Stop if you've heard this story before: A record-setting golfer at Stanford -- who took every trophy in sight during a decorated junior career, found early success at Augusta National and debuted to insane amounts of pressure -- immediately exceeds expectations as a professional.
Rose Zhang won the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday, claiming victory on the LPGA in her professional debut following a historic career at Stanford. It took extra holes as Zhang beat Jennifer Kupcho in a two-hole playoff with a par on No. 18 at Liberty National, perhaps only adding to the momentous feeling surrounding her victory.
Zhang on Sunday became the first woman to win her LPGA debut since Beverly Hanson in 1951. This after departing college as the first woman in history to win consecutive NCAA Individual Championships (2022-23). She won that second national title just 13 days ago.
"What is happening?! I just can't believe it," said Zhang, echoing everyone watching her historic win, after the round. "It was just last week when I won NCAAs with my teammates. To turn pro and come out here has just been amazing. I've enjoyed the journey."
"This golf course is rough," she continued. "I really got a bit of everything. Got a taste of the pressure. Got a taste of the wind. I tried to stay composed as always. I knew that golf was just a grind, and you really have to dig deep. once again, that's what I did. And I'm glad I'm here."
It's certainly fair to compare the start of Zhang's career to that of 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, who was similarly successful as an amateur and collegian at Stanford before finding almost immediate success as a pro on the PGA Tour. While there is no telling how the rest of Zhang's career will play out, she sure seems poised to follow in his footsteps of taking countless titles and becoming one of the greats of the game.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
After rounds of 70-69-66 over the first three days in New York, Zhang found herself playing in the final pairing on Sunday. Again, this was her first LPGA event as a professional.
She followed a bogeyfree third round with a 16-par 74 that included a bogey at the last to send her, perhaps disappointingly, into a playoff with Kupcho, who had a hell of an amateur career herself. Zhang and Kupcho are two of the four winners of the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
Both made long pars during the first replay of the 18th hole, and Zhang looked a lot more, uh, relaxed than those tuning in to see a bit of golf history.
It showed in the second playoff hole. After Zhang found the fairway, she hit the shot of the tournament with her approach onto the green as Kupcho came up short. Kupcho got too aggressive with her putt, rocketing it off the green and ultimately three-putting for bogey.
Zhang needed just two putts from the easiest two-putt distance of her life. She made the second, and the celebration of one of the great winners in amateur golf history was officially on.
Michelle Wie West, who hosted the tournament, was just beyond the green in tears. Given Wie West's history as an elite amateur and major champion, it brought even greater weight to an already meaningful moment. Zhang was briefly emotional as well.
How could you not be after such an impactful ending to a college career and subsequent professional debut?
"[The support from everyone is] incredible," she said. "I want to continue [being a role model]. I want to continue trying to carve a path for young kids to just follow their dreams. I'm just so thankful that the young kids enjoy me, enjoy my golf. I'm just so thankful for the support. I'll continue to do what I'm doing. I'll continue to fight, continue to work hard, and hopefully everyone will continue to follow along."
Zhang won won 12 times in 20 starts (!) at Stanford, including eight in 10 starts in her sophomore year. Really, she's won everything. The Pac-12 individual championship, the Annika Award (twice), the U.S. Girls Junior, the U.S. Women's Amateur, plus the aforementioned ANWA and those two NCAAs.
She holds the record for most weeks ranked as the No. 1 women's amateur golfer in the world and twice set NCAA single-season scoring average record (69.68 as a freshman, 68.81 as a sophomore).
How good was Zhang's college career? Woods won 11 times during his two-year, 26-tournament career at Stanford. That's one fewer victory than Zhang in six more events for Tiger.
All of it -- the entire week, the last month and the last 13 months of her entire extraordinary career -- portends nothing but greatness. It rarely goes like that, though, does it? How rarely do young phenoms actually exceed those expectations? Tiger obviously did more than anyone dreamed. LeBron James comes to mind. What does Zhang's future hold?
It's a different era now, of course, than it was when many of the women's golf records were set. Kathy Whitworth won 88 LPGA events, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, Annika Sorenstam won 72 times, including 10 majors. That's five short of the major record, though, which Patty Berg holds with 15. Mickey Wright won 13 with five total women getting to double-digits.
It's heady stuff, but then again, Zhang has heretofore been peerless. She won 60% of the college events she played, and while her 100% win rate as a professional certainly will not continue, nothing about this special debut made anyone believe she will do anything but continue succeeding with grace and win everything she looks at.