NCAA Women's Championship
Stanford's Rose Zhang on historic run, becomes first two-time NCAA Division I individual champion
The past is not necessarily prologue in golf, a game generally too capricious to accommodate prognostication. Yet Stanford’s sophomore star Rose Zhang has arrived at the brink of disproving that supposition.
Zhang, still only 19, won her second consecutive NCAA Division I individual championship on Monday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was her eighth victory in 10 starts in the 2022-23 season, and likely was the denouement to a remarkable amateur career. She is expected, with nothing else to prove in amateur golf, to move on to professional golf following the NCAA team competition that will conclude on Wednesday.
No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Zhang began the final round trailing Catherine Park of USC by four strokes, then methodically erased the deficit and closed with a virtually flawless four-under-par 68 to win by one over Park and Lucia Lopez-Ortega of San Diego State. She completed 72 holes in 10-under-par 278.
“She’s the absolute GOAT,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “She is the best amateur of all time.”
The victory was a third straight individual national title for Stanford players, Zhang’s back-to-back wins following Rachel Heck’s victory in 2021. Meanwhile, the Stanford team, the defending national champion, was the top seed of eight teams to advance to match play that begins on Tuesday. Also qualifying, in order of seeding, were Texas, Wake Forest, South Carolina, USC, Florida State, Texas A&M and Pepperdine.
Zhang’s record that includes her being the first player in women’s golf to win two NCAA individual championship, requires a look to the past, to 2002, when Arizona sophomore Lorena Ochoa also won eight of her 10 starts and was the NCAA Player of the Year for the second straight year. That season, Ochoa's other two finishes were runner-up showings, meaning she was beaten by just two players the entire school year. (Zhang's "worst" finish was a T-12.) Ochoa turned professional and went on to win 27 times on the LPGA before cutting her career short to start a family, and is member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
A blueprint was provided by Ochoa, and Zhang’s amateur résumé strongly suggests she’s already on a similar path. She has been No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for more than 2½ years. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2020 at 17, and tied for 11th in an LPGA major, the ANA Inspiration, a month later. In 2021, she won the U.S. Girls' Junior, and won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2023.
Moreover, this was her 12th college victory, a Stanford record, in 20 starts, one more win that Tiger Woods, Patrick Rodgers and Maverick McNeely had in their careers at Stanford.
“It’s incredible,” Zhang said. “The national championships, there were so many Division I teams coming into this week and so many elite athletes out there. These record books are simply incredible, and I’m forever thankful to be a part of it.”
Zhang was unaware of where she stood coming to the par-5 18th hole. She hit her tee shot down the middle, at which point Walker approached her.
“I didn’t even know what was going on,” Zhang said. “When I was walking down 18 coach was, ‘you should lay up.’ I was confused. I had 198 [yards to the pin].”
Walker explained the situation, that she was leading by one, and to hit wedge-wedge to the green.
“I can’t believe this happened,” Zhang said. “I couldn’t be more thankful and I appreciate everyone who has supported me.”