EVANS, Ga. – After more than 5 inches of rain saturated Champions Retreat at the start of the week, Rose Zhang’s practice round on Tuesday for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was essentially a wash.
She teed off in the last group, battled mud balls all afternoon and was fighting her swing. Luckily, Zhang didn’t keep score.
“I probably would have shot 80 yesterday,” Zhang said. “I wish I was kidding. I was slicing it.”
Zhang, of course, is considered one of the greatest amateurs of all-time for a reason. By the time she stepped on the 10th tee on Wednesday morning to begin her fourth ANWA, the 19-year-old Stanford superwoman had already put back on her world No. 1 cape.
Eighteen holes later, Zhang was on top of the leaderboard with a bogey-free, 6-under 66, a shot better than Ole Miss’ Andrea Lignell.
“I feel like, when it comes to a tournament mindset, I'm able to bring the inner grind out of myself,” Zhang said. “I think that just overall, I have faith in my game and my preparation even if I'm not hitting it the greatest or putting it the greatest. But that's just the game of golf. You kind of have to be ready for whatever. That's just kind of the mindset I have. I don't really have anything else too crazy.”
Except for seemingly every facet of her golf game. Most of Zhang’s competitors said Tuesday that they didn’t see a 66 out there, yet at the same time, none were surprised by what Zhang was doing.
She birdied each of Champions Retreat’s par-5s en route to carding the lowest round in ANWA's 10-round history.
She was barely out of position, her worst spot coming after flying the par-3 eighth green and needing to make a 7-foot slider to save par.
And she even got the long putts to fall, canning a birdie on the par-4 14th hole from, by Zhang’s estimation, 17 yards (“Yeah, I'm talking yards, not feet,” Zhang quipped).
Full-field scores from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
Emilia Migliaccio has been Curtis Cup and Pan-Am Games teammates with Zhang, so she knows her well.
“I would say her misses are very small,” Migliaccio said. “We always joke when she lets go of her club, we're like, ‘All right, Rose, it's left center [of the green].’ Everyone says the better players have smaller misses, and her misses are really, really small.
“She's really in touch with her rhythm. I can just see it when I'm next to her watching her play. Like she can hit a 7-iron 155 [yards] or 140, and it's going still right at the flag, so her rhythm is just impeccable.
“She always putts it down her start line. It's just incredible to see.
“She's so humble, too. Like she's just Rose to me. Like we always joke about her being the No. 1 player in the world and stuff, but I just see her as a really sweet girl that is really good at what she does, and she doesn't act like anything different than anyone else.”
Even if, in reality, she’s in a class all her own.
Zhang has won just about everything – nine times in college, including five times this season as a sophomore; U.S. Women’s Amateur; U.S. Girls’ Junior; NCAA team and individual titles; World Amateur Team Championship; multiple McCormack Medals; an Annika Award and likely another in a couple months.
“She's just so good at golf,” Lignell said of the only player she’s chasing after Round 1. “Like she keeps winning.”
The ANWA remains the last big trophy that Zhang has yet to get her hands on.
And with the way Zhang is playing, her competitors may actually need her to shoot 80 in order to beat her.