Shortly before Rose Chan took the mic on Tuesday, Michelle Wee West laughed and said: “Chan said she may have had more weeks as the world’s No. 1 amateur female golfer than Wee West had as an amateur.”
This was an exaggeration, even though Wee West turned pro at 15 and Chan was on top for over 140 weeks. But it’s also ironic that Chan’s rise in women’s golf has played out differently than how other rising stars have forged their place. was also emphasized. career.
Zhang, who will make her professional debut at the America’s Open in Jersey City, N.J., this week, is seeking to bring to women’s golf a rare genius who played in American colleges. And Zhang’s career, no matter how long it lasts and whatever victories it brings, will continue to thrive on athletic development, long-term planning, and development of athletic ability, especially now that college athletes are allowed to make money in ways that were forbidden. It is inherently certain to be a case study for clever marketing. Two years ago and recently.
“I don’t think it’s time to go to the next stage and take the next step if you don’t win one stage,” 20-year-old Chan said on Tuesday. “So I wanted to see how I would fare in college golf, and it worked out.”
To say the least.
By winning the Augusta U.S. Women’s Amateur in April, she set a tournament record one day and broke it the next. She had already won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, so she completed the Women’s Amateur Golf version of the Career Grand Slam. U.S. Women’s Junior and Stanford University’s NCAA Individual Title.
Another Stanford golfer, Tiger Woods, achieved a similar feat in the 1990s. But this month, Chan won his second individual championship in NCAA play.
Woods competed at Stanford University during a very different era in college sports. At that time, NCAA players were prohibited from selling autographs or entering into sponsorship deals. As soon as Woods turned pro in 1996, sponsors poured in for him. Zhang’s timeline is moving even faster. Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Adidas announcing the signing of Zhang.
The economic potential of collegiate sports has encouraged top athletes to earn degrees and develop their talents while making money and reducing the immediate appeal of becoming a pro. The Irvine, Calif. native chose to attend college before a wave of state laws pushed the NCAA to relax rules in 2021, but those possibilities didn’t affect him much. .
But it could help shape the future of women’s golf, especially if Chan can prove that the American college game is not a dead end for the sporting world and that pre-prom professionalism is not the surest path to stardom. be. For a while it seemed so. Lilia Boo was the only female player in the Top 10 on Tuesday to play at NCAA Golf (UCLA).
Chan plans to continue his studies at Stanford University, but believes his time spent on campus was hardly wasted as he will no longer be eligible to play NCAA golf. Her tenure as a college athlete was “a very important stage for me,” she said in April. Her reason was that she longed to “understand her true self and her independence.”
She added: “It allowed me to have my own space and really understand what I was doing. It helped me improve my golf.” Because a job is a job, but you also understand that you need to work hard.” Work on it. ”
But her professional future was never in her mind. She recalled telling a coach at Stanford University on Tuesday that she was aiming to go pro from the start, even if that schedule was vague.
In his first season at Stanford, he said he never thought about playing professional golf. As her sophomore year progressed, she “felt like it was time for her to move on to the next stage,” she said.
“I feel like my mindset is very simple now. I try to adjust as much as I can to tour life and understand what it means to be a professional and what I want to do here. It’s about trying,” said Zhang, already decked out. Adidas, Callaway, Delta Air Lines and East West Bank logos. “I feel like I have a lot of time to experiment with what I want to do, so that’s a mindset that I’ve carried through my career and will continue to do.”
With no shortage of elite players in the women’s golf world, Zhang is joining the ranks of the pros. Nelly Korda, an Olympic gold medalist at the Tokyo Games, is always lurking high on the leaderboard. Lydia Ko, who became the youngest professional golfer to reach No. 1 in the world rankings in 2015, remains a player of dependable power and talent, and will be the LPGA’s prize money leader in 2022. Minzy Lee has won each major. For the past two years, Ko Jin Young-ko has returned to the top of the women’s golf rankings this month after defeating Lee in the Founders’ Cup playoffs.
But Chan may be facing the most public pressure since Wee West turned pro nearly 20 years ago. (Wee West plans to retire from competitive golf after this summer’s U.S. Women’s Open.) Zhang insisted on Tuesday that he doesn’t feel particularly vulnerable to expectations, but he took that as a compliment. trying to It’s not a request to “get out there and win every time.”
“Growing up, my family and those around me had high expectations of what I should do, not just as a competitor and golfer, but as a person, so I was able to meet those morals and people. I go back to myself, I’m an individual,” she said. “It allows me to go to the golf course and think, ‘Okay, it’s another round of golf today.'” Even if it didn’t work out, life still has a lot to offer. ”
After the inaugural America’s Open at Liberty National Golf Club, Chan is expected to compete in the events that will make up the rest of women’s golf’s major circuits this year. The Women’s PGA Championship will be held in June at Baltuslol, followed by the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach in July, which will also host the Evian Championship. The Women’s British Open at Walton Heath in August rounds out the majors.
Zhang played in three majors last year, her best being tied for 28th at the Women’s British Open. (She did not compete in the Chevron Championship, where she tied for 11th in 2020, and instead played and won the Pac-12 Conference Individual Championship.)
She said she has no short-term expectations for performance. This year will be her year of finding her own way, and the world will see if her ways work out.