EVANS, Georgia — Rose Zhang is accustomed to pursuing titles rather than cut lines.
She appears to be capable of both.
The world No. 1 needed a late rally at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Friday to enter the top 30 and clinch a tee time in the final round at the Masters’ home course. With a few holes left, she’d just bogeyed her sixth hole (the 15th of the round) and was outside the predicted cut line.
“It definitely inspired me to go for broke on the last three holes,” she remarked. “I knew I was close to that cut, so I had no choice but to go ahead and take a chance.”
It’s been a tough few weeks for the wunderkind, who hasn’t faced much turbulence in her illustrious career up until this point.
Last fall, Zhang made history at Stanford by being the first player (male or female) to win her first three college events, exceeding even her own lofty expectations for what a rookie could do. Someone in the Cardinal weight room, however, dropped a 15-pound dumbbell on her left foot in December, breaking her small pinky toe. This limited her offseason practice time, and she went six days without picking up a club before the Cardinals’ last tournament at Arizona State.
Zhang is good enough to compete despite a lack of preparation time (four starts, four top-10 finishes), but she has yet to win this spring. She usually attacks a course like a machine, but the toe injury has resulted in more errant shots than usual.
“When I come down, the first thing I like to think about is moving my weight to the left side,” she explained. “But I’m not able to do that because I’m limited by a little bit of a sting when I come down.” “I’m just duck-hooking and putting all my weight on the rear foot.” Then I try to push it while duck-hooking, and I end up going right. As a result, it’s all of the above.”
Her recent slump has continued in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where she opened with a 76 and is currently outside the cut line with one qualifying round remaining.
Zhang ditched her local Augusta National caddie in favor of her father, Haibin, between rounds. Zhang was in contention to win one of the game’s most prestigious amateur titles last year at the ANWA when she made a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole with her trainer on the bag. After a final-round 75, she was eliminated from the playoffs. She was hoping for better memories this time.
“We’re just a great match,” she explained. “On the golf course, he’s really emotional.” But I suppose that only emphasizes my laid-back attitude.”
This, however, was not a relaxing moment.
Zhang was 6 over par with three holes to play, and in the frigid circumstances, he’d need at least a birdie to go into a playoff for the top 30.
She hit a wedge into the seventh green. The distance is ten feet. Birdie.
“That putt gave me a lot of confidence,” she explained.
She clubbed up and hit her tee shot to 20 feet on the par-3 eighth hole. Her putt dripped into the hole. Another feathered friend.
She was cruising now, in a good position to make the cut, and all she needed was a par on the final par 5 to keep her spot. Her tee shot, however, landed in the rough and picked up a clump of mud on the back of the ball. Her second shot could go anywhere, and it did, going into the trees and landing 162 yards away in the pine straw. Suddenly, there was a jolt of anxiety: a bogey (or worse) could put her out of the playoffs.
Zhang, who was formerly chasing the cut, is now back in his old stomping grounds: championship hunting. Her second-round 71 (one of just three under-par rounds) tied her for ninth place, just three shots behind the leader with one round remaining. Her presence will be felt by everyone at the top of the leaderboard.
“I really needed something to establish myself this week because I didn’t have my A-game; I don’t even think I had my B-game heading into the event,” she explained. “Every single golf shot I struck on this golf course required a lot of grinding.” Simply being able to transition from below the cut line to within the cut line demonstrated to me that I have the grit and perseverance to execute regardless of my position. That, I believe, demonstrated a great deal to me.”