Scottsdale, AZ — Rachel Heck knows a thing or two about success. As a freshman at Stanford, Hick won six times in one semester, including all three postseason championships, the third player at the time to ever do so.
Of course, that was before Rose Chang.
Since joining the Cardinals’ talented roster two seasons ago, all Chang has done is eliminate her competition. At the college level, she is the only two-time NCAA champion in history while notching 12 individual victories, including eight this season as a sophomore to tie Lorena Ochoa’s NCAA record for wins in a single season. In the amateur arena, her name appears on each of the four major trophies as the winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Girls Junior, World Amateur Championship, and most recently the Augusta National Amateur Championship. And on the professional stage, Zhang has only missed three cuts in 15 starts, was a low amateur in two different major tournaments and finished runner-up in an Epson Tour event as a high school freshman.
“The level of dominance is amazing,” Heck said. “No one has it. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life – not on the men’s amateur side, or on the LPGA, or on the PGA Tour. No matter what level you are at, it’s hard to keep winning. I don’t care if it’s junior golf or amateur golf, it’s She keeps winning….she’s too good for that.”
Last Monday, he faced Chang Hek in sweeping conference, regional and national championships, completing the third leg in come-from-behind style at the Grayhawk. A day later, Zhang defeated her NCAA quarterfinal opponent, Reese Guzman, but in the afternoon’s semifinal match with USC’s Briana Navarrosa, Zhang looked too human. She lost the game, the tiebreaker in the Trojans’ win over the top-ranked Cardinals, and just like that, Chang’s college career was over.
If tears in her eyes and those of her teammates that Tuesday night in Scottsdale, AZ, weren’t a dead giveaway, Chang, who had kept her plans under wraps from the public for months, made things official Friday morning by announcing that she “(d)gone.” For her final two seasons of eligibility, and after a record-breaking 141 weeks spent as the world’s No. 1 amateur, she turned pro. She will make her debut at next week’s LPGA event, the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National.
Bye, greatest amateur career for women ever?
One could certainly argue that Zhang is jumping into the play-for-hire ranks with goats in tow. Not that there are no multiple ancestors with the arguments:
• Glenna Collett-Vare won a record six American Amateurs, and sometime between 1928 and 1931 she had 16 consecutive championship victories.
• JoAnne Carner has five US Women’s Amateur titles and won an LPGA event as an amateur in 1969.
• Julie Inkster has not only caught three All-American Women’s Amateurs, but she’s also won 17 times at San Jose State. Amy Olson, while at North Dakota State, later broke Inkster’s NCAA record for career wins with 20.
But the benchmark, at least until Chang’s arrival, was Ochoa, who in her two seasons at Arizona won 12 of 20 championships and, as a sophomore, went 933-2-3 against her competition, a mark that may never be the same. that topping. (For comparison, Zhang was 691-15-1 this season.)
In many ways, Zhang is Ochoa two decades later — which is why it’s so hard to give one an advantage in the best debate ever. Chang’s college coach Ann Walker, who while at Cal played against Ochoa, sees many similarities between the two superstars — the immensely talented, down-to-earth, gracious, universally beloved.
“Everyone wanted to play with Lorena because she was such a joy to play with,” Walker said. “It was so much fun, and you left the tour feeling like you were one of her best friends. That’s how I remember the feeling of playing with Lorena. I get the same feeling from other bands that they really wanted to play with Rose.”
When Ochoa turned pro, she delivered handwritten letters of thanks to those affiliated with the Arizona women’s golf program or who had played a role in her career. Then there’s the legendary story of Ochoa hanging out with the stadium crew at tournaments and even cooking breakfast for the staff at Mission Hills the year she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2008.
Walker doesn’t imagine Chang is as good a chef as Ochoa, but that doesn’t diminish Chang’s love and appreciation for people. While Zhang was signing NIL deals with big companies like Callaway and Adidas, she was also signing up as a volunteer driver on her church’s escort list.
“For kids who don’t have cars and need a ride, she takes them,” Walker said.
Walker also remembers a moment from the 2002 NCAA Tournament, one of two events Ochoa lost as a sophomore. She and her bear mates were leaving for their early morning work hours, the sun not yet up, when, much to their surprise, they saw Ochoa returning from a run.
“I just finished a 3-mile course, and here we are,” Walker said. Ugh, we have to play golf early. “
Fast forward to the morning of Chang’s last round of playing. While her teammates slept, Zhang was up by 6 a.m., more than six hours early and starting her pursuit of USC’s Katherine Park, who started the day with four shots. Zhang ate breakfast, got a drill, and then posted a bogey-free 5-under 67 while there was only one green in regulations.
