JERSEY CITY, NJ (AP) — 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 female player 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.
Zhang, who was playing on a sponsor exemption, did not have a birdie in her final round and finished at 9-under 279.
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 shots 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 major women’s amateur event—the US Women’s Amateur, the US Junior Girls, the NCAAs and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The victory was worth $412,500 and it also earned Zhang and an automatic LPGA Tour membership.
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