her foibles, whether it’s not performing well in a practice drill, misplacing her bike or trying to meet some of the other challenges faced by a young college student who is on her own for the first time.
Stoic, calm and unflustered on the course, a rare wayward shot or missed putt is met with nothing more than an occasional eye roll.
Extremely humble and modest, Zhang downplays her skill set, saying “it’s not as strong as people may think,” but relies on her off-the-charts golf IQ and course management to execute a particular shot at just the right moment.
Always the first one at the school’s practice facility and often the last one to leave, her practice sessions are already the stuff of legend.
“She is a golf nerd, said Stanford head coach Anne Walker on the No Laying Up’s recent film on the Cardinal women’s team. “Rose’s idea of putting the clubs away is still hitting 200-400 balls a day. That’s why she’s so exceptional. But I know what my body feels like at 42 and I don’t hit 200 balls a day but it’s not a worry for her yet.
“Rose is an old soul when it comes to golf. On the course, she is a competitor but she doesn’t allow poor shots or execution to impede her mindset. She carries herself with the utmost humility; her success hasn’t influenced her core character.”
It’s not a reach to include Zhang in the conversation when discussing the best amateurs of all-time — men or women. And she’s not done yet. In this edition of A Quick Nine, the world’s top-ranked female amateur discusses her time at Stanford, her teammates, her future goals and the greatest influences in her life.
• • • • •
A Quick Nine with Rose Zhang
1. After a year and a half, what has the Stanford experience been like for you so far?
It’s been amazing. We have 10 of the best players from around the world on this team and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them not only as my teammates but as my family, as well. Coming to college, you’re in a different environment and you have to be somewhat independent but at the same time, you have all of these people around you who are caring, supportive and welcoming. It makes for a special bonding experience for all of us.
The golf speaks for itself. I think the closeness and the camaraderie we have really sets us apart from a lot of teams. We all get along really well no matter what we shoot. It’s not a big secret. You do what you need to do on the course but everyone on this team was raised to be elite people, too. We have great communication and we are all are connected. Coach (Ann) Walker does an amazing job at being a leader and coaching us not only to be the best golfers we can be but the best people, too.
2. Apart from golf, what makes Stanford unique?
I’ve met so many people here that have already done amazing things in their lives and respective careers beyond athletics, whether it’s launching a start-up or a non-profit organization – and they’re so humble about it. The Stanford environment is truly inspiring and helps you stay close to your roots.
3. Can you speak about your friendship with Rachel Heck?
Rachel is one of my best friends. We grew up playing a lot of AJGA events together and I played with her at the PING Invitational when I was 13. Our friendship has grown expediently from there. She is so bubbly and so diverse in her hobbies and interests. She’s in ROTC, and loves basketball, shooting and hunting. There’s no one else like her. I’ve learned so much from her and admire how she is able to put everything into perspective. She’s always so positive and has great energy.
We’ve also gone through a lot of similar experiences in our golf careers and it’s so nice to have someone to talk to who’s close to you and that’s gone through it. We also have similar values and beliefs. That said, our personalities couldn’t be more different but we really do complement each other.
4. Can you give us some insight on some of the other personalities on the team?
Sadie (Englemann) is a leader. She’s always on top of what she needs to get done on and off the golf course. I really admire how disciplined and organized she is. We hung out some in junior golf but we’ve grown a lot closer here at Stanford. It’s always fun to be around her. Brooke (Seay) is one of the smartest people I know. She got a 4.0-grade point average in human biology last year. She’s a smart cookie and so genuine. When she’s in comfortable surroundings she’s very talkative and always very humble. She’s a great conversationalist and as our senior, sets a great example for all of us. Megha (Ganne) is the life of the party on the team. She can crack a joke from anywhere at any time. She makes all of our trips really fun. There’s never a dull moment with her – there’s always something going on. She’s a great feel player and I love the way she grinds on the golf course.
5. How are you able to balance the rigorous academic demands of Stanford and your golf?
It’s hard – I lose a lot of sleep. There’s some burnout and fatigue associated with it but it’s something we all have to deal with as student-athletes here. We’re all human. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of resources that help me be the best student and athlete as possible, but you still have to put in the work.
6. Who were some of the people who have been influential in your career?
Anne (Walker) has impacted me as much as anyone over the last year and a half. Her charisma and ability to control the room as a leader are a testament to her great character. We’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve learned so much from her in regard to how to be a team player and when to let go of golf sometimes. I tend to micro-manage myself. When I’m rusty or frustrated with an aspect of my game I have a tendency to dig deep to try to find out what’s wrong but she’s taught me to let go a bit. She’s a great coach, mother and wife.
