Relaxed Zhang takes down Women's Am medalist
CLEVELAND – Nicole Zhang really likes school. That’s not something heard too often among a crowd of teenagers and twentysomethings, especially ones who love golf.
Still, it’s a character trait that prompted Zhang to spend the last year doing something she had never before experienced. She went to class at Notre Dame, she made friends, she took a semester off and yes, she even played a little golf. It just didn’t rule her life.
U.S. Women's Amateur: Rounds of 32 & 16
View images of a rainy day of match play with Rounds of 32 and 16 at The Country Club of Cleveland.
“I learned so much this year, school-wise, made a lot of friends,” she said.
Time away from the course doesn’t seem to have had any adverse effect on Zhang. She defeated top-seeded Hyo-Joo Kim on Thursday afternoon at The Country Club to advance to the quarterfinals in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Zhang, the No. 17 seed, went 1 up at the 13th when Kim bogeyed, then matched pars for the next five holes to win, 1 up.
“Looking back on it, I don’t really remember too much of the match,” she said. “I was so focused, I was in the zone just focusing on one shot at a time, just continuously pushing myself.”
If Zhang’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the player who burst onto the scene as a Notre Dame freshman, winning her collegiate debut at the 2010 Mary Fossum Invitational. She helped lead the Irish to an historic 2010-11 season during which there were four wins and the first NCAA Championship berth in school history. Zhang finished that year ranked No. 47 by Golfweek. After a year away from college golf, she joins the Northwestern roster this fall.
Zhang says she just got a little bit burned out, so she made her life “normal.” She attended Notre Dame last fall as a regular student. It offered the 20-year-old Canadian the opportunity to take in football games, tailgate and – wait for it – study.
“I really enjoyed learning the material this time instead of just scrambling the night before,” she said of the hectic life a student-athlete inevitably leads.
An aspiring entrepreneur, Zhang loves taking business courses and already has her own company in the works. It’s hush-hush until November – when she plans to unveil her product and trademark it – but she does offer one hint. It has to do with yoga.
“I’m constantly thinking of new ideas,” she said.
After a month of uninterrupted school, Zhang took the spring semester off and retreated to Palm Springs, Calif., to work with coach Bryan Lebedevitch, who also works with Cristie Kerr. Zhang also played a handful of Cactus Tour events.
Lebedevitch worked with Zhang three times a week for the first six months of the year. Zhang, he says, is a player who has the right demeanor for the game and one who isn’t overly technical.
“She’s not thinking about 1,000 things out there,” he said.
He called the time off good for her – it created time to focus on what she needed to do as a player.
With college just around the corner again, Zhang is gearing up for her second go-round. The Women’s Am trophy sure would like nice in a dorm room.
“I’m kind of nervous to go back and play college golf but I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
After such a seamless transition the first time around, one has to think the second try won’t be much different.
• • •
ROUND OF 16
Nicole Zhang def. Hyo-Joo Kim, 1 up
Su-Hyun Oh def. Jayvie Marie Agojo, 4 and 3
Jaye Marie Green def. Lisa McCloskey, 2 up
Marijosse Navarro def. Madeleine Sheils, 3 and 1
Lydia Ko def. Celine Boutier, 1 up
Paula Reto def. Jessica Vasilic, 4 and 2
Ariya Jutanugarn def. Ashlee Dewhurst, 3 and 2
Erynne Lee def. Austin Ernst, 2 and 1