No. 1 for a reason: Stanford freshman phenom Rose Zhang holds on to win individual title wire-to-wire at 2022 NCAA Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Rose Zhang is going to need a separate dorm room at Stanford for all her trophies.

The freshman phenom and No. 1 player in the nation proved worthy of her ranking by claiming medalist honors at the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship by three shots at 6 under at Grayhawk Golf Club on Monday.

“To be a national champion in my first NCAA (Championship), I just can’t explain it,” said Zhang. It’s hard to describe in words, I feel like it hasn’t really settled in yet. I didn’t really know this date would come.”

Zhang struggled by her lofty standards, signing for a final-round 75 to finish as the second consecutive Cardinal to win the title following her teammate Rachel Heck’s win in 2021. Heck and Zhang are the only two Stanford women to win the individual national championship, and each did so as freshmen.

“She’s amazing. She’s one of my closest friends and I feel like we share so much in common,” said Zhang of her teammate, Heck. “I’m rooming with her this week and last night even when I was in the same position as her as the previous year, she told me if there’s anything you kind of want to share, or any nerves that you want to talk about, I’m here because she went through it. Just being able to have that connection with her, I feel like it’s just so, so special. I am so inspired by her.”

Rose Zhang

Stanford’s Rose Zhang celebrates with teammates are winning the 2022 NCAA Championship. (Photo: Darren Reese/Stanford)

Zhang made an early birdie on her second hole before an uncharacteristic double bogey on No. 5 and a bogey on No. 9 to make the turn at 2 over. After playing the back nine bogey free at 10 under in the first three rounds, Zhang made her first bogey of the week on the back half at Grayhawk on the par-4 10th, got the shot back with birdie on the 13th and added another bogey on the par-4 15th before a trio of pars closed out the victory.

“Made a really big difference,” said Zhang of her birdie on No. 13. “I felt like that really helped me kind of ease into my mindset of, ‘Okay, now that I have a birdie under my belt, I can keep on going and keep on playing and keep on grinding.’ I knew that I had it in me to hit a good shot when the time came. I knew I had it in me to make a putt, and that’s really what helped me carry myself throughout the rest of the round.”

“She really grinded today, it was really cool to see because it wasn’t an easy day,” said Stanford head coach Anne Walker. “It’s never easy to close a big one. I think everyone knows that, we saw that yesterday at the PGA Championship, and it’s no different. This means a lot to her, but the fact that she was able to grind and just stay present and persistent to the very end, it’s cool.”

The national championship is Zhang’s fourth win of the season after she earned medalist honors in her first three collegiate starts at the Molly Intercollegiate, Windy City Collegiate and Stanford Intercollegiate. In addition to her quartet of wins, Zhang finished runner-up on four different occasions and had her worst finish of the year nearby in Phoenix at the Ping/ASU Invitational, a T-10.

“I feel like coming into this week, I definitely did not expect it,” explained Zhang. “Even though I was the player to watch, I felt like I just, I didn’t really have that expectation.”

No wonder “humble” is the first word that comes to Walker’s mind when she thinks of Zhang.

Zhang has been No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking since September 2020, earning the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top-ranked amateur in both 2020 and 2021 and will likely win again in 2022 after her lights-out performance this week.

Before Stanford the native of Irvine, California, had a distinguished junior career that featured wins at the 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur. She’s helped lead the United States to victory as a member of the Junior Solheim Cup team (2017, 2019), the Junior Ryder Cup team (2018) and Curtis Cup team (2021). She’ll tee it up for the Red, White and Blue at the 2022 Curtis Cup at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, June 10-12.