Thursday, May 30, 2024

Rose Zhang shows her class with second LPGA Tour title – Irish Golfer Magazine

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Rose Zhang is back. Nearly a year after shocking the golf world by winning in her first start as a professional on the LPGA Tour, Zhang has once again found victory lane on the biggest stage in women’s golf, playing her final five holes in 4-under to win by two shots over Madelene Sagstrom at Upper Montclair Country Club.

Zhang was one shot behind the Swede to start the final round, and after Sagstrom bogeyed the first hole, the pair were tied at 18-under. But Sagstrom recovered with a birdie on the par-5 2nd hole to get back to 19-under and once again move one ahead of Zhang. Zhang tied the lead with a birdie on the par-4 4th hole and then both players birdied No. 5, sitting in a tie at 20-under with 13 holes to play.

Sagstrom then made birdies on the par-3 6th and par-3 8th holes to get to 22-under, parring the ninth to lead Zhang by two shots with nine holes remaining. The 31-year-old then extended her advantage to three with a birdie on the par-5 12th hole, but Zhang wasn’t about to lie down and quit.

The 20-year-old closed the gap with a one-two punch of birdies on 14 and 15 to get to 22-under overall, and when Sagstrom bogeyed the par-4 16th hole, the duo were all tied up coming down the last two holes. Zhang birdied the par-3 17th hole to pick up another shot on Sagstrom, now sitting one stroke ahead at 23-under with only the tricky par-4 18th hole left to play.

Both Zhang and Sagstrom found the fairway off the tee and hit spectacular approach shots inside 15 feet into the challenging 18th green, with Zhang ultimately having the honor of playing first. Admittedly shaking with nerves, Zhang lined up her winning birdie putt and stroked it confidently, showing no signs of having anything but ice in her veins.

And when the ball tumbled over the edge of the cup, it was a reaction of complete relief from Zhang. She had finally captured her second victory on the LPGA Tour, a win that felt like it had eluded the young superstar for longer than necessary since she became a Rolex First-Time Winner last year in New Jersey.

“Honestly, today has been a roller coaster. I knew it was going to be a grind,” said Zhang, who carded a bogey-free, 6-under 66 in the final round. “I think coming out I had those expectations of today, I really have to find it in me to even play well, let alone win. Madelene has been playing rock-solid golf. She’s been blowing away the field, so I’ve just been trying to keep up.

“Coming down the stretch, I hit some crazy shots that I don’t know if I could hit again in that moment of pressure and was able to get it done. That putt on the last hole, I was already shaking over the putt, but just thinking, okay, let’s give it a chance, roll it. If it goes in, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s prepare ourselves for a playoff.”

This is the second time that Zhang has converted her 54-hole lead/co-lead into a victory, having also led by two shots through three rounds at the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open before going on to defeat Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff at Liberty National Golf Club. Her Cognizant Founders Cup title is her second Tour title since she accepted the immediate LPGA Tour membership offered as part of her non-member win in Jersey City, N.J. in 2023 and is Zhang’s second professional win in a span of 343 days.

If you had asked Zhang last spring if she could’ve guessed how much success she’d have this early into her tenure as a professional golfer, the young talent definitely wouldn’t have believed you.

But sitting in this moment now as a two-time LPGA Tour winner, Zhang couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunities she has over the last year and has solidified her place as a budding superstar in women’s golf.

“I was even considering not turning pro, from last May or two years back,” said Zhang. “I wanted to come out here and be able to compete against the best in the world. In order to have that, I had to work my way up. Coming out here, clearly everyone’s such incredible players with incredible resumes. Every person in the field basically has a win under their belt. I think being able to even come out with a win, coming out with two, I’m just very blessed.”

Overcoming external expectations can sometimes be a challenge for a professional athlete, and after all the accomplishments she racked up in 2023, Zhang was definitely feeling a bit of pressure coming into her first full season as an LPGA Tour member in 2024. But all those nerves are assuaged after today’s victory, and it feels like Zhang can finally relax a little bit and enjoy life on Tour a little bit more, something she’s excited to do in the coming months with some of the biggest events in the game on her summer schedule.

“Coming out here on Tour, there was a lot of expectations on me to perform, especially after what I did at Mizuho last year,” said Zhang. “Sometimes the noise did get to me a little bit, but I had such a good support group around me. I had people who really stuck in and told me to take it one at a time.

“It’s crazy to come out here. Didn’t have any expectation of having to win because I realize that it’s all just noise, and I have to be able to work at it myself and try my best to put myself in positions like this. But no matter what happened this week, I would’ve been very satisfied and it reignited my passion for the game once again.”

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