Rose Zhang, 19, breaks history as first women’s golfer to win back-to-back NCAA individual national titles

CNN  — 

Another week, another set of records sent tumbling in the wake of Rose Zhang.

The 19-year-old Californian defended her NCAA National Championship crown in Arizona on Monday to become the first women’s golfer in history to win back-to-back individual national titles.

Having begun the final round four shots off the lead, Zhang tore round Scottsdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club with a bogey-free, four-under 68 to equal the NCAA record of eight single season wins held by Renee Heiken and Lorena Ochoa.

It also sees Zhang tie Ochoa for most NCAA career victories with 12, a haul that sets a new Stanford University benchmark – male or female – for wins; among the four people that shared the previous record: Stanford alumni Tiger Woods.

A 15-time major champion, Woods quickly established himself as an all-time great after a prodigious amateur career. On the eve of her 20th birthday on Wednesday, Zhang similarly boasts an eye-watering list of early accolades.

Victory at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April saw Zhang break the record for most weeks spent at the summit of the women’s amateur world rankings, a position she has held for over two-and-a-half years.

That followed wins at the US Women’s Amateur in 2020 and at the US Girls’ Junior in 2021, headlines to a string of amateur titles.

Zhang with her Stanford teammates after her win.

“She’s the absolute GOAT. She is the best amateur of all time,” said Stanford coach Anne Walker, according to Golf Digest.

Zhang, however, is not in a rush to claim the tag.

“Me even being in the same sentence with Tiger Woods is just so weird and so foreign, but I couldn’t be more thankful,” she said in an interview with the NCAA ahead of the National Championship.

“I have no idea what records that I’m setting. I don’t really think about those, especially when I am playing because a part of being a high performer and part of playing well involves staying in the present. These are things that happen as by-products through my work and that’s how I take everything.

“I don’t really read about them, but it is very cool when someone sends me an article and they go, ‘You broke this record, that’s amazing.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did that, too.’ And then you move on with life.”

Zhang drives from the tee.

‘The Van Gogh of golf’

When the seemingly inevitable graduation to professional golf and the LPGA Tour comes, Ochoa’s legacy will again loom large.

The Mexican legend rattled off a string of top-10 finishes in her 2003 rookie season, subsequently adding 27 LPGA Tour wins and two major championship triumphs to a glittering resume before her induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017.

Zhang has already impressed on the biggest stages, making six appearances at major championships in the last two years. She made the cut on all three major outings in 2022, with a tied-28th finish at the Women’s British Open at Muirfield sealing her best major performance.

Ochoa, pictured in 2008, was a serial winner on the LPGA Tour.

Ochoa set a high bar, heightened further by the attention and expectation that follows a prodigious amateur career. But Zhang’s coach is not concerned about her ability to handle pressure.

“I would describe her as the Mozart of golf, the Van Gogh of golf,” Walker told the NCAA.

“She has a stroke of genius, she has an X-factor that you can’t describe, you can’t teach. She just has the ability to dig deep to a place where she can do something special under immense amounts of pressure.

“She still takes my deep breath away. Every time I ever watch the kid, she hits shots and makes swing where I’m speechless, even with all the golf I’ve watched. They’re shots that it’s not something a teaching pro teaches you. A teaching pro teaches you the fundamentals of a great golf swing and the ability to hit it from point A to point B in the textbook-type manner.”