Reigning NCAA champion Rose Zhang becomes 1st LPGA golfer to win tournament in pro debut since 1951

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Twenty-year-old golf phenom Rose Zhang etched her name in the history books yet again on Sunday, edging Jennifer Kupcho in a sudden death playoff at the Mizuho Americas Open to become the first player to win an LPGA tournament in her professional debut in 72 years.

After shooting a six-under 66 on Saturday, Zhang entered the final round at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey with a two-stroke lead over Atthaya Thitikul, Aditi Ashok and Cheyenne Knight.

But Sunday’s final round shaped up to be a roller coaster for the two-time NCAA women’s golf national champion.

With a chance to take a two-stroke lead on the 16th hole, Zhang missed an easy birdie putt to hold a slight advantage over Kupcho. Zhang narrowly avoided dropping a shot on the 17th hole, with a clutch 10-foot par save heading into the difficult 18th.

With a win in sight, Zhang missed a would-be victory clinching putt to send the tournament into a sudden death playoff with Kupcho. Both golfers managed to recover from bad drives on the first playoff hole to tally par-saves. On the second playoff hole, Kupcho three-putted to open the door for Zhang, who sealed her historic victory with a par.

She finished the final round shooting a 2-over par 74, and 9-under par in the tournament.

Zhang, who turned pro on May 26 following a historic career at Stanford, is the second player ever and first since Beverley Hanson in 1951 to win an LPGA tournament in her professional debut.

“What is happening? I just can’t believe it. 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,” Zhang said on the Golf Channel. “I had so many cheers around me, all my friends and family. I’m just so grateful.”

In a long list of accomplishments, the 20-year-old is also the first ever to capture the NCAA individual national title and tally a win on the LPGA Tour in the same season.

Rose Zhang at the first tee during the final round of the LPGA Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. - Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/AP

In May, Zhang capped her collegiate career at Stanford by defending her NCAA National Championship crown, to become the first women’s golfer in history to win back-to-back individual national titles.

The victory at Scottsdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club in Arizona tied Zhang with Lorena Ochoa for the most NCAA career victories with 12, while surpassing four others including Stanford alumnus and 15-time major champion Tiger Woods.

Following her maiden LPGA Tour victory, Woods congratulated Zhang on Twitter saying, “Incredible few weeks for Rose Zhang, defends her NCAA title and then wins in her Pro debut. Go card!” Stanford’s athletic teams are known as the Cardinal.

As for what’s next for the budding star, first, she’ll have to focus on finishing off her semester at Stanford, telling reporters her mind is very much on finals.

“It is most certainly on my mind. I have no idea what I’m going to do with that. I’ve got an essay due, PSAT due for CS. We’ll figure that out. I’m also moving on the 13th, so I have a busy week ahead of me, and that’s not golf related,” she said.

Despite the busy school schedule, Zhang says fans can expect to see a lot more of her on the LPGA Tour.

“I’m super excited,” she said during the press conference. “You guys will see me more on the LPGA Tour, as I am taking membership from now on, and I’ll be playing in 2023.”

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