Zhang talks LPGA success, U.S. Open stumble, Olympics hope in exclusive

June 8, 2024

Rose Zhang sat down for an all-encompassing discussion about her 2024 season, her play at Lancaster, and her potential Olympics debut.

Jack Milko Jack Milko has been playing golf since he was five years old. He has yet to record a hole-in-one, but he did secure an M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University.

Rose Zhang has had quite a season.

It began with a top 10 finish at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, and then she took some time off to work towards her degree at Stanford. But in late February, she took a break from her studies and made her debut in The Match, playing alongside Rory McIlroy, Max Homa, and Lexi Thompson.

A little more than two months later, in her sixth start since returning from her brief hiatus, Zhang won the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey, her second LPGA win. She then set her sights on Liberty National, where she won the Mizuho Americas Open in her pro debut a year ago, but an illness forced her to withdraw.

But Zhang then struggled in the U.S. Women’s Open and missed the cut, her next and most recent start.

After shaking off a tough two days at Lancaster Country Club, Zhang sat down with Playing Through to discuss her busy season and what is to come, including another major and a potential spot in the Olympics.

Rose Zhang plays from the third tee during the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

(Editor’s Note: This conversation has been slightly edited and modified for readability and clarity.)

Playing Through: What did you learn about yourself after your second win in New Jersey a few weeks ago?

Rose Zhang: Even though I may not have had the smoothest of seasons thus far, I just need to stay resilient, and I am never too far off. During that entire week, I realized that I could really grind it out and play the best I could when the time came. So that gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities to come down the stretch and try to play solid golf.

PT: Going back to that week, what do you think was the strongest part of your game?

Zhang: It had to be my iron play. But from tee to green, I was just very solid. I only missed a couple of greens that entire week; I think I hit 67 [of 72] greens.

At the same time, my putter, with who I have had a love-hate relationship with, definitely came out for me that week. So, I was able to really capitalize because of that.

Rose Zhang holds the trophy after winning the 2024 Cognizant Founders Cup. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

PT: And then your next start came at Lancaster. What went wrong that week? Was it the course?

Zhang: The course played very difficult, and everyone knew it was going to be a hard test. But it was a perfect U.S. Open course. I think there were a lot of things that happened in between [my win in New Jersey and the U.S. Women’s Open] that I was trying to recover from, and I was trying to work on my game as best as I could.

But when you’re not on top of your game, it’s very difficult to be able to navigate around those types of golf courses.

So that was the main struggle, just trying to get myself back and really grind it out.

PT: Was there a specific part of your game that abandoned you in Lancaster?

Zhang: I wasn’t able to get myself in close positions for birdie opportunities or even solid par opportunities. I was working to save a par or even a bogey for the most part.

At the same time, my putter let me down a few times, especially when I needed it the most. So, it was just those things that really shifted the momentum of my golf game.

PT: What was it like playing with Lexi Thompson in that environment?

Zhang: It was so incredible. I was so happy to be able to be a part of that, especially at her last U.S. Women’s Open, where she announced her retirement. There was so much support for her. I’ve always been very inspired from a young age by what she’s done for the women’s game.

Being a part of that really made me realize how influential Lexi is and how incredible she is as a person and as a player. Everyone should celebrate her and what she has done.

Roze Zhang and Lexi Thompson at The Match in February 2024. Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

PT: What do you think needs to go right for you at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in a couple of weeks?

Zhang: I think this season, for the most part, has been pretty tough. Just in general, on how to navigate everything, and you really have to peak at major championships.

But I think going into the next major, it’s a clean slate. I’m not thinking about anything too much honestly. I have nothing to prove to anyone but I do want to try and play the best that I can for myself. I have people around me who support me, too. So that’s the main priority.

But in order to play well in a major championship, I need to make sure that everything I am doing is solid fundamentally, and then I go out there and try to grind it out.

That’s the most important thing. Whoever can grind it out the most and make the least amount of mistakes usually comes out on top of the leaderboards.

PT: Have you ever played Sahalee before?

Zhang: No I haven’t.

PT: What have you heard about the course?

Zhang: I just know it’s really tight, and it’s very tree-lined, but other than that, that’s about it. I’ve only played in Washington once, but that was at a bit of a unique golf course in Pullman, Washington for a Pac-12 Tournament at Washington State.

PT: Then, of course, we’ve got the Olympics coming up. What are your thoughts about possibly playing in Paris and representing the United States?

Zhang: It would be a huge honor and so cool to represent my country. I’ve watched the Olympics ever since I was younger, really since I was five. So to be in that environment, along with the best athletes in the world, would definitely be such a great experience.

PT: And have you heard anything about that golf course as well? Le Golf National in Paris. Have you had a chance to play that one, too?

Zhang: I actually played the World Amateur at Le Golf National. So I do know the course very well.

(Zhang, along with Rachel Heck and Rachel Kuehn, earned a silver medal for the United States at the 2022 World Amateur Team Championships. Zhang also finished tied atop the individual leaderboard.)

Rose Zhang during the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

PT: How close are you to earning your degree from Stanford? And how do you find the time to balance it?

Zhang: So, I’m currently on a leave of absence because I’m prioritizing a little bit more on golf this season. But I will be going back to Stanford for more coursework next winter, and I plan on doing that rotational schedule for the next two years, possibly three.

And, you know, we’re faring along pretty well.

It’s been difficult to balance a little bit just because you do have to sacrifice a little bit more sleep time or rest time, I suppose.

But it’s been very fun to go back to campus and be a full-time student alongside all my other friends.

PT: And finally, you are a big proponent of USWING sunglasses and use them all of the time. How do those help you on the course?

Zhang: They have been a huge addition to my golf game and how I spend my time on the golf course.

I grew up in Southern California and now reside in Las Vegas, so when the sun hits, it hits pretty hard. Wellness has been a huge factor in ensuring that when I’m out there, I’m not completely melting my eyes. But my coach has definitely helped me find sunglasses that allow me to go out there and perform the way that I want to perform while protecting my eyes. So they help a lot, and it’s been great so far.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.