TRINITY, Texas — Rose Zhang and Stanford University teammate Rachel Heck are the top two amateur golfers in the world and lead a world-class American women's team this week at the Spirit International Golf Championship.
It's a team competition but many eyes will be on Zhang. The college freshman and reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion won her first three events as a Cardinal. That led to comparisons with Tiger Woods, who did not even win his first three events at Stanford.
Now Zhang is in the three-day event at Whispering Pines Golf Club in tiny Trinity, Texas, 60 miles northwest of Houston. The event features an international field of men and women from 20 countries and is dubbed the Olympics of amateur golf. U.S. Amateur champion James Piot and the Texas A&M's Sam Bennett represent the United States on the men's side.
Zhang received the Mark H. McCormack Medal, awarded to the No. 1-ranked female amateur, for a second time during the opening ceremonies. Her accomplishments, including a T-11 in the LPGA's 2020 ANA Inspiration, have positioned Zhang as the most celebrated American female amateur golfer since Michelle Wie. Spirit International U.S. captain Stacy Lewis, who played with Zhang in an LPGA event, said she is a better player than Wie at the same age.
Before the start of this week’s competition, the Irvine, Calif., native took time to speak with us about the pleasures and pressures of being Rose Zhang:
Sports Illustrated/Morning Read: What is it like to play in a team event like the Spirit International after playing so well in amateur and college events as an individual?
Rose Zhang: The biggest difference is individually you have to play in the moment and you mainly battle against yourself. As a partner, both of you have to create good vibes and get together well on the golf course.
SI/MR: Did all the success you’ve had on the golf course as an amateur, World No. 1, U.S. Women's Amateur and U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur champion come as a surprise to you or did you expect it?
Zhang: I wouldn’t say I expected it. I was very surprised and blessed. It’s very hard to expect to win every time because you never know what is going to happen. Everybody works equally hard to be able to come out on top so I’m honored and very blessed to do that. Going into college, I didn’t know what to expect. Playing in tournaments and seeing my name on top, I’m very thankful.
SI/MR: Going to play college golf at Stanford, did you expect comparisons to Tiger Woods?
Zhang: I didn’t think about any comparison to Tiger. I'm sure there is nobody who doesn’t know his name in golf. So seeing my name compared to his in the same sentence, it was like, 'Wow!' It’s a really cool moment. I haven’t talked to him but I do know coach (Ann) Walker texted him with my name and his name. His response, 'She is a decent player, but is she better than Rachel Heck?' We got a big kick out of that.”
SI/MR: Is it a fun thing or is there a lot of pressure to be World No. 1 and to have so many things expected of you?
Zhang: To me it’s not exactly pressure. The more people talk about me, the more I think I’m on the right track, and will just continue to try to play hard and get better. The pressure that comes to me is more pressure on myself. I want to excel with everything that I do. The outside pressure is being more aware of myself and my scores. They place me on a high pedestal and I’m going along for the ride.
SI/MR: Tiger Woods was at Stanford for two years before turning pro, do you see yourself there for two years?
Zhang: I’m definitely going to continue to go to college for now. I love what I’m doing and where I am. I don’t have any other plans for now. I’m still in the first quarter of my freshman year. We’ll just see how my game goes from there.
SI/MR: What is it like being around LPGA veteran and Sprit International captain Stacy Lewis, who has done what you want to do in professional golf?
Zhang: It’s so wonderful to know her as a player and captain. She is one of the best in the world. So it’s cool to see what she has done and I want to do in golf.