When it comes to legendary rookie seasons, a precocious golfer is poised to join the ranks of Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, and Michael Jordan: In June, at just 20 years old, Rose Zhang became the first LPGA player in 72 years to win her professional-debut tournament.
Just a few years ago, the California native was torn between enrolling at Stanford University and going pro. Zhang ultimately ended up taking the collegiate route, where she had a stellar amateur career that fast-tracked her ascent to stardom. As a freshman, the phenom set the NCAA single-season scoring record and took home her first individual title. By the end of her sophomore year, she had amassed 12 victories in her college career, surpassing a record held by fellow Cardinal Tiger Woods.
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Two weeks after nabbing her second-straight NCAA championship—the first woman golfer in history to do so—she leaped to the big leagues. At this year’s Mizuho Americas Open, her very first pro outing, Zhang lived up to the hype, exhibiting nerves of steel as she bested major champion Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff. “It was crazy,” Zhang told ESPN. “And it was all a blur. But it was so special to me.”
Since then, she has become the only competitor in the tour’s history to finish in the top 10 in all three of her major starts. In June, she tied for eighth at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and in July tied for ninth at both the U.S. Women’s Open and the Amundi Evian Championship. This September, Zhang was one of only five rookies to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the Solheim Cup in Spain. Then in October, she competed for her second tour title in the Maybank Championship in Malaysia where she finished in a tie for third and set a new personal scoring record in the process.
Zhang seems to be wearing her laurels lightly, saying, “I’m still learning the ropes—this is my first year. I have no idea what’s going to happen.” The rest of us could make an educated guess.