Long talked about as a future global golfing superstar, former world no.1 women’s amateur Rose Zhang burst onto the LPGA Tour last month when the 20-year-old American won the Mizuho Americas Open in her very first event playing as a professional. More titles and more fame look certain. A lot more.
What were expectations coming into your first event as a pro? Did you really think that you had a chance of winning it?
The short answer is ‘no’. I honestly didn’t even expect to make the cut, and the reason why I say this is because I don’t think about my expectations a lot. I think about playing the golf course. I think about trying to shoot the best score that I can. Obviously, I have frustrations, disappointments with my game, but I never once think about where I should or might finish. So with that mindset, the expectation for me winning did not even cross my mind. I was just playing my game. I was having a good time out there. This is the game that I love, and I’m so thankful to be doing it as a professional now and hopefully getting paid to do it!
It took Annika Sorenstam 34 starts to win her first LPGA Tour event, Lorena Ochoa 33, and Lydia Ko ten. You do it first time out. How do you put your achievement into perspective against those great players?
First of all, I did not know that stat, but that’s just so cool. To be honest, I really don’t think about the stats, and certainly not about when and where I should be winning tournaments, but to know I’m in a good place is just amazing. I just want to keep improving and doing better and we’ll see what the future holds. For now, I’m just soaking it all in.
What factors affected the timing of your decision to turn pro?
At the beginning of my college career in 2021, I told my coach that I wanted to pursue professional golf in the future, but I didn’t know whether it would be after I’d finished my degree or whether it would be during my time at college, but one thing is for sure: I wanted to finish my degree.
The second factor was that I wanted to see how well I played in college golf. I believe that if you’re not able to conquer one stage, then you won’t be able to go on to the next one. College golf has turned out well, so I thought, okay, now I can see where the trend is going. I see that I have the potential to move to the next stage, so I think it’s time to make a plan to make that happen.
I’ve had great support from the people around me in coming to this decision – my family, agents, coaches, all of them have had their input. I’ve taken their advice very seriously, and from there I ultimately decided that it was time for the next stage and here we are. Being able to turn pro while still being at college and finishing my degree is the ideal result.
You’ve struck up a friendship with Michelle Wie, who you’ve said that you’ve always been inspired by her achievements in and outside the game. What does it mean to have that support coming through the ranks, and now as you enter the professional part of your career?
Michelle has been a massive influence on women’s golf and a huge mentor for me. For her to come out and support me is just so incredible. She’s just such a great person to have as a friend and someone to turn to. She was actually one of the main influences behind my decision to turn pro while still at university. She was at Stanford too, and has done it before, and she told me that I could definitely do it. That gave me the confidence to try it. Seeing her standing by the 18th green brought me to tears. She gave me some great advice before the final round, via a text, she told me just to have fun, go out there, and get the job done. I’m really thankful for everything she’s done for me over many years.
Did your experience of winning the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in March help you grind it out to win the play-off at the Mizunho Americas Championship?
It’s quite interesting, because I feel like once I finished on 18 and signed my scorecard I knew I was going back out there. It felt exactly like the Augusta National. Even though playoffs are never comfortable, I felt like it was such a familiar position that I’ve been in before that when I went out there, there wasn’t any other thoughts other than the next shot. So, yeah, when I went out there with Jennifer [Kupcho], and all I was thinking about was ‘hit the fairway, hit the green, try to make the putt’. Very simple, but that’s ultimately all I was thinking about.
You’re already being looked at as a role model for kids younger than you to bring them into the game. When did you first feel like you had a platform, and what’s been the best advice you’ve been given on how to use it?
I will say I’ve started realising my influence on juniors in my area, especially playing AJGA and playing Rolex TOC, being Rolex Player of the Year twice. In my last Rolex TOC event I was 17 and there were a bunch of 12, 13 year olds just entering the AJGA scene. They asked for my signature, and it was quite a shock because I’m in the same tournament as them. But that’s when I first realised that, hey, people know me. It’s important to be a good role model, as they are pretty much watching your every move to gain inspiration.
How do you switch the mindset from playing as amateur one week to playing as the pro the next or are you still in a transition phase somewhere in between?
The transition has only just started, but I’m trying to make that switch between the two as quick and as seamless as I can. I will say that this has been an incredible experience so far, but going forward, I understand that there are going to be a few bumps in the road, and I’m expecting a lot of obstacles that I’ll have to face, but I’m just going to continue to learn from inside the ropes.
You seem very relaxed and calm on the golf course. Is this how you are generally or is it some sort of Zen golf-mode?
For the most part, I would say I have a very chilled, calm demeanour. I don’t have too many ups and downs in terms of my personality. I think being able to be the lay low kind of person compared to my friends and the people around me is my character trait. There was this joke in my first year at college, although my teammates would probably not agree with me now, but everyone thought that I was dead inside and that I just don’t show any emotion. I kind of played along with it as I thought it was funny, but I do kind of lije to keep things contained.
Have you set yourself any goals on what you might achieve over the remaining pro tournaments you have this year?
I don’t really have any expectations in terms of performance. It’s more of understanding what I need to do as a professional. I have four majors to play in and maybe four other events, so I just need to learn how to take care of myself, my golf game, find out what works well for at every event that I’m playing in. I think the struggles that some players have competing on the LPGA Tour mostly relate to the lifestyle and the dynamic of travelling and playing for a living rather than just a hobby. I think I’ll be having to work out my time management, and how to make that work for me.
You’ve been playing Callaway equipment since you were 13. How has it been to have their support during your amateur days and now that you’re a pro?
I’ve used Callaway clubs and balls in every one of my wins since I was a junior, and that gives me so much confidence when I’m out on the course, knowing that it works for me and that I feel comfortable with it. I switched straight into the new Paradym driver when it came available to me, and I’m really happy with my Rogue ST fairway woods and all the rest of my equipment right now.
WHAT’S IN ROSE’S BAG?
Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond LS (9°)
3-wood: Callaway Rogue ST LS (13.5°, 18°)
Hybrid: Callaway Paradym (21°)
Irons: Callaway Apex 21 (5-AW)
Wedges: Callaway Jaws Raw (54°, 58°)
Putter: Odyssey Tri-Hot 5K Double Wide
Ball: Callaway Chrome Soft X