124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2


As Rose Zhang focuses on her pro debut, managing expectations becomes the challenge


David Cannon

It's been a hectic four days for Rose Zhang, packing up bags from Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she successfully (and historically) defended her NCAA title last week, for Liberty National as she makes her professional debut at the LPGA’s Mizuho Americas Open in New Jersey.

"Safe to say that the last 48 hours have been incredibly chaotic," Zhang said on Tuesday as she prepares to play for pay for the first time. "I'm enjoying every moment and everyone has been treating me so well and gotten me through the ropes of professional golf a little bit."

Zhang's team celebrated the season last Friday, the day after her 20th birthday. The Stanford sophomore intends to finish her degree, so she also spent time completing her makeup quizzes, exams and essays. Then, Saturday, she flew to New Jersey.

Upon arriving at Liberty National, Zhang has soaked in every aspect of her professional debut in the early going, from talking with friends she grew up playing junior golf with to asking the press conference moderator what platforms they'd be streaming on.

"This is interesting," Zhang said in awe as she looked around the room before getting taking questions.

It's a new reality for a player who shared an Instagram post earlier in the day thanking her multitude of sponsors. While she's shifting gears to the professional ranks, with eight starts already lined up this summer, including the remaining four majors of the season, the weight of expectations remains.

With her historic amateur career, Zhang could serve as the titular character in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. She was compared to Tiger Woods' debut nearly 30 years ago and her ties to him by being a fellow Cardinal and represented by the same agency. Zhang explained she only intended to turn professional if she felt she conquered the collegiate level, which her 12 NCAA victories would certainly signal—along with a U.S. Women’s Amateur and Augusta National Women’s Amateur title.

Her fellow Cardinal and amateur star in her own right, Michelle Wie West, believes in her immense talent. "I think she's going to do great," Wie West said. "I think she is a rock star and I cannot wait to see what she does on tour."

Yet Zhang is trying to stay grounded, managing her own expectations while others are trying to predict her future.

"A lot of people do expect me to play well," Zhang said. "They expect me to win. If I do win, they're like, ‘oh, she was supposed to.’ But I would say [that] I take it as a compliment. They think I have the ability to go out there and win every single time, so might as well just try and see if I can live up to those expectations."

As for what Zhang wants to learn in 2023, she acknowledges she hopes to earn a tour card in her eight starts. That's only possible with a win or the less-traveled road of finishing with the equivalent of a top 40 CME points year. Instead, she's honing in on learning the challenges of the day-to-day life of an LPGA player.

"The struggles that a player has mostly pertains to the lifestyle and the entire dynamic of playing golf as a career rather than just a hobby," Zhang said. "So I think I'll be figuring out what time management really is, and how that would fare well with me."

That learning journey begins with hitting her first shot Thursday.