My dad (Henry) has always been there to push me in my golf career and life in general. He has been with me through thick and thin and quit his job to support me. He is still very influential in my life. There are so many others, too. Jeff Tu was my first instructor at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine before I went to George Pinnell, who is still with me. My fitness trainer, Josh Loyo, has had a big impact on me in terms of golf and life in general, as have my mom (Li Cai) and brother (Bill). My mom is a very chill person and no matter what happens on the course, I’m still just her daughter. My brother is 10 years older than me and he’s kind of like my millennial dad for the way he took care of me when I was growing up while my parents were working. He’s influenced me greatly as a Christian and he has always been there for me.
7. You’ve accomplished so much in your amateur career already. Do you have any goals left?
I do have goals but they aren’t necessarily based on achievements or championships. They are more focused on my performance, daily life and character development, as opposed to winning a specific tournament. I focus on all of the little things on a daily basis that will help me be successful. There are some goals I have for the season but they’re more free-flowing. Whatever I need to work on I do it then and there.
I do want to play professional golf but once I’m done playing I want to be involved in a role that impacts communities and people. I don’t see golf as my whole life. I love the sport and will always be around it somehow but I want to do something that has an impact on the game.
8. You’ve been the No. 1 female amateur in the game for a long time. What do you need to do to improve in order to successfully compete on the next level?
I know I always can improve and have so much more potential. Playing in some professional events has been really eye-opening. Those girls are so amazing and are the best in the world at what they do. No matter how much success I’ve had as an amateur, I know the next level will be a huge, huge jump. It’s going to be a tough transition. I have so much more room for improvement but I can see myself growing once I get on tour. I have mad respect for every player out there. They are so good. Once you get there, it becomes a job at that point. How they are able to balance media responsibilities, lifestyle, health and nutrition, mental health, certain social aspects and their golf games is very inspiring.
Personally, I’m always trying to work on my mental game and you can never chip and putt enough. Even when you think you’ve mastered the short game, if you don’t practice it for a while, you’ll lose it. You always have to keep working at it, as I realized quite recently. On the tour, it’s a completely different mindset.
9. Who are some of the players you look up to?
Lydia Ko. I think it’s so amazing how successful she is at a young age while having gone through as much as someone twice her age. Her personality, humility, short game and every aspect of her life are very inspiring. She’s a genuine, super nice person and has no fakeness to her.
• • • • •
The Rose Zhang File
Born: Arcadia, Calif.
Parents: Henry and Li Cai
High School: Pacific Academy
Favorite golfer: Lydia Ko
Favorite courses: Merion Golf Club, Pebble Beach and Augusta National
Hobbies away from golf: Massages, socializing with friends, any outdoor activity
• • • • •
• Three-time McCormack Medal winner (2020, 2021, 2022)
• NCAA Team Champion (2022)
• NCAA Individual Champion (2022)
• ANNIKA Award winner (2022)
• WGCA Player of the Year (2022)
• Honda Sport Award for Golf winner (2022)
• WGCA Freshman of the Year (2022)
• Pac-12 Golfer of the Year (2022)
• Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (2022)
• WGCA First team All-American (2022)
• Golfweek First team All-American (2022)
• All-Pac-12 First Team (2022)
• WGCA All-American Scholar (2022)
• Two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year
• Represented Team USA at the 2021 and ‘22 Curtis Cup
• 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion
• 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion
• 2020 Rolex Girls Junior champion
• Represented Team USA at the 2019 Junior Solheim Cup and Pan-American Games
• Four-time Curtis Cup Player of the Year for Southern California
• • • • •
Notable Amateur Victories
• 2018 PING Invitational
• 2019 Rolex Tournament of Champions
• 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur
• 2020 Rolex Girls Junior
• 2020 PING Invitational
• 2020 Rolex Tournament of Champions
• 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior
• 2021 Molly Collegiate Invitational
• 2021 Windy City Collegiate
• 2021 Stanford Intercollegiate
• 2021 The Spirit International Amateur
• 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Championship
• 2022 Women’s Carmel Cup
• 2022 Stanford Intercollegiate
• 2022 Pac-12 Preview
• • • • •
U.S. National Team Appearances
• Junior Solheim Cup (2017, ’19)
• Junior Ryder Cup (2018)
• Curtis Cup (2021, ’22)
• Spirit International Amateur (2022)
• Arnold Palmer Cup (2022)
• Espirito Santo Trophy (2022)