Is Rose Zhang the next Tiger Woods? She’s the 20-year-old phenomenon breaking his records. Now this whirlwind hits the Women’s Open at Walton Heath
- Rose Zhang will rank among the favourites at the Women’s Open this week
- She won the Mizuho Americas Open just nine days after turning professional
- Zhang won 12 in 20 starts for Stanford University, passing the 11 in 26 by Woods
There’s a crowded office wall in Irvine, California that tells a story about why Rose Zhang is the most hyped talent in golf.
It’s found within her parents’ home and the trophies, medals and plaques are a shrine to her various records, some of which belonged to Tiger Woods until this 20-year-old whirlwind came along on a journey that this week takes her to the British Open.
Ahead of that gathering at Walton Heath, her fourth major as a professional, Zhang is taking Mail Sport on a virtual tour of the staging posts of a quite astonishing amateur and junior career and they are just about all there – her 12 wins in 20 starts for Stanford University, passing the 11 in 26 managed by Woods, and there’s the two NCAA titles, another record.
And then there’s the US. Women’s Amateur title, and those for the rest of the big ones, from US Girls’ Junior, World Amateur Team Championship and the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur. They are the markers of a time in the unpaid ranks when she was world No 1 for an unprecedented 141 weeks, and together they paint a cluttered and glorious picture of the most decorated amateur in the history of women’s golf.
But what you won’t find among the ribbons and bows and pots and pans is anything for second place. Zhang smiles about that.
Rose Zhang (above) will rank among the favourites at the Women’s Open this week
‘I started throwing them out when I was 10,’ she says. ‘I think I threw away at least like 10 or 15 of them. I had more gold medals than I did silver and I was, like, “Silver is not needed”. So I had to just throw them out.
‘What I will say is I was very competitive growing up. I was thinking, “Screw second place”. Definitely, I was pretty strict on myself in terms of be getting first.’
Zhang is a phenomenon. The sort of talent who, even at such a young age, needs to be seen to be appreciated. The sort that has been signed up by Rolex, Beats and Adidas, and the sort who came under a suffocating amount of pressure when she turned professional at the Mizuho Americas Open in June.
She was up against seven of the top 10 women in the world. She won, becoming the first to do so on debut since 1951.
‘It’s been a little crazy,’ she says. ‘I did not expect it for sure. But I’m just very glad that everything’s happening the way it is and I’m kind of going along for the ride.
‘Honestly, I didn’t expect it all. When it comes down the stretch in a tournament, it’s about more than skill, because anything can happen – you’re playing against the best players in the world. I played against the best collegiate players and amateurs in the world but when you make that jump, it’s hard to say that, “Oh, I’m gonna come out here and win”. It’s just not going to happen like that. So yeah, everything that went down the way it did, I just don’t think it was something that was in my vision or in my mind.’
What followed that win plays to the attention Zhang has drawn through her rise, but also to her potential to be a crossover star of her sport.
‘Tiger reached out to me – that was kind of crazy,’ Zhang says. ‘Also I look up to Steph Curry a lot, and he gave me a shout out which was just something that I never would have imagined. But there have also been a lot random people recognising me which is something that I wouldn’t have really expected.
‘I don’t think it’s an element of like, me being scared or intimidated, but it is certainly eye-opening to me that I have a huge presence now in whatever I’m doing. It has been pretty surreal.’
Her transition to the paid ranks has been startling, even beyond that initial win. In the three majors she has contested as a professional, she is yet to finish lower than a tie for ninth, so Zhang will rank among the favourites at Walton Heath at a time when women’s golf is already stacked with talent.
‘Everyone wants to win – who doesn’t?’ she says. ‘For me, The Open is such an amazing event. I went to the British Junior Open back in 2018 and I was just a little Junior and now I am fast forwarding to this. I feel like the sky’s the limit.’
The 20-year-old won the Mizuho Americas Open just nine days after turning professional
Zhang won 12 in 20 starts for Stanford University, passing the 11 in 26 by Tiger Woods
The comparisons to Woods, both for their early successes and the commercial rewards it has already brought, runs the risk of becoming unhealthy. A burden on a young woman who remains a student halfway through a degree at Stanford.
‘I don’t think about this a lot,’ says Zhang. ‘If I win and break one of Tiger’s records, it is definitely super cool. And I’m humbled to be able to accomplish all that. But I don’t think of it as if I have to continue to follow in his footsteps, even if people ask, “Is she the next Tiger?”
‘I believe that everyone’s timing is different. And everyone’s life path is different.’
Certainly women’s golf has not seen many quite like Zhang, nor that office wall in her parent’s home.
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