The most important person Rose Zhang impressed with her maiden LPGA win? Try the U.S. Solheim Cup captain
U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis missed the cut at the Mizuho Americas Open last week but kept a close eye on the finish as Rose Zhang played her way into becoming eligilbe to compete this year in Spain.
Missing the cut at last week’s Mizuho Americas Open gave U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis no respite. After Rose Zhang's historic victory at Liberty National, Lewis needed to confirm that the amateur phenom who became the first woman to win an LPGA event in her pro debut in 72 years would indeed be eligible for the 2023 U.S. Solheim Team after earning her LPGA Tour membership.
"I called the tour to just kind of get my ducks straight and make sure I understood everything correctly," Lewis said.
Reassured of Zhang’s new eligibility upon accepting her tour membership, Lewis could breathe easier given the decision she and her assistant captains made the previously week when the 20-year-old turned professional. That’s when they put Zhang into their Solheim stats system, which they're using to help fill out their roster and identify potential pairings, even if Lewis was thinking it was more likely Zhang would first make the team in 2024.
Lewis has been curious about Zhang since playing alongside her during the final round of the 2020 ANA Inspiration, where the then 17-year-old shot the lowest score by an amateur (68) in the tournament's history.
Lewis captained Zhang at the 2021 Spirit International Amateur, where she helped lead the Americans to the team while winning the individual championship by three. With Lewis's husband, Gerrod Chadwell, as the head coach of the Texas A&M's women's golf team, she kept tabs on her record-breaking collegiate dominance during her two years at Stanford.
"It sounds like a broken record, but she's able to handle the big stages, and she stays very calm on the golf course," Lewis said. "It's a lot of things, but just mainly her playing ability means she's that good."
Lewis highlighted Zhang's value in how she closed out her Mizuho Americas Open victory. Despite the mixed emotions of seeing two potential Solheim players, Jennifer Kupcho and Zhang, go toe-to-toe in the playoff, Lewis was happy to see Zhang go out and win after a birdie-free Sunday.
Rose Zhang needed to be a LPGA member to qualify for the Solheim Cup, a task she accomplished with her win in her pro debut.
"You know how many people would've three-putted it at some point or gotten upset and hit a wayward shot?" Lewis said. "She kept herself in that golf tournament without her best stuff. That's what I want to see out of all of my players on my team."
While Zhang can now earn Solheim Cup points, she did not get any for her win, meaning she has lots of catch-up to do to make the 2023 team heading to Spain in September that way. She can also automatically qualify via her Rolex Ranking—the top-two ranked players not in off the points list will make the American. Zhang is now ranked 62nd, but likely need to get into the mid-30s to have a chance.
There are 11 tournaments, including three majors, before the final qualifying event in August (CPKC Women's Open). With that much runway, there's plenty of room for movement in the world rankings and the U.S. Solheim points list. And if she doesn’t Lewis could of course use one of her three captain’s picks on Zhang. Lewis said she and assistants plan to contemplate who might get a pick when there's a clearer picture of the roster.
"I'd love to see her go earn it herself, which I think she can," Lewis said. "She's creeping up Rolex there pretty fast, so I wouldn't be surprised if she makes her way on the team herself."
Regardless, Zhang clearly announced herself as a prime Solheim candidate for Lewis. The captain noted Zhang would be a “huge addition” to the team. Her talent is raising the bar on what it will take to make the trip to Spain this upcoming September.
"I think it's got everybody else probably a little bit on edge of, 'Here she comes,' you know, there's maybe one less spot to play for," Lewis said. "So I think competition's great from that side."