JERSEY CITY, N.J. >> Two-time NCAA champion Rose Zhang made her professional debut today on the LPGA Tour, a solid opening round in the Mizuho Americas Open.
The 20-year-old from Stanford who dominated the women’s amateur rankings for more than two years shot a 2-under 70 at Liberty National in the shadow of New York. The Californian was five shots off the lead held by Lauren Hartlage, who shot a career-best 65.
Aditi Ashok, the first player from India on the tour, was at 67 in a tournament where the focus shifted to Zhang last weekend with her announcement she was turning pro.
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand and Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland had 68s.
Ayaka Furue, coming off a loss to Pajaree Anannarukarn on Sunday in final of the match play event in Las Vegas, was at 69 with Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Emma Talley, Cheyenne Knight, Grace Kim and Yuka Saso.
Zhang didn’t dominate in her first round as a pro but she showed enough, making five birdies and three bogeys on a day her putter didn’t help her. She hit fairways and greens in a round on a course that features a par 3 played with the Statue of Liberty staring golfers in the face.
“This was definitely a round that could have been better, and that kind of gets me excited to work on more and to develop my game even further,” said Zhang, who was among 14 players at 2 under. “I felt like I left a couple shots out there, and I think there is a lot of room for improvement.”
There were also some shots that were great. On the par-5 13th, she chipped in from 29 yards, coming from below the hole and having the ball cross the length of the green before falling in the hole.
The people following her group loved it. It was what they expected from the player who has won has won back-to-back Annika Awards as the best college player, and who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April.
Her eight wins this season tied Tiger Woods for the most by a Stanford player in school history, and her 12 wins in 20 college starts are a school record.
“I don’t really have to think about other people’s expectations,” Zhang said. “Like I said before, I think of it as a compliment that they think I’m capable of more. But on the overall level, I think I have people that just want me to do the best I can and they push me to be better.”
Zhang will need to be better if Hartlage continues playing as well as she did today.
Starting on par-5 10th, Hartlage ignited her career-best round by hitting her second shot to within a foot and making eagle. She added five more birdies over the final 17 holes, adding it was nice to play well after struggling in her last four events.
“I feel like no one really expects me to be at the top, and it’s kind of fun just being able to just play with some of the best in the world and see how I rank,” said Hartlage, a 25-year-old who has two top-10 finishes since joining the tour last year.
Ashok, who has two top five finishes in her last three events, is two shots behind Hartlage after a bogey-free round.
“I just know that if I play good four days, then I’ll have a pretty good chance,” Ashok said.
Thitikul has two wins and 21 top-10 finishes since joining the tour last year. The 20-year-old had five birdies and bogey and she was the only player in the top four who played in the afternoon, when the wind picked up.