Back on campus, Walker says it’s near impossible to beat Zhang in the team’s practice facility every day, and she’s usually the one who turns off the lights as well.
“I just enjoy the grind,” Chang said. “I sacrifice a lot of sleep and rest, and that’s because I enjoy the process.”
An ingenious combination of hard work and God-given talent, Zhang was ranked by a handful of college coaches as a top 25 player in the world the moment she hit her first shot as a pro, though she would begin her professional career ranked only inside the top 500 in the rankings. Rolex.
USC head coach Justin Silverstein, who as a Pac-12 contender has a front row seat at the Rose Show, shines on Zhang’s golf skills, from her precision driving ability to her signature wedge and short game to putter close for an elite run. But Silverstein says the most impressive weapon in Zhang’s arsenal is her brain.
“It’s her ability to bring herself back to neutral every time,” Silverstein said. “No one I’ve seen can do it like she.”
Arizona State head coach Laura Ianniello, a fellow college classmate of Ochoa, is familiar with this kind of mental advantage. “Lorena, in every tournament, expected to win,” said Ianello.
But asked to say emphatically who has a greater amateur career, Ianello took it safe to play, “They’re both Hall of Famers in my book.”
Still, Iannello agrees that women’s amateur golf, especially at the college level, is “much deeper” than when she and Ochoa were in school. Perhaps this is the tiebreaker, as the numbers certainly support that assessment. According to the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, Zhang (power rating of 67.56) was 1.41 shots per round better than No. 2 player this season, Julia Lopez Ramirez of Mississippi State, and was 3.57 shots per round better than No. 50. Ochoa, during her dominant campaign Sophomore, her 1.33 shots per round is better than No. 2 Stacy Pramanasud of Tulsa, but her 5.11 shots are better than No. 50.
Therefore, not only was Zhang slightly better than her closest competitor, but Zhang’s competition throughout the realm was extremely tough.
Zhang also won two notable championships that eluded Ochoa, the Pac-12s, and the NCAAs (twice), while finishing with the lowest career points-scoring average for a college player, 69.24.
In addition, Ochoa had almost no demand for her time in Zhang. In addition to her tireless work ethic on the golf course, Zhang has a 3.86 GPA — and she plans to continue her studies in communications as a professional. She also receives — and accepts — more media requests than any other college golfer, including current men’s stars like Gordon Sargent and Ludwig Aberg. This doesn’t even include her own care obligations. However, she still has time to be a college kid – making lots of friends, going to dinners and getting her nails done with her teammates, and attending sporting events.
“There’s a lot on her plate,” Walker said. “I don’t really wrap my head around how Rose did it.”
Zhang doesn’t have a detailed explanation, either: “These are all things I choose to do. I can choose to do nothing, but I just like it. I think it’s that simple.”
Even as she answered questions, picking up her second NCAA singles trophy, Zhang shied away from goat-talk. In her mind, “I’m just a regular person.”
“I don’t think about it at all, to be fair, because the people around me don’t make me a big deal,” Zhang said. “I still have to go back to school, take my finals. I still have other responsibilities and have to complete them all, like my teammates and my classmates. … I’m not – I’m not special in any respect.”
Zhang, of course, was down-to-earth — much like Ochoa two decades ago when while debating class, while her peers took turns bragging about the things they did over spring break, Ochoa chose to talk her “okay” into her 40th-place finish at an LPGA event before he pressed. She needs her teacher to reveal that she won a tournament the previous week in her native Mexico.
And if Zhang isn’t special, how can Heck explain the feeling of watching Zhang hole up a par-5 closing hole at Grayhawk to win another historic championship? Or every other major victory—after all, since the start of 2019, Zhang has won 22 times.
“Honestly, I feel like the luckiest person to have been by her side through it all, from the National Championships last year to last summer to Augusta so far,” Heck said. “She’s one of my best friends in the entire world, and I get to hang out with her 24/7, but sometimes I myself take a step back and look at her objectively like, How lucky am I to be next to her because she’s writing history?”
Walker was arguing hard.
You see, in Zhang’s coach’s opinion, there is no comparison: Zhang He is goats
“It’s very easy to get wrapped up,” Walker said in the moments after Chang’s latest college win. “Before this week, I felt like she had really become the best amateur ever. And what she did today, that’s just that, that’s it. That’s the period at the end of the sentence because nobody’s done it before, and it’s very hard to do, and… Yes, it’s Rose Chang.”