Is the 79th U.S. Women’s Open Rose Zhang’s time to shine? The signs certainly suggest it

LANCASTER, Pa. — Some signs are more obvious than others. At the 2024, where the purse rose to $12 million, the championship logo is not the logo of Lancaster Country Club but rather a red rose, a nod to the city of Lancaster’s English roots.

And, according to oddsmakers, who is the player – outside of Nelly Korda, of course, – most poised to win this week?

A woman named Rose.

Rose Zhang, a freshly turned 21-year-old who won her second LPGA title at the Cognizant Founders Cup earlier this month, currently ranks No. 6 in the world.

“I want to win this one pretty badly,” said Zhang, who tied for ninth at Pebble Beach last year in her first U.S. Women’s Open as a professional.

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This week marks Zhang’s sixth start in the championship, with her first coming in 2019 at the Country Club of Charleston. She has competed in every edition since, making the cut three times.

World No. 1 Nelly Korda’s six wins in her last seven starts makes her the overwhelming favorite this week, but those who follow the women’s game agree that few things could bolster the women’s game more than a Korda vs. Zhang rivalry, though it would no doubt be a friendly one.

Zhang, who became the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to win the LPGA in her pro debut, was quick to praise Korda’s dominant run.

“I’m witnessing some crazy history,” said Zhang, “and it’s really, really inspiring to see her out here and playing. She’s almost looking unfazed, and I think because she’s so solidified in her prep work, she’s so solidified with the people around her, and she loves the game. She’s really just going out here and playing for herself.”

2024 U.S. Women's Open
2024 U.S. Women's Open

Rose Zhang plays her shot on the 14th tee during a practice round prior to the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club. (Photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

After Zhang won the Founders Cup, snapping Korda’s five-win streak, she was forced to withdraw from the Mizuho early in the first round with illness, though she’s in fine shape now. A total of 10 players withdrew from the event that week for various reasons including a viral infection.

Growing up, Golf Channel analyst Paige Mackenzie, a former tour player, remembers golfers picking a side in high school: Tiger or Phil.

“It wasn’t you’re both,” she said. “You can’t just be a golf fan. You actually chose sides.”

With two different styles of play and different personalities, Mackenzie believes there’s enough separation between Korda and Zhang to attract different fans. And, hopefully, new ones.

With Lexi Thompson announcing her retirement at the end of 2024 earlier this week and Lydia Ko potentially on the verge of doing the same should get into the LPGA Hall of Fame, (she needs one more point or win to clinch it), the tour could use a star-studded rivalry.

The first time Arizona-based Mackenzie watched Zhang play was at an Epson Tour event several years ago in the desert, where the young amateur was warming up for an appearance in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Mackenzie was struck by how natural the game seemed to come to the young prodigy.

As Zhang’s father/caddie zoomed around the course, Zhang took things at her own speed, deliberate and composed.

“To watch her in control of her game and her person,” said Mackenzie, “she’s got a level of maturity in how she approaches the ownership of her game.

“When you start this professional career, there are a lot of distractions that can take the focus away if you’re not a centered person or player.”

At the Founders Cup, Zhang hit nearly 85 percent of the greens in her victory three weeks ago and made four birdies in the last five holes to hold off Madelene Sagstrom in an epic two-player duel.

After the gutsy victory in Upper Montclair Country Club, Zhang credited Scottie Scheffler’s press conference after his most recent Masters victory as an inspiration, pointing to how the World No. 1 carries himself as a follower of Jesus Christ.

While Zhang no longer plays golf for the Cardinal, she’s still a student at Stanford, committed to finishing her degree. Zhang talked about how much growth she has experienced in the past year. Her faith, she said, has really deepened since she’s been in college, and she was able to “re-grasp” who she is as a person at Stanford.

“There was definitely a lot of energy, a lot of, I guess, shivers when I was playing out there,” said Zhang at the Founders Cup, “but I had something in me that really told me to keep myself grounded and patient, which I’m very thankful for.”

To win what many consider the toughest and most meaningful championship in women’s golf takes both a strong mind and spirit.

Which simply means that Zhang is tailor-made for this championship, as the logo suggests.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek