Rose Zhang on racking up titles and being a golf prodigy

Shattering records and racking up titles is just another day in the life for professional golfer and Rolex Testimonee Rose Zhang. She tells Haley Sengsavanh about her synergy with the prestigious watchmaking brand, her experience winning the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last year and what she thinks of being called a ‘prodigy’

Rose Zhang receives a hug from Jenny Bae after defeating the fellow American during the final round in Augusta.

Rose Zhang was thrust into the spotlight at an early age. Born and raised in California, she started playing golf at nine and now, at age 20, her amateur career has been hailed as one of the most successful in history. Some of her accolades include tying with Tiger Woods for the most wins by a Stanford player in history, and spending a record-breaking 141 weeks as the number one amateur in the world. Last year, Zhang decided to pursue a professional career, which started with a bang when she became the first player to win on their professional debut since 1951.

It’s no wonder that she has been hailed a “prodigy” by the press, and while she’s honoured by the title, she feels there’s a lot more to the story. “There’s a lot of talented people in the world, but what separates the good from the best is the work ethic,” she explains. “I grew up in a pretty disciplined household and I put so much effort into trying to be the best player that I could be. It didn’t just happen overnight. It took a lot of effort, energy and blood, sweat and tears.”

A key word that Zhang would use to describe golf is “passion”, which was the essay topic for her application to Stanford University. “Passion is the first drive that you need to have when you’re starting anything. If you’re able to love this game and really invest yourself into it, then even if you go through times of hardships, you’ll still be able to get back on your feet,” she says. This dedication clearly shines through in her game, and the results speak for themselves.

In high school, Zhang would finish class at 1:45pm and head straight to the golf course to train until six or seven at night. She shares that her typical routine would entail “hitting at least 200 range balls, going to chip for an hour, going to putt for an hour, then going on the course and playing a couple holes.” Even though Zhang now has to additionally balance university courses with the touring and travelling that comes with being a professional golfer, she said that the bulk of her practice routine remains the same, just condensed and more focussed.

Rose Zhang lifts the winner’s trophy at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

A key component of her training is actually not golf- related: it’s her background music. “It’s so meditative and calming to be out there in your element while listening to music,” she says. “I have over 10 playlists, and in each of them are at least 500 songs.” The genres range from Korean to R&B to Christian worship music (which she swears “hits a little different” while practising). She also likes to keep Chinese artists in her rotation. Her top picks? JJ Lin, Mao Buyi and Jay Chou. In her words, “All the people I grew up listening to.”

At 16 years old, Zhang was one of the youngest competitors in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) tournament. Four years later, she became the champion after beating her opponent during the second-ever sudden death battle in the tournament’s history. This event is held every April, and is split between the Augusta National Golf Club and Champions Retreat Golf Club in Georgia. The format features 72 women amateurs from around the world competing in 54 rounds of stroke play. The event’s goal is to “inspire greater interest and participation in the women’s game by creating a new, exciting and rewarding pathway for these players to fulfil their dreams.”

That description certainly fits with Zhang’s momentous win, which also served as her “final shine
in amateur golf”. Nobody knew it at the time, but she had already decided to go professional prior to entering that year’s ANWA. Looking back now, Zhang says she viewed her performance as a true testament to her ability to handle pressure. Her message to upcoming contestants is to “soak it all in. You’re a part of history. You’re a part of the growth of womens’ golf and this is such a special time.”

One of ANWA’s partners is Rolex, proving the iconic Swiss watch brand’s long-held commitment to championing golf. Zhang’s relationship with Rolex began in 2019, when she was chosen as the Girls Rolex Junior Player of the Year. In 2023, she became a Rolex Testimonee, joining the legendary lineup that includes icons like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Zhang says that becoming a Rolex Testimonee was an “absolute honour”, especially since she grew up seeing Rolex’s connection with golf from its partnerships with the PGA Championship and the LPGA Tour. The amount of support that the brand provides to amateur players, on top of professional players, is something that she says makes them stand out. “Being able to endorse, sponsor and support the younger generations that are coming up, you’re essentially investing in the future of golf,” she explains. “When Rolex does this, it shows how great their stance is for the growth of the game.”

Rose Zhang tees off in front of a Rolex clock.

Zhang’s favourite metal for watches is rose gold, which she thinks Rolex “does really well”. As for her favourite Rolex model, Zhang’s pick is the Datejust, which was created in 1945 as the first self-winding waterproof chronometer wristwatch to include a window that displayed the date. It comes in men’s and women’s styles and is fully customisable. Customers are able to add diamonds or mother-of-pearl details, a palm or fluted motif, select from a variety of dials and bezels, and more.

But a version that no one can replicate is the one-of- a-kind Datejust that is in Zhang’s collection, given to her after she won the Mizuho Americas Open last summer. “They gifted me with a Rolex watch to commemorate my win, and even engraved the date on it. It’s pretty special in my heart.”

So what’s next for Zhang? She says her goal is one that all golfers share: to “play well, win tournaments and try to perfect your golf game in the best way possible.” But Zhang is also ambitiously preparing herself for another big year ahead. “I want to try to play the best I can to put myself on top of leaderboards on that LPGA Tour and on a professional level, while travelling the world, seeing different things and pushing myself further. I think this year will definitely be a test to try to push myself even further and play even better.”

Zooming out, Zhang hopes to impact her community positively through her game, which she feels is a strong point of synergy between her and Rolex’s long- established brand goals. “I’m extremely humbled to be able to represent such a prestigious brand that also spends so much effort in supporting the growth of the game of golf. That’s also what I like to envision myself doing, and continue trying to inspire other peop,” she says. “Regardless of what I’m doing, if I’m able to positively impact the people around me, then that’s ultimately my goal and my biggest happiness.”

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