Over the years, the Masters, bless her green soul, has introduced scores of interesting golf figures to the world—major and minor and in between. Arnold Palmer and Ken Venturi and Jim Nantz. Carl Jackson. Alister MacKenzie. Ed Sneed. Hideki Matsuyama. Hideki’s caddie. Tiger. Hootie. Earl. Jennifer Kupcho. Maria Fassi. Rose Zhang.
If you don’t think the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is one of the best things to happen in competitive golf, and in the broad category of golf on TV, in the past few years, you’re not paying attention. That is, you’re not watching these Saturday finales, when the best female amateurs in the world play the course in all her bewitching charm.
Even if you didn’t know Rose Zhang’s name a week ago, you do now, right? And for all the right reasons.
You might feel like you actually know her a wee bit. That’s the joy of golf on this course: Augusta National reveals character with ruthless efficiency. And that’s the joy of golf-on-TV, live from Augusta, Ga.
Zhang walks not with jock swagger, as Juli Inkster did in her prime, but with athletic confidence. She’s strong in every way. The moment on the par-5 15th in the final round, when she and her caddie-father discussed the second shot for several long minutes, was a bit of golfing nuttiness that offers further proof that golf is not played by robots armed with artificial intelligence but by flesh-and-blood human beings in all our unpredictable beauty.
(Yes, we’re saying that going for that green was a moment of golfing insanity. And we loved it!)
That Zhang righted the ship after three straight bad shots—the hybrid in the lake, the line-drive pitch after dropping at an ill-considered yardage, the crazy-hot downhill putt for par—told us a great deal about her. What a bogey she made there, at a moment when things could have unraveled.
In victory, she went to Butler Cabin for an interview with Mike Tirico of NBC Sports and Masters chairman Fred Ridley. Through all of it, Zhang was a model of comportment and appropriateness and modesty. You almost couldn’t believe she is a sophomore in college.
But when Ridley handed her the winner’s trophy, the dam burst. We could all see an ear-to-ear grin that radiated pure joy.
Three words, through her joyous smile, that spoke volumes. A moment that will last forever on YouTube, courtesy of Augusta National, Masters tradition, Zhang’s skill, the difficulty of the game and some other things.
Maybe Zhang will play in the 2024 and 2025 Augusta National Women’s Amateur before turning pro. Maybe the lure of professional golf, in conjunction with everything she has already done in the amateur game, will tell her it’s time to leave childish things behind.
Zhang won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2020 and the U.S. Girls’ Junior title the next year. (As if that is the normal order of these things. It’s not. Ask Tiger.) She made the cut last year in the Women’s British Open and the U.S. Women’s Open. She won the NCAA individual title, too.
Nineteen, born and raised in Southern California, and a member of the Stanford golf team.
In 1995, on Masters Sunday, Tiger made his first TV appearance from Butler Cabin. He was 19 and in his freshman year at Stanford, a skinny kid from Southern California who had earned the Masters low amateur honors being interviewed by Jim Nantz of CBS and the club’s vice chairman, Joe Ford.
The eventual winner, Ben Crenshaw, was still on the course, but the low-am interview did not take place at its customary time, at the conclusion of play, to accommodate Tiger’s flight schedule. (United out of Atlanta is a good bet.) Woods was the only amateur to make the cut, and he said he had a 9 o’clock class he had to make on Monday morning. Hence (a Tiger word) the taped interview.
In it, Tiger rattled off the names of his practice-round playing partners: Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Raymond Floyd, Fred Couples, as well as the name of his playing partner in the Par-3 contest, Gary Player. “It’s been just a fabulous week,” Tiger said. Such an unexpected show-biz word.
Nantz noted that Woods showed he could already play with the best golfers in the world. Would he stay in college or turn pro?
“I’m going to go all four,” Woods said.
He was wearing a maroon shirt, black pants, no hat, with a braided chain around his neck.
“There’s no hurry to get out here—it’s a tough world out here,” Tiger said. “And it’s all a business. Right now, I’m only 19 years old. I feel it’s right for me to live it up a little bit. You’re only young once.”
Tiger Woods turned pro the summer after his sophomore year at Stanford. Maybe Rose Zhang will do the same, in the summer of ’23. She doesn’t come across as the live-it-up type. What she certainly is, as Tiger has been all his golfing life, is methodical, smart, talented, measured.
We’ve been introduced to her. Do we know her? Of course not. She did, after all, go for the green with her second shot on 15.
More to come. That’s the great thing here.
Thank you, Rose. Thank you, Augusta National.
This whole thing comes—the women, the Champions Dinner, the par-3, the four rounds, the Sunday night green coat festivities—just when we need it most.
The old ski resorts used to hand out bumper stickers that read THINK SNOW.
The calendar flips to spring, and we all think green.