Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang, the No. 1 amateur in the world, is no stranger to hoisting trophies and having medals draped around her neck. But other trappings that come with being the most buzzed about collegiate golfer in years remain novel. Chatting and snapping photos with well-wishers and young fans at a PGA Tour Superstore this past weekend in Roswell, Georgia was something brand new.
“This was my first time doing this kind of meet and-greet. I grew up trying to find golf clubs at PGA Tour Superstore when I first started golf so it took me back,” Zhang says of the event to promote a new women-designed apparel collection by Adidas, one of her NIL sponsors.
“I got to see a lot of juniors who are really passionate about the game and want to pursue it further at the collegiate level and the professional level. I had such an enjoyable time and it was really cool to experience that,” Zhang adds.
She recently broke 19-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko’s record for the most consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Women’s amateur golf rankings. If her now 133-week streak in the catbird seat continues through mid-April she’ll also set a new all-time mark for total weeks as the leading female player, surpassing Leona Maguire.
You don’t reign atop the WAGR for that duration without racking up a full mantle’s worth of hardware and Zhang’s hefty haul includes the Robert Cox Trophy for winning the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy for triumphing in the United States Girls’ Junior Championship in 2021, the 2022 NCAA individual D1 Women’s Golf Championship trophy and multiple player of the year medals. This season the most dominant force in college golf continues to steamroll her competion—the ever-present fixture at the top of the leaderboard has scored W’s in five of her last six collegiate starts.
The only glaring Mount Rushmore worthy bauble missing from Zhang’s collection is the Augusta National Women’s Amateur’s flower-festooned silver chalice with a base carved from a magnolia tree.
This week will be Zhang’s fourth trip to the ANWA. Zhang has been in the mix every time out, finishing T17 in the inaugural tourney, followed up by a T3 and a T12 in the last couple editions. Drawing on her experience cultivated from her previous nine rounds played at this prestigious tourney should prove invaluable.
“I think any experience is essential for anyone and for me I think it will play a huge role in allowing myself to navigate around the golf courses and strategize how I should play, operate and prepare leading up to the tournament,” Zhang says.
The tournament is staged at Champions Retreat for the opening rounds. Those who survive the 36-hole cut move on to the finale on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. While AGNC is the big show, keeping a cool head while braving the Arnold Palmer Island nine and the Jack Nicklaus Bluff nine that comprise the tourney layout is half the battle.
“It’s arguably one of the hardest tracks in women’s amateur golf. The pressure is elevated, especially in the first two rounds with everyone trying to grab a place in that Top-30.” Zhang explains.
And it’s not like pressure diffuses one iota once players drive down Magnolia lane and find themselves walking among the blooming azaleas and putting on the lightning-fast greens of the most vaunted golf course on the planet.
“Augusta National plays very difficult and there are a lot more people watching and a lot more media coverage so being able to handle that pressure and still stay in the moment and execute every shot is pretty important,” Zhang continues.
Win or not, Zhang’s name, image, license deal count should continue to rise. In addition to Adidas, she counts East West Bank, Callaway, Uswing Sunglasses, American Express
She’s already juggling school, golf tournaments, and a steady parade of interview requests, so handling her corporate commitments is just another ball she needs to keep in the air. Her success now hinges on her time management skills just as much as it does her short game.
“There is a lot going on in that area,” Zhang admits, but is quick to add that she’s very grateful for every partnership on her plate.
“I keep that mindset in perspective as I continue to navigate around building my brand and allow myself to engage with the corporate world a little more. I think that balancing everything is still difficult. It’s never going to be easy but I’ve learned a lot about how to manage my time, and it’s ok to say no sometimes,” Zhang adds.
A side effect of increasingly lucrative NIL deals is they may keep college sports stars like her in school for longer. Zhang concurs that there is certainly an impact.
“I think this circle is getting a lot bigger and bigger and everyone is more familiar with it now. Players coming into colleges having the ability for financial gain is going to play a huge role in their decision to stay in college or not,” she says.
The PGA and LPGA Tours recently announced the Grant Thornton Invitational, a new co-ed, co-sanctioned event that debuts in December. Asked who would be her ideal partner to team up with down the line after she turns pro, Zhang pauses to consider the myriad possibilities.
“There’s a lot of people to choose from. The question is will they choose me?” After deflecting with self-deprecating humor, Zhang lands on fellow Californian Sahith Theegala.
“He’s a person I’ve known growing up and we have the same trainer. It would be really cool to be able to partner with him. We’ve talked about it here and there when we’re both in the gym. If he’s still on tour at that time that’d be really cool,” she says.
Theegala may want to firm up that commitment pronto, odds are once Zhang is on tour there will be a very long line of pros jockeying to be her playing partner for that event.
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