Through two rounds at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Rose Zhang is 13 under and five strokes clear of the field. Only two players, Andrea Lignell (-8) and Jenny Bae (-7), are even within 10 strokes of the Stanford sophomore. Here are a few other facts to know:
Zhang’s bogey-free 66 on Wednesday was, at the time, the lowest score in the history of the ANWA.
She shot 65 on Thursday to break her own record.
She is nine under on the par 5s alone.
She has more birdies (12) through two rounds than past champions Jennifer Kupcho, Tsubasa Kajitani, and Anna Davis each had through three rounds the years they won.
She is making a mockery of strokes gained.
The Fried Egg’s Garrett Morrison and Meg Adkins were on site at Champions Retreat the past two days. As the scene shifts to Augusta National for Friday’s practice round and Saturday’s final round, here are some of Garrett and Meg’s thoughts on the action so far…
By Garrett Morrison
Rose Zhang does everything right. She hits fairways. She hits greens. When her lag putts go in, she makes birdies. When they don’t, she taps in for par. Trust me, though: the rate at which she does these things is extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything quite like it from an amateur golfer.
On Wednesday, during the first round of the ANWA, I followed Zhang for 12 holes. I watched her take driver off the tee nine times. Eight of those shots started slightly right of center and drew back. On the second hole at Champions Retreat—her 11th—her drive went through a different window, starting at the center and drawing to the left edge of the fairway. It was the least accurate tee shot I saw her hit during the first round, and it still ended up in the short grass.
Zhang aims at the safe side of every pin, and hits almost every iron within a few yards of the right distance. Her tactics would gain approval from data-driven course-management experts, but her head coach at Stanford, Anne Walker, told me that Zhang’s approach isn’t analytically driven. “It’s just Rose Zhang,” Walker said.
Like many of the greats, Zhang doesn’t perceive golf as frustratingly complex. She chooses simple targets and hits simple shots.
As you watch her play, you might wonder: Why doesn’t everybody play like this? Well, if everyone could play like Rose Zhang, they would.
Everybody but Rose has encountered some thorns
By Meg Adkins
I hope I don’t get my Zhang Gang membership card taken away for only catching Rose’s back-nine on Thursday, but there was plenty else to watch as much of the field fought to stay inside the cut line and secure a spot in the final round at Augusta National. Here are some non-Rose notes and observations from Thursday at ANWA:
The best shot I saw came early in the morning on the par-3 11th. On her second hole of the day, defending champ Anna Davis airmailed the green and put herself in a brutal spot. After a lengthy deliberation with her caddy, Anna pulled putter and bumped a shot through the rough, around a drain, and in for a two. She continued to put herself in less than desirable spots throughout the day, but her touch around the greens was incredibly impressive. Patrons will miss her this weekend, but (bucket) hats off to her for handling the four-stroke penalty she received on the first hole of the tournament with class.
Speaking of tough breaks: I walked a few holes with 2021 champion Tsubasa Kajitani, who was playing in the group behind Davis. Despite a 12-over 84 on Wednesday, she seemed to still be enjoying herself and the ANWA experience. Stanford senior Brooke Seay also had a tough couple days, finishing on Thursday at +15, but took time in between holes 16 and 17 to take a picture with some family and friends.
On all of the difficult greens at Champions Retreat, the going was slow. (Note: Put me firmly in the anti-AimPoint contingent). The par-5 14th was especially vexing with a pin tucked in the front right. Bogeys and three-putts were frequent. Ole Miss’s Julia Johnson de-greened herself. I kept this section free of Rose Talk until now, but her birdie here was every bit as good as Garrett describes below.
A blacked-out birdie
By Garrett Morrison
The TV audience didn’t get to see most of Rose Zhang’s back nine on Thursday, which is a shame. The way she made birdie on the par-5 14th hole was something else.
There, she hit her worst drive of the week so far, a push that ended up a few steps into the right rough. Her second shot ended up in a terrible spot: a fairway bunker 80 yards short of the green. The bunker is cut into a hill and has a very tall front edge. The pin was on the right of the green, just over the lip of another, equally deep bunker. I figured Zhang would bail out to the left and chip up.
She hit it to six feet and made the putt.
More like Champions Repeat
By Garrett Morrison
Earlier this week, Joel Beall reported for Golf Digest that Augusta National is considering building a second 18-hole course. Presumably, part of this course’s purpose would be to host the first two rounds of the ANWA, meaning that Champions Retreat’s days as co-host of the event could be numbered.
That’s a good thing, in my opinion.
Champions Retreat is an adequate venue—the facilities are excellent, and the property is easy for spectators to navigate—but the course, which consists of a front nine designed by Arnold Palmer and a back nine designed by Jack Nicklaus, suppresses excitement as much as Augusta National enhances it.
The majority of the course’s greens, particularly on the Nicklaus nine, are pushed up from the grade and surrounded by deep collection areas and bunkers. The result is a one-dimensional test. The key to success at Champions Retreat is simply hitting greens.
Augusta National, on the other hand, provides avenues for recovery. A player can almost always get back in a hole after a poor shot. That’s why the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Bubba Watson, and Jordan Spieth have thrived at the Masters: they may spray it on occasion, but they’re capable of pulling off spectacular recovery shots. Augusta National allows the best scramblers to awe us.
Champions Retreat doesn’t offer those glimmers of (possibly foolish) hope. If you miss a fairway or a green, you have to grind; there’s no escape hatches. Zhang’s unlikely birdie on the 14th hole on Thursday is the exception that proves the rule.
There are places for straightforward flushers’ golf courses, like the U.S. (Women’s) Open and the (Women’s) PGA Championship. Augusta National is more about extremes—highs and lows, eagles and “others.” So if the club does build a second 18, let’s hope it’s designed to produce fireworks.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.