Rose Zhang’s sport has risen to new heights (simply do not inform her that)

Editor’s word: A lot has modified at Augusta Nationwide within the decade since then-chairman Hootie Johnson, responding to elevated stress to confess feminine members, famously stated, “There might effectively come a day when ladies are invited to affix our membership, however that timetable will probably be ours and never on the level of a bayonet.” Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore grew to become the primary ladies members in 2012 and extra have joined since, however the membership’s boldest acknowledgment of the necessity to evolve was the formation of the Augusta Nationwide Ladies’s Beginner, an annual occasion debuting this April that may conclude on the Saturday earlier than the Masters. Most golf followers have by no means seen a girl swing a membership on Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece — that’s about to alter.

The story of this breakthrough occasion isn’t solely about Augusta Nationwide unlocking its gates, it’s additionally in regards to the proficient ladies marching via them. On this collection, we’ll introduce you to 5 of them.

Subsequent on the tee: Rose Zhang

(ICYMI: Alexa Pano’s star retains rising — and she or he’s nonetheless solely 14)

(ICYMI: Sage Spartan Ally Geer-Park readies for ANWA)

* * * *

Rose Zhang was 9 years previous when a household good friend dropped off golf golf equipment for her dad.

Zhang had picked up all of her dad’s hobbies, particularly tennis. This one, nonetheless, was new to her. However she needed to strive. She snatched a membership, took a stance and swung — and missed. Then she whiffed once more. Then, on the devoted third strive, she hit it flush, this time sending the ball almost out of the yard.

“That was when my dad was like, ‘OK, possibly it is best to strive some classes,” Zhang remembers.

A couple of months later she received her first event, and now she’s the top-ranked woman within the Class of 2021. The 15-year-old will even be one of many youngest gamers to compete within the Augusta Nationwide Ladies’s Beginner subsequent week.

“[Qualifying] was positively one thing that was at the back of my thoughts, however I didn’t actually consider it till the invites had been arising,” stated Zhang, the 24th-ranked ladies’s beginner. “So I suppose it’s one thing I didn’t actually anticipate to occur to me, however the extra I performed my finest it gave me the chance to be part of it.”

* * * *

Zhang was launched to George Pinnell when she was 11, and he’s been her swing coach since. Their standing weekly lesson is four p.m. on Thursdays at Pinnell’s academy in Rowland Heights, Calif., 30 miles from Zhang’s dad and mom’ residence in Irvine, Calif. She by no means misses it. Final yr within the week main as much as the Rolex Women Junior Championship she got here on daily basis, “sicker than loopy,” Pinnell says, to work on her alignment.

Off the course Zhang is humble and well mannered and listens to audio recordings of the Bible to calm down the night time earlier than tournaments. On the course she exudes a laser-like focus that’s pushed her to No. 1 within the Rolex AJGA Women Rankings, however it didn’t come with out the work. After a profitable run on the SCPGA Junior Tour’s Gamers Tour, Zhang, regardless of a number of prime 10s, struggled to notch her first victory on the top-tier Toyota Cup Tour in 2015. Throughout the offseason, round Christmas, she known as Pinnell and requested an harmless query that solely a 12-year-old may pull off.

“George,” she stated, “when am I ever going to win a trophy?”

“I laughed,” Pinnell remembers. “I stated, ‘Properly, Rose, pay attention. It’s going to occur; you simply gotta preserve doing what you might be doing and preserve giving your self an opportunity to win. It would occur for you.’ It’s not a lot profitable the event — she wished a trophy.” Pinnell usually tells her, “Every part will handle itself in the event you simply handle your golf ball.”

Two months later, within the first Toyota Tour Cup occasion of the season at Trade Hills, Zhang received and obtained a shiny silver jug the dimensions of a watermelon. Her smile spans the whole photograph. Then she received an AJGA occasion, after which one other Toyota Tour event.

“Proper after that,” Pinnell says, “it began.”

In 2018 Zhang rose from 218th within the Ladies’s World Beginner Golf Rating to 28th at season’s finish. Her signature victory got here on the ANA Junior Inspiration in March, which led to a celebratory leap into Poppie’s Pond, following within the footsteps of ANA winners Dottie Pepper, Patty Sheehan, Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, amongst others. That win received her an exemption into the next week’s ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first main of the season.

“I often don’t attempt to change up my follow periods [for big events],” Zhang says. “I attempt to put together for occasions the identical manner I all the time do to assist my sport develop into extra constant.”

Pinnell stopped by the Zhangs’ home to choose up objects for a further week-long keep after which drove the 100-plus miles east to Rancho Mirage, Calif., the place the 14-year-old later made the reduce and tied for 60th, forward of names like Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Danielle Kang and Brittany Lincicome. (She was invited again to the ANA this yr however will play the ANWA as a substitute.)

“I wasn’t actually [surprised she made the cut],” Pinnell says. “I do know what the woman can do. She has one thing about her, one thing you’ll be able to’t coach. The power to claw again and get to the place she needs to be.”

However Zhang is rarely complacent, and she or he’s fast to deflect any credit score Pinnell throws her manner. Generally he does it simply to toy together with her. One time at a Callaway club-fitting, Pinnell knew Zhang was inside earshot when he was speaking to a staffer.

“She’s actually hitting the ball very well—” George began, earlier than Zhang reduce him off. She pointed the shaft of her membership immediately at him.

“George, don’t you dare say that,” she stated.

Zhang hits it 250 off the tee and is an efficient putter, however Pinnell says it’s her steely mentality — he credit her dad for this — that is likely to be her highest quality. Pinnell says she was so targeted on her personal sport on the Ping Invite final yr that she truly thought she misplaced. When she completed and at last appeared on the leaderboard she realized she had received her third AJGA occasion of the yr and fifth total.

“She does some superb issues,” Pinnell says. “She’ll be three again of the chief and the following factor you already know she finds a solution to get one thing completed. She’ll catch the chief and find yourself profitable by a shot. It’s simply stuff like that. She’s actually a grinder.”

In February, Rose checked off one other accomplishment. She claimed the highest spot within the Rolex AJGA Rankings for the primary time. The subsequent time she noticed Pinnell, strolling into one in every of their classes, he needed to give her a tough time about it. One other accolade for the common-or-garden Cali child.

“Properly, now what are you gonna do?” he requested her. Zhang didn’t say a lot. “She doesn’t like listening to about being No. 1, both.”

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