Zhang 1st since ’51 to win LPGA title in pro debut

Golf

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Two-time NCAA champion Rose Zhang became the first player in 72 years to win on the LPGA Tour in her pro debut, capturing the Mizuho Americas Open with a par on the second playoff hole against Jennifer Kupcho on Sunday.

Zhang arrived on the LPGA with the most fanfare since Michelle Wie West in 2005, and she delivered in the shadow of the Big Apple. She went from NCAA champion to LPGA champion in a span of 13 days.

The last woman to win as a pro in her debut was Beverly Hanson, who edged Babe Zaharias to take the Eastern Open in 1951.

Zhang shot a 2-over 74 in the final round and squandered a chance to win in regulation when she missed an 8-foot par putt after making at least a half-dozen clutch saves in a gritty final round performance.

The much-heralded 20-year-old from Stanford made a nearly identical 8-footer on No. 18 at Liberty National on the first playoff hole. Kupcho, who won an NCAA title at Wake Forest in 2018 and had a final round 69, also made a par.

Both players hit the fairway on No. 18 on the second playoff hole, but Zhang hit her approach from the fairway within 10 feet. Kupcho was short on her approach, her first putt went just over the back edge of the green and her second putt just missed. That left Zhang with two putts for the win.

Zhang held her face in disbelief after the winning putt fell as players celebrated with her by giving her red roses, similar to when she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

“What is happening? I just can’t believe it,” she said in a TV interview. “It was just last week that I won NCAAs with my teammates, and to turn pro and come out here, it’s just been amazing.”

Zhang, who was playing on a sponsor exemption, did not have a birdie in her final round and finished at 9-under 279.

“This golf course is rough, I really got a bit of everything. Got a taste of the pressure, got a taste of the wind and I tried to stay composed as always,” Zhang said. “I knew that golf was just a grind and you really have to dig deep so that’s what I did once again.”

South Korean rookie Hae Ran Ryu (70) was third at 8 under.

Aditi Ashok of India, Ayaka Furue of Japan and Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea were at 7 under. Ashkeigh Buhai of South Africa, Leona Maguire of Ireland and Yuka Saso of Japan finished at 6 under, three shot behind the leaders.

Zhang turned pro last week after the NCAAs and much was expected right away. She was the top-ranked women’s amateur for 141 weeks and won every big women’s amateur event — the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Junior Girls, the NCAAs and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

“Incredible few weeks for Rose Zhang, defends her NCAA title and then wins in her Pro debut. Go card!” tweeted golf superstar Tiger Woods, who also attended Stanford.

The victory was worth $412,500 and it also earned Zhang and an automatic LPGA Tour membership.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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