Rose Zhang will miss LPGA time while taking full load of classes at Stanford
Rose Zhang speaks during a press conference prior to the CME Group Tour Championship.
NAPLES, Fla. — A year ago, Rose Zhang began discussing with Stanford head coach Anne Walker her plans to turn professional after her sophomore year. Zhang, though, wasn’t closing the door on a return to campus, and on Wednesday at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, the 20-year-old said she will resume her education ahead of her sophomore LPGA campaign.
"I'll be kind of taking that time to go back and study in person," Zhang said. "And we have the Asia swing, Florida swing, so it's to be determined on whether or not I'm playing those yet."
Zhang said she will have five classes during Stanford's winter quarter, taking on a loaded 22-unit schedule. She is about halfway through the requirements to earn her degree. Zhang's last visit to Stanford was only two weeks ago, when the two-time NCAA individual champion traveled back after the LPGA's fall Asia swing for a few days to visit with Walker and former teammates, a reminder of how life used to be on the confines in Palo Alto, Calif., where she was among the most decorated female amateur golfers of all-time.
"It's definitely a very different world that I wouldn't have imagined myself being in right now," Zhang said.
The trip from Asia proved to be an exhaustion breaking point for Zhang, who's spent most of the last five months under a bright spotlight, following winning her professional debut in June and a tidal wave of media obligations and sponsor outings. Even during her short rest last week, Zhang still had sponsor obligations to attend to before heading to the CME. Zhang explained how beat up she felt ahead of the Toto Japan Classic on Nov. 1, only three days removed from a T-3 finish at the Maybank Championship.
"I'm feeling a little dead," Zhang said. "I'm not going to lie. It's been quite a long journey I would say. Even though it's only five weeks, it's still pretty significant, tolling on the body. So I'm kind of glad this will be my last one."
Zhang believes some grinding on campus will help rejuvenate her spirit after a tiring first half-season on tour. The CME is her penultimate event of the season, as her stardom makes her the only LPGA rookie at the mixed-team Grant Thornton Invitational on Dec. 7-10. Her break could be as short as a month, as Zhang is eligible to play at the Tournament of Champions in January.
Beyond the TOC, Jan. 18-21 in Orlando, Zhang could also consider playing in the Drive On, which is the following week in Bradenton, Fla. Beyond that is the Asia swing, where Zhang would seem less likely to play because of her school load.
The focus on academics sacrifices some opportunities to earn points for the U.S. Solheim Cup team and Rolex Women's World Rankings points toward a position in the Olympics. Currently 26th in the world, Zhang is the sixth highest-ranked American, and she must be in the top 15 world rankings and among the top four Americans on June 24 to reach a spot in Paris.
Following her time in the classroom, Zhang can apply the biggest lesson she learned from her first season on the LPGA when she returns to full-time LPGA play: saying no.
"Yes, you have your responsibilities and obligations for media, sponsor outings,” Zhang said, “but ultimately you have to learn how to take care of yourself and your own work, your own craft, and that's to be playing at your best on the golf course."
Applying that lesson may just take care of the rest of Zhang's possible opportunities in 2024.