A standout Stanford freshman has done it again.
Amateur world No. 1 Rose Zhang won the NCAA women’s individual championship on Monday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona – a year after her teammate, Rachel Heck, won the title, also as a freshman.
“It means the world to me,” Zhang told Golf Channel. “I feel like coming to college was the best decision of my life.”
Zhang becomes the 10th freshman to win the women’s individual title.
A day shy of her 19th birthday, Zhang entered the final round of stroke play with a seven-shot lead and sitting at 9 under for the tournament – one of only four players at even par or better coming into Monday.
The final round didn’t prove to be any easier – for anyone – as Zhang described the course as a “brutal grind.”
A strong start, including a birdie on the par-4 second, gave way to errors as the round progressed. First, it was a double bogey at the par-3 fifth, followed by bogeys on Nos. 9, 10 and 15. Her only other birdie of the round came on the par-3 13th.
The young star’s lead was trimmed from seven shots to three by the 10th hole, with Texas A&M’s Jenny Park gaining ground. Zhang’s score dropped from 9 under to 6 under by her last bogey on the 15th, before she shot even par on the final three holes to stop the bleeding, ultimately posting a 3-over 75 for the day.
Despite it being her only round of stroke play with an over-par score – she previously posted 68-70-69 – Zhang earned the satisfaction of finishing the day knowing she was the champion.
With a little wave to her teammates and a moment-savoring pause, Zhang sunk the putt for par on No. 18 and finally let loose a smile after a day of projecting nothing but a stoic, focused demeanor.
“I saw every single inch of that golf course that I didn’t see the first three days,” Zhang said. “Knowing that I grinded through with my C-game, I’m so thankful to be here.”
Winning is nothing new for the freshman, who was born in Arcadia, California. Zhang won her first three events as a Cardinal and didn’t finish lower than 10th all season, earning All Pac-12 first-team honors.
Despite the team lead bouncing around, the individual title and an ace from Zhang’s teammate Brooke Seay on the par-3 16th were enough to make Stanford the top seed heading into Tuesday’s match play. Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA, Auburn, Florida State, San Jose State and Georgia also qualified for match play.
There won’t be any birthday celebrations for Zhang just yet, as it’s straight back to business with the Cardinal set to face the eighth-seed Bulldogs. For now, she’ll have to tide herself over with the water-bottle spray bath she got from her teammates on the 18th green.
“I have bigger ambitions than just being an individual national champion,” Zhang said. “I want to hold that trophy up with my teammates, and we’ve got a long way to go.”