Rose Zhang lived up to the pre-event hype that she was the next great women’s golfer, at least in her first week as a professional.
With a par on the second playoff hole against Jennifer Kupcho on Sunday, the two-time NCAA champion became the first player in 72 years to win on the LPGA Tour in her professional debut.
Zhang made her LPGA Tour debut in the shadow of New York City with the most fanfare since Michelle Wie West did so in 2005.
“I just can’t believe it,” Zhang said. “It was just last week when I won NCAAs with my teammates, and to turn pro and come out here, it’s just been amazing. I’ve enjoyed the journey.”
Actually, the duration was 13 days.
Beverly Hanson was the last professional woman to win in her debut, beating Babe Zaharias to win the Eastern Open in 1951.
Tiger Wood, a fellow Stanford graduate, was impressed by Zhang’s performance.
“Incredible few weeks for Rose Zhang, defends her NCAA title and then wins in her Pro debut. Go card!” Woods tweeted.
Zhang grinned extensively while told, adding she had not gotten an opportunity to see her telephone since the competition finished.
“My reaction says it all,” said Zhang, who added she did not look at a scoreboard until the 16th hole and did not know her position in the field.
It really remained constant. She took the lead from the start and never lost it.
South Korean youngster Hae Ran Ryu (70) was third at 8 under. India’s Aditi Ashok, Japan’s Ayaka Furue, and South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji were at 7 under. Yuka Saso of Japan, Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa, Leona Maguire of Ireland, and Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa all finished at 6 under, three shots behind the leaders.
After making at least a half-dozen crucial saves in a gritty final-round performance, Zhang shot a 2-over 74 in the final round and missed an 8-foot par putt, giving up a chance to win in regulation.
Stanford’s much-anticipated 20-year-old made a nearly identical 8-footer on No. 18 at Freedom Public on the main season finisher opening. Kupcho, who had a final-round 69 and won an NCAA title at Wake Forest in 2018, also parred.
The two players hit the fairway on No. 18 on the subsequent season finisher opening, however Zhang hit her methodology from the fairway inside 10 feet. Kupcho’s approach was short; her first putt went just over the green’s back edge, and her second putt went just wide. Zhang was left with two putts to win.
Kupcho was pleased with her performance despite her disappointment at losing.
“On this grass I’m always the best,” Kupcho said. “We’re starting to hit in this type of grass going forward, so I’m excited to see where the season goes.”
Similar to when she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, players celebrated with Zhang by giving her red roses. Zhang held her face in disbelief as the winning putt fell.
Zhang, who was playing with a sponsor exemption, finished at 9-under 279 and without a birdie.
Following the NCAAs last week, she became a professional, prompting a lot of anticipation. Zhang won every major women’s amateur event—the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Junior Girls, the NCAAs, and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur—while holding the top ranking for 141 weeks.
Zhang accepted an automatic LPGA Tour membership in exchange for her victory on Sunday, which was worth $412,500, despite her decision to skip the event next week in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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