NCAA champ Zhang becomes 1st LPGA Tour winner in pro debut in 72 years, wins Mizuho in playoff
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Rose Zhang lived up to all the pre-tournament hype as the next great women’s golfer — at least in her first week as a pro.
The two-time NCAA champion became the first player in 72 years to win on the LPGA Tour in her pro debut, capturing the Mizuho Americas Open with a par on the second playoff hole against Jennifer Kupcho on Sunday.
Zhang arrived on the LPGA Tour with the most fanfare since Michelle Wie West in 2005, and she delivered in the shadow of the Big Apple.
“I just can’t believe it,” Zhang said. “It was just last week when I won NCAAs with my teammates, and to turn pro and come out here, it’s just been amazing. I’ve enjoyed the journey.”
The span was actually 13 days.
The last female player to win as a pro in her debut was Beverly Hanson, who edged Babe Zaharias to take the Eastern Open in 1951.
The performance was so impressive it drew the attention of fellow Stanford product Tiger Wood.
“Incredible few weeks for Rose Zhang, defends her NCAA title and then wins in her Pro debut. Go card!” Woods tweeted.
Zhang smiled broadly when told, adding she has not had a chance to look at her phone since the tournament ended.
“My reaction says it all,” said Zhang, who said she did not look at a scoreboard until the 16th hole and did not know her position in the field.
It really never changed. She started in the lead and never lost it.
South Korean rookie Hae Ran Ryu (70) was third at 8 under. Aditi Ashok of India, Ayaka Furue of Japan and Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea were at 7 under. Ashkeigh Buhai of South Africa, Leona Maguire of Ireland and Yuka Saso of Japan finished at 6 under, three shot behind the leaders.
Zhang shot a 2-over 74 in the final round and squandered a chance to win in regulation when she missed an 8-foot par putt after making at least a half-dozen clutch saves in a gritty final round performance.
The much-heralded 20-year-old from Stanford made a nearly identical 8-footer on No. 18 at Liberty National on the first playoff hole. Kupcho, who won an NCAA title at Wake Forest in 2018 and had a final round 69, also made a par.
Both players hit the fairway on No. 18 on the second playoff hole, but Zhang hit her approach from the fairway within 10 feet. Kupcho was short on her approach, her first putt went just over the back edge of the green and the second putt just missed. That left Zhang with two putts for the win.
While disappointed to lose, Kupcho was happy with her performance.
“On this grass I’m always the best,” Kupcho said. “We’re starting to hit in this type of grass going forward, so I’m excited to see where the season goes.”
Zhang held her face in disbelief after the winning putt fell as players celebrated with her by giving her red roses, similar to when she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Zhang, who was playing on a sponsor exemption, did not have a birdie in her final round and finished at 9-under 279.
Zhang turned pro last week after the NCAAs and much was expected right away. She was the top-ranked women’s amateur for 141 weeks and won every big women’s amateur event — the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Junior Girls, the NCAAs and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The victory was worth $412,500 and it also earned Zhang an automatic LPGA Tour membership, which she accepted — although she is skipping next week’s event near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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