Irvine’s Rose Zhang, 16, has stood atop the American Junior Golf Association rankings for more than 53 weeks.

America’s No.1 junior golfer

by LORI BASHEDA

An Irvine teen has risen to No. 8 in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Rose Zhang has also been No. 1 in the American Junior Golf Association rankings for more than 53 weeks.

The 16-year-old phenom is a junior at Pacific Academy in Irvine, where she holds a 4.6 GPA, which is all the more amazing since she missed 50 days of school last year for tournaments.

If you’ve ever played at Oak Creek Golf Club, you may have seen her out on the course. She practices every day after school.

The highlight of her career so far: taking a celebratory leap into Poppie’s Pond at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage after winning the 2018 ANA Junior Inspiration. She jumped in with LPGA Hall of Fame champ Patty Sheehan.

“That was a big deal,” she says, laughing.

She also got to play at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in Georgia last spring. Only the top 30 American women were invited. Zhang made the final round and finished 17th.

“It was amazing,” Zhang says. “We got so much TV coverage. It was really a special day for women in golf. Women used to not be allowed to even practice there.”

Zhang is the only high school student, by the way, among the top 20 female amateur golfers in the world. “In the golf circles I’m pretty well known, but at school I really don’t say anything,” she told me. When she’s not golfing, she can be found doing homework, surfing the web, watching Chinese variety shows and hanging out with friends.

Zhang has a verbal commitment to golf for Stanford University after high school. Someday she hopes to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.

“I’m confident I have a chance,” she says.

Zhang started playing when she was 9 after she picked up one of her dad’s golf clubs and took a swing. Within a couple of months, she was competing in tournaments.

“I really love the game of golf,” she says. “It’s a passion.”

She cites her putting game as one of her strengths.

“And my ability to play under pressure is pretty good.” Before nodding off the night before tournaments, Zhang likes to mentally prepare herself by listening to audio recordings of the Bible.

“It helps make me relax and believe in what I do,” she says.

Zhang has a snapshot of herself with Irvine’s best-known golfer: Tiger Woods. She asked for it while rep- resenting America at the Junior Ryder Cup in Paris in 2018. Maybe someday Woods will ask for a snapshot with her.