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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Rose Zhang Embraces Ties to Tiger Woods Ahead of LPGA Tour Debut

  • Zhang, 20, makes her pro debut at this week's Mizuho Americas Open after a dominant college career at Stanford.
  • Brands such as Adidas, Beats By Dre, Callaway, and Delta have already signed deals with Zhang.
Zhang makes her pro debut with five sponsors, including Callaway, Adidas and Delta.
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Rose Zhang is going pro this week after a two-year stay at Stanford that ended as one of the most dominant careers ever for an amateur golfer. She won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at 17 years old, and then in 2022 and 2023, she became the first female golfer to win consecutive NCAA individual national titles.

She enters the professional ranks with huge expectations and numerous endorsements.

Zhang, a 20-year-old from Irvine, Calif., spent more than 140 weeks as No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, longer than any male or female player in history. She won 12 tournaments at Stanford, breaking a school record held by Tiger Woods.

Ahead of her professional debut this week at the LPGA Tour’s Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City, N.J., Zhang is embracing comparisons to Woods—modern golf’s greatest star who turned pro 27 years ago after two dominant years at Stanford University. 

NIL really does prepare yourself for the business world once you turn professional.”

Rose Zhang

“We have very similar story arcs,” Zhang told Front Office Sports at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. “We both went to Stanford, we both turned professional after two years. He dominated college golf [and] I was able to do so,” she said in comparison to Woods. “I don’t really think about that too much; every person’s career path is different and we’re super different as people. I just think of it as, wow, it’s so cool that our careers look aligned thus far.”

In 1996, a 20-year-old Woods was flooded with sponsorship dollars when he turned pro through brands such as Nike and Titleist. At Stanford, Zhang signed NIL deals with brands such as Adidas, Callaway, Beats By Dre, Fortinet, Amundi Asset Management, Paradox, and US Swing Eyewear. In May 2022, she became the first athlete to ink a NIL deal with Adidas.

Zhang’s millions in professional sponsorships include continued deals with Adidas, Callaway, and US Swing Eyewear and new deals signed with Delta and East West Bank. Excel Sports Management represents Zhang, who wore a Rolex during her Wednesday press conference at Liberty National and sported Beats By Dre headphones on the driving range.

“NIL really does prepare yourself for the business world once you turn professional,” Zhang said. “You need to learn how to represent your brand and learn how to make these negotiating contracts. Me doing so in college already prepared me to go to the college ranks with that already under control.” 

Women’s golf phenoms that came before Zhang, such as Michelle Wie West, Lydia Ko, Nelly Korda, and Lexi Thompson, all turned pro as teenagers before going to college—but Zhang’s success in the NIL era could inspire other female golf prodigies to go the college route. 

Prize purses on the LPGA Tour total around $95 million per season, while the men’s PGA Tour sits over $400 million. Streaming company Roku recently launched a Women’s Sports Zone that will feature LPGA Tour coverage—and increased broadcast exposure of the women’s tour is among the changes Zhang hopes to help charge during her pro career.

“We’re still in a period where women’s golf isn’t the biggest sport that you’re watching—there’s still not enough TV coverage as men’s golf,” Zhang said. “Male-dominated sports have been our entire sports history, so it is hard to make that quick of a change. I think it’s good that female golf and sports, in general, are slowly trending towards being more equal, but it does take time. Our games are very much equal, everyone’s doing the same thing.”

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