Can Zhang's sequel surpass original?

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Winning in her debut performance just two weeks ago, Rose Zhang demonstrated a clear superstar persona for women's professional golf. M. James Ward examines the impact already created and how the expectations ahead will only grow with each tournament played.
Posted on
June 23, 2023
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Springfield, NJ. If superstars could grow on trees, then all sports organizations would grow a forest and mass produce them. That's wishful thinking obviously.

The emergence of Rose Zhang has clearly struck a nerve. Less than two weeks after turning professional, Zhang won in her inaugural performance as a professional golfer. The first time that has happened since 1951. The expectations were high going into the Mizuho Americas Open in nearby Jersey City and Rose bloomed brighter than anyone imagined.

Now the former Stanford star returns to the Garden State to compete in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at storied Baltusrol Golf Club. Zhang showed resolve in her first round Thursday despite bogeying two of her first four holes and finished the round in strong fashion with three birdies and no additional bogies for a first-round tally of one-under-par 70.

She sits four shots behind sole first round leaser Lee-Anne Pace who scored a five-under-par 66 in the second major championship for the world's best female players.

Superstars in any sport possess a number of intangibles. Clearly, one has to produce when competing. But a connection to a broader range of fans goes beyond just performance alone. Zhang has clearly been embraced by fans who marvel at her genuine warm personality and superbly effective golf game. The "it" factor is hard to define with total certainty. But Zhang's emergence could be the key spark for an LPGA in need of raising its overall profile.

Women's golf has struggled to break through the array of different sports and having a person who can resonate on a number of levels has been missing since the glory days when Michelle Wie West was strolling the fairways.

The 20-year-old from California is fully aware that managing her time is no small issue in going forward now.

"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. There's a lot more obligations that you have to do as a professional," said Zhang. "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. I feel like as an amateur, you take it for granted where you can just be out on the range, no one is talking to you."

At each step of her golf journey the bloom of Rose has been front and center. Her collegiate career was impressive -- surpassing a fellow Cardinal who goes by the name of Tiger Woods.

Professional golf is about dealing with a myriad of matters. Getting a fixed focus on competing lies at the core of Zhang and the win so quickly at Mizuho proved to her the next step on her golf journey was the right move.

"(I)t 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," said Zhang.

Major championships are legacy creators. Having a stage like Baltusrol Golf Club places women's professional golf on the same level as previous men's events played at a club that has hosted seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championship with a third coming in 2029.

Zhang displays a confidence in her abilities but never to the point of arrogance. Quiet strength with firm resolve centered within her. Above all else, a positive sense in looking forward to what shakes out this week.

"Definitely. I think it's a great challenge. No matter what, I've been taught to never give up and always face your challenges, regardless of what happens. As long as you try, as long as you do your best to complete your responsibilities or do what you need to do, that's kind of just how you should live life," said Zhang. "Even if you don't succeed, even if you don't play well, whatever, it's always going to be all right. There's always going to be up trends that you can have and you can work to improve for the better. Even with the bunch of interview requests and all the commotion happening, I've just been taking it in my stride, and I'm taking it all in."

Can this Rose bloom even brighter? The signs are definitely present.

The emergence of Woods changed the nature of men's golf. Zhang has the potential to do that for women's professional golf.

We shall see.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

KPMG Women's PGA Championship 2023

Date: June 22nd - 25th 2023

Location: Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower Course) | Springfield, New Jersey

Purse: $10,000,00

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