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As the golf world processes Rose Zhang making a winning start to life as a professional, her college coach has sounded an ominous warning to the rest of the LPGA, insisting she can play much better.

Zhang, 20, defeated Jennifer Kupcho at the second hole of a sudden death playoff to claim the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club.

In doing so, she became the first LPGA player to triumph on their pro debut since Beverly Hanson in 1951.

The victory propelled Zhang to 62nd on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and drew praise from a host of big names, amongst them Tiger Woods.

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However, according to Anne Walker, who oversaw Zhang’s development during her time on the all-conquering Stanford women’s golf team, her star pupil didn’t even have her best stuff in New York last week.

“I would say that was her at about a seven out of ten,” Walker told “I’ve watched her play a lot of golf and I would say she played okay last week. I certainly wouldn’t go on record and say she was firing on all cylinders.

“That’s the part of her that reminds me of the greats, like Tiger Woods, like Annika Sorenstam. You know, most weeks, you’re going to play with your ‘B’ game. That’s just the nature of golf. You hope to catch fire with your ‘A’ game once in a while and, ideally, during a major championship week.

“So, it’s usually a case of who’s got a ‘B’ game that’ll get them in position to have a chance come the back nine on Sunday. Tiger did that more than most and I think Rose has that within her, too.

“Her short game is so tidy and her lag putting is so exceptional that, even when she hits it a little wonky from tee to green, she keeps herself in it.”

Scots-born Walker travelled to New York with her eldest daughter to see golf history being made and, as she put it, “to keep Rose company”.

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“I would be lying if I said her winning was a sure thing but the truth of it is I didn’t count her out,” she added. “I didn’t think it was unreasonable to expect that she could contend this year. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, I said I believed she could win in her first year on tour. Well, it ended up being in her first week!

“But, of course, it was a bit of a surprise because there are so many fantastic women out there and she’s had an awful lot going on the last four or five weeks. She’s kind of running on fumes at this point. I saw how many hours she did of media on Tuesday and Wednesday, and when you factor all that in, to then be able to go and play the way she did, it’s just remarkable.”

Walker revealed that she had several heart-to-hearts with Zhang as the reigning Augusta National Women’s Amateur champ prepared to make the leap to the paid ranks.

“The most recent was just last Friday before we flew out to New York together. Mostly, I just said to her that I believed her game was ready to compete with everyone out there but that she needed to stay patient.

“I just wanted her to remember it was her first day on the job and, just like any job, there’s a learning curve and you need to know that you can’t just possibly show up on the first day and know all of the ins and outs. You know, take notes and use this year as a way to learn so that she can hopefully, as she moves forward, be one of the very best. She’s done that really well, obviously!”

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Walker also has no worries about Zhang’s instant success going to her head.

“She has good people around her,” she added. “Her parents keep her very grounded, she’s got a close circle of friends, some great teammates here at Stanford, her swing George Pinnell, and I’d probably include myself in that group, too. She has a good circle.

“I was texting with her last night and she said, ‘I can’t wait to get back to campus, coach.’ I replied, ‘Yeah, come on back because we all need to keep you in check.’

“I think she really benefits from little things like that. You know, people who don’t treat her like a superstar or like she’s a once-in-a-generation talent. She got great perspective.”

The LPGA’s gain is, of course, Stanford’s loss but whilst she says she is “unbelievably sorry” to see her go, Walker is excited for the next stage in Zhang’s career.

“As a person, she’s amazing. I’ve never been around anybody like her in my entire life. She’s humble, she’s kind, she’s fully accountable, which is so rare in young people. Whatever happens, she takes full accountability. Whether it’s a bad club or a shot to the wrong spot on the green, it doesn’t matter; she takes full accountability.

“So, as a person, I’ll miss her tremendously but, on the flip side, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the opportunity to coach or be in the same competitive sphere as someone of this calibre, someone who might – might – transcend the game of golf.

“She goes with a record that’s the best amateur record of all time and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of that. This is the right time for her. She’s not leaving anything on the table, so I want her to go and go get it hard.

“I’m just thankful I didn’t screw her up.”

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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