SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – After stunning women's golf by winning in her first event as professional, Rose Zhang will try to take the next big step when she goes for her first major victory in the Women's PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
And it's been just a month in the making for the 20-year-old Californian, who many believed was going to be the next big celebrity in her sport, similar to when Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa returned in a two-year span ending in 2010.
Zhang has gone from winning her second straight NCAA individual title to turning professional and then living up to all the hype by winning the Mizuho Americas Open earlier this month. It made her the first LPGA Tour winner in a pro debut in 72 years.
What followed was whirlwind of national television appearances, phone and in-person interviews, endorsement offers and then back to Stanford for a study week and finals, including a tough computer science test, in which all she wanted was to get a passing grade. She passed.
After some rest at home and little work on her game, Zhang returns to work Thursday, when she takes on a field that includes all 11 LPGA Tour winners this year in the second major in women's golf.
While that might intimidate some, not Zhang. Walking up the microphone on Wednesday, there was a wide smile on her face. When the questions followed, she was personable, humble, thoughtful and composed, a breathe of fresh air for any athlete.
“Biggest adjustment, I will say that I haven’t been able to work on my game as much as I was able to before as an amateur," Zhang said. ”There’s a lot more obligations that you have to do as a professional. You have a lot more press interviews, conferences, and it does take a lot out of you and a lot out of your time and energy. Therefore, I haven’t been able to grind like I usually have been."
Grinding for Zhang was going out on the range and smashing balls around for four hours. She hasn't done that recently because she was tired after a long college season and then the move into the pro ranks. This week is more fine tuning for the fourth women's event in New Jersey in seven weeks.
Other than handling the demands on her time, Zhang believes she has not changed much. She credits that to her family and friends, who have not changed in their approach to her.
Socially, she is getting more tweets, including one from Warriors guard Steph Curry, one of her role models growing up. It left her speechless.
Golf is something she handles with ease, and winning her first event only added to her confidence as she readies for her first major as a pro.
“It was more just validation for myself to say that, hey, I can compete at the highest level, and as long as I do what I need to, as long as I perform as well as I can, I’ll be able to be in contention week in and week out," she said.
World No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea and fellow 2023 multiple winner Lilia Vu, who won the Chevron Championship — this year's first of five majors — headline the field.
U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis said Zhang has to be considered for the 12-player team going to Spain to face Europe in September.
“I had her on my radar just more for 2024 because I knew it would be hard for her to win because that was the only way she was going to have a chance to play for ’23 was for her to win,” Lewis said. “So I’ve been following her, and now obviously we’re following things a little bit more closely. But like everybody else, she can still go earn her spot.”
The Solheim Cup is usually played every two years, but it is being switched to even-numbered years next year so as not to conflict with the Ryder Cup.
FAME NOT IMPORTANT WITHOUT ID CARD
Defending champion In Gee Chun had a hard time getting in the locker room at Baltusrol on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old South Korean put her LPGA identification badge in her bag Tuesday night and her caddie took it when they arrived at the course.
“I’m trying to get into the locker room, and the security person said you can’t get in there,” Chun said. “I showed them another -- a (money) clip, and she said: ‘You need extra credential card.’ But I’m sure I’m player.”
Chun said another locker room person came out and identified her.
“Oh, she’s the defending champion, so she can get in. Come in," Chun said, with a slight smile.