Still a student-athlete

Rose Zhang begins 2024 with much more than golf on her agenda

January 17, 2024

Michael Reaves

Rose Zhang arrived at her press conference Wednesday at the LPGA's Tournament of Champions with a never-ending list of responsibilities on her mind. She stayed up until 1 a.m. the night before doing homework for her week-old winter quarter at Stanford before a 7:30 a.m. pro-am. She is learning the gaps in yardage between her new Callaway irons, which she's putting into play this week. Zhang finished her second move after relocating from Southern California to Las Vegas and recently returning to the Bay Area for classes. Zhang, 20, is also grappling with a stomach issue that is causing excess bloating, which she explained was due to extra stress from her rookie season.

"There has been a lot of moving parts. It's been fun," Zhang said.

At least after this week, Zhang can focus on everything away from the course instead of the LPGA. The rising star will only play this event between now and mid-March when the tour returns to the United States, skipping out on four tournaments to focus on her four classes at Stanford. Already, she's hearing grumbling from professors about missing the second week of the quarter.

Zhang will likely only play once in the early part of the season for the next few years, as she intends to take a similar course load every winter to graduate in 2026. The Arcadia, Calif. native is about halfway done with classes toward earning her communications degree.

The time spent at Stanford is not only about finishing her education but is a needed respite for Zhang from the spotlight she resides under. Instead of the self-described people-pleaser having to learn to manage her on and off-course responsibilities, she slides right in amongst an excelling group of peer students.

"You're kind of just a fish in the sea where you can do whatever you want and you prioritize your own kind of needs and responsibilities," Zhang said.

Those needs include dealing with her stomach issues. Her body has not been processing food like it did before her extensive travel last year. She would eat vegetables and feel bloated, which is not what Zhang was accustomed to her body doing. She is working with a nutritionist who has Zhang cutting down on gluten and dairy and anticipates getting healthy over the next few months.

She'll also have plenty of time to figure out her new clubs, particularly her new putter. She explained that her putting has disappeared since the AIG Women's British Open last August. In turn, Zhang has been focused on learning what feels good, tinkering with lie angles and setup to visualize the ball going in. With the shortened offseason, having played in the Grant Thornton Invitational only a month ago, Zhang hasn't spent much time practicing. Zhang also switched out her irons for a different style for the first time since she was 13.

"I'm not trying to tweak anything in my game, but rather in my clubs because there is some significant need to change," Zhang explained.

There is an opportunity cost for Zhang stepping away from the tour for her classes. She limits her chances of moving up the Rolex Women's Rankings by missing out on the next few tournaments, which is particularly important this year with the Olympics set for mid-summer. The 60-player field will be finalized June 24, and Zhang will spend two of the remaining five months away from the LPGA. She is currently No. 25 in the Rolex Rankings and must either be one of the top two Americans or among the top four if Zhang is inside the top 15 of the rankings to qualify.

Instead of Zhang worrying about the possibility of those falling through, she appreciates the opportunity to continue her studies, noting that few athletes get the chance to finish their education.

"Obviously there is a lot of big-time events coming up with the Olympics, Solheim, but in my own mind, if I play well in the events that I have, then naturally I'll have the opportunity to play those events," Zhang said.