AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rose Zhang has won enough to realize that rarely does something so meaningful ever come so easily. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the final piece to her brilliant amateur career, meant the world to her.
It turned out to be her toughest test.
Staked to a five-shot lead, she was 4-over par through seven holes when the final round at the home of the Masters was delayed 3 1/2 hours by storms. She made a bad decision on the par-5 15th to go for the green and went in the water. And she had to watch Jenny Bae stand over a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole with a chance to win.
Zhang overcame it all. The only easy shot Saturday was her final stroke, tapping in for par from inches away on the second extra hole to beat Bae in a playoff no one saw coming.
“I feel like when your swing is uncomfortable, it’s always very hard to play on a very difficult golf course, and Augusta National is no exception. Especially with it being such a big stage, every mistake is sort of magnified,” Zhang said. “So I think that just being able to kind of get back on track, that was my biggest feat today.”
Zhang closed with a 4-over 76 and got help at the end.
Bae, a senior at Georgia, pulled her approach on No. 10 in the second playoff hole, the ball stopping under a bush that restricted her swing. She punched out up to and across the elevated green into a bunker, and blasted out for her fourth shot.
That left Zhang two putts from about 35 feet. The speed was great, and Zhang stood straight and held out her left arm to guide it in the cup. It narrowly missed – close enough – and she doubled over with a mixture of satisfaction and relief.
It was a perfect pose for the best amateur in women’s golf for the last three years.
Take a bow, Rose.
The 19-year-old sophomore was mobbed by her Stanford teammates, one of them giving her a red rose.
Zhang now has the U.S. Women’s Amateur, an NCAA title at Stanford and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, only in its fourth year but already regarded as among the prestigious because of where the final round is played.
“It’s been incredible,” Zhang said. “The beginning of this week has been pretty crazy already with different press interviews, a lot of expectations on me, and I had a lot of expectations on myself. To overcome everything, I’m just super grateful to be here.”
Bae had no reason to think she had a chance, trailing the No. 1 amateur by six shots after a double bogey on No. 3. But she picked up three birdies along the way, the last one an approach to a foot on the 17th that finally caught the mistake-prone Zhang. They finished at 9-under 207.
And then Bae’s hopes effectively ended on one swing.
“I felt confident. But I think I just tugged it a little bit, and it went past the green into the bushes in the back,” Bae said. “I tried, but Rose, she had a fantastic day. Hat’s off to her.”
Zhang was flawless for two rounds at Champions Retreat, where she set tournament scoring records two days in a row with an opening 66 and then a 65 to lead by five.
Augusta National was a different story, and she never felt comfortable even with a slight tweak in her grip on the back nine that helped steady her.
But it was her decision on No. 15 that nearly cost her. Zhang could see Bae in the group ahead make her par, so the lead remained two shots. She chose to go for the green, anyway, and slapped the side of her thigh as the ball was in the air. She knew she caught it thin. She the outcome before she saw the splash.
“Didn’t even come close to the green,” she said. “I was kind of mad at myself for opening that doorway so wide.”
She also was clutch on that hole. After the drop, she pitched over the water to 18 feet and sent that some 6 feet by the hole. Miss it and the last of her five-shot lead would be gone.
“That putt on 15 was necessary for my confidence,” Zhang said. “If I didn’t make that, that would have probably been the end of me.”
She made par over the final five holes, two of the in a playoff, and wound up in Butler Cabin getting the trophy from Masters Chairman Fred Ridley, and speaking to the crowd and a few rows of members in their green jackets in the winner’s ceremony on the 18th green.
“I just knew that on this golf course a five-shot lead is not enough. A ten-shot lead is not enough,” Zhang said. “Every single hole mattered.”
All 20 of them.