Rose Zhang will stick around Rancho Mirage, Calif., for another week.
The 14-year-old from Irvine, Calif., won the ANA Junior Inspiration on Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club to earn an exemption into this week’s ANA Inspiration, which will be held on the same property.
The start not only will be Zhang’s first major appearance but also her first on the LPGA.
“It’s extremely surreal,” Zhang said. “I never expected myself to be in this position. It’s something that I used to only dream of. Playing on the same course as the LPGA pros … it’s an extreme honor.”
Zhang shined in her first go around Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course. She entered Sunday’s final round trailing 36-hole leader Ashley Menne by three shots. With the course set up as it will be for the LPGA’s first major, Zhang was one of just three players in the 48-player field to shoot under par.
Menne closed in 73, bogeying two of her last three holes, to finish second at 6 under, a shot behind Zhang’s 7-under mark. Yujeong Son also bogeyed two of her final three holes to shoot 73 and ended up third at 5 under. Both held the lead at one point on the back nine Sunday.
As for Zhang, she made just one bogey, on her first hole, and birdied the par-5 18th to lock up the final amateur exemption into the women’s ANA. (In all, seven amateurs will compete this week at Mission Hills.)
Zhang, the top-ranked Class of 2021 golfer in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Girls Rankings, celebrated her victory in similar fashion to what past ANA winners have done – with a jump into Poppie’s Pond.
“It was a no-brainer that I wanted to jump in the pond,” Zhang said. “I mean, it is tradition.”
On a scale of one to 10, though, Zhang rated her leap a “four.”
“It wasn’t a bad jump, but it wasn’t a good jump,” she said.
Zhang won the Girls Junior PGA Championship last summer but had yet to win an AJGA invitational until Sunday. Last year at the ANA Junior, she shot 74-79-74 to finish T-22.
She’s a different player this time around – much more experienced and skilled – and she’s ready to test her game against the world’s best. Just don’t expect Zhang to be worried about her scores or following in the footsteps of her fellow teenager, Lucy Li, who was low amateur at last year’s ANA.
“She’s definitely a huge inspiration,” Zhang said of Li, whom she was paired with for the first 36 holes of this year’s ANA Junior. “But I really have no expectations of making the cut. The LPGA pros, they’ve practiced their whole lives to get to the professional level, and I’m honored just by having this exemption and I want to just gain experience.
“But of course, if I made the cut, that would be amazing.”
After what transpired Sunday in Rancho Mirage, everything else this week in the Coachella Valley will be icing on the cake for Zhang. Gwk