Irvine phenom swings for record books

Rose Zhang recently became the first golfer in 72 years to win an LPGA Tour event on the first try.

Rose Zhang first picked up a golf club when she was 9 years old. By the time she turned 18, the Pacific Academy high school graduate had become the top-ranked junior golfer in the world, with her own cheering squad, called the “Rose Buds.”

In June, Zhang, now 20 and a student at Stanford University, won the Mizuho Americas Open, her first pro event, 13 days after winning her second NCAA title. She was the first player in 72 years to win an LPGA Tour event on the first try, receiving $412,500 for the purse. That followed a college career of 12 wins in 20 tries – an even better record than Tiger Woods’.

“The expectation for me winning did not even cross my mind,” Zhang told The Wall Street Journal shortly after her victory. “I was just playing my game. I was having a good time out there. This is the game that I love, and I’m so thankful to be a professional doing it now.”

After taking her last final for the academic year, Zhang recently answered a few questions about golf, Irvine and the secret of her world-renowned composure under pressure. Her answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: What do you love the most about golf?

As a child, I used to go on the range every single afternoon with my dad. I love the competitive aspect of the sport, but I also love that I am in control of the outcome when I am on the golf course. There is always the challenge of improving!

Q: What are your best memories of growing up in Irvine?

I am so blessed to have grown up in Irvine and for my family to still be here. One of my favorite memories would be going to Oak Creek Golf Club with my friends, practicing and playing a round almost every day. It really helped build up my love for the sport.

Q: You’re currently majoring in communications at Stanford. What are your plans for after graduation?

Graduating from Stanford has always been a priority for me, and I plan to continue down that path even as a professional golfer. I have already been able to put my communications studies to good use, with media requests, TV appearances and interviews, so I think I’m on the right track.

Q:  I’ve read that one of your greatest strengths is your composure. Do you agree? How do you maintain that serenity under pressure?

I always try to stay level, never get too up or too down and take it shot by shot on the golf course. Of course, I do feel pressure when playing in tournaments and try to do my best to manage that, but I always just try to go back to my fundamentals and stay calm on the golf course.