NCAA champ Zhang impresses in pro debut


JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Two-time NCAA individual champion Rose Zhang made her professional debut and gave the LPGA what was expected and needed Thursday, a solid opening round in the Mizuho Americas Open that put her in position to wow women’s golf on one of its biggest stages.

The 20-year-old from Stanford who has dominated the women’s amateur rankings for more than two years shot a 2-under-par 70 on the Liberty National Golf Course in the shadow of New York. The California resident was five shots off the early lead held by Lauren Hartlage.

Aditi Ashok, the first woman from India on the tour, was at 5-under in the event where the focus shifted to Zhang last weekend with her announcement she was turning pro. She has been considered by many as possibly the next great women’s player on tour.

Zhang didn’t dominate on her first day as a pro but she showed enough making five birdies and three bogeys on a day her putter didn’t help her. She hit fairways and greens in a round on a 6,671-yard course that features a par-3 played with the Statue of Liberty starring golfers in the face.

“This was definitely a round that could have been better, and that kind of gets me excited to work on more and to develop my game even further,” Zhang said. “I felt like I left a couple shots out there, and I think there is a lot of room for improvement.”

There were also some shots that were great. On the par-5, No. 13, she chipped in from 29-yards, coming from below the hole and having the ball cross the length of the green before falling in the hole.

The people following her group loved it. It was what they expected from the Arcadia, California, resident who has won back-to-back ANNIKA Awards (2022, 2023) and the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Her eight wins this season tied Tiger Woods for the most by a Stanford player in school history, and her 12 wins in 20 college starts are a school record.

It’s why people put her in a category with Woods.

“I don’t really have to think about other people’s expectations,” Zhang said. “Like I said before, I think of it as a compliment that they think I’m capable of more. But on the overall level, I think I have people that just want me to do the best I can and they push me to be better.”

Zhang will need to be better if Hartlage continues playing as well as she did on Thursday.

Starting on par-5, No. 10, Hartlage ignited her career-best round by hitting her second shot to within a foot and making eagle. She added five more birdies over the final 17 holes, adding it was nice to play well after struggling in her last four events.

“I feel like no one really expects me to be at the top, and it’s kind of fun just being able to just play with some of the best in the world and see how I rank,” said the 25-year-old who has two top 10 finishes since joining the tour last year.

Ashok, who has two top five finishes in her last three events, is two shots behind Hartlage after a bogey-free round.

“I just know that if I play good four days, then I’ll have a pretty good chance,” Ashok said.

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