Rose Zhang is fully aware of the extra pressure that comes with competing in the AIG Women’s Open, but is focused on trying to treat this week’s Championship like any other.
After an outstanding amateur career that saw her break a host of records and win the Smyth Salver at last year’s AIG Women’s Open, Zhang has enjoyed a similarly impressive start to life in the professional ranks.
She sensationally won on her first start as a pro, at the Mizuho Americas Open in June, and has since recorded top-10 finishes in three successive majors.
Zhang will therefore be the subject of high expectations at Walton Heath, but the 20-year-old American is not one to get carried away.
“I know that major Championships are weighed very heavily, so these are weeks that all players want to play well in,” said Zhang in her pre-Championship press conference.
“But treating it as a regular event and treating yourself as just a player going out on a difficult golf course, learning how to navigate the conditions and how the course is playing, is very important for any player to be successful during the week.
“There’s a lot of pressure. There's a lot of mental toughness that you have to go through, and just learning how to be aware of that allows you to play well.”
Zhang can certainly take confidence from her recent performances in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, US Women’s Open and Amundi Evian Championship, where she finished tied-eighth, tied-ninth and tied-ninth respectively.
“I'm just really lucky that in the last couple of events I was able to have those opportunities to play and be somewhat in the mix,” she added.
“I would say they haven't really made a huge impact in what I want to accomplish this week. Ideally making the cut is the first thing that I want to do.
“But I know that my game is there. I know that I have the mental grit to be able to compete well on these difficult golf courses, so going into this major week, it's all the same, and it's the same kind of drive that I had in the previous majors.”
Zhang, who will play alongside defending Champion Ashleigh Buhai and Brooke Henderson in rounds one and two, was asked how her approach to this year’s AIG Women’s Open differs to when she played in the event as an amateur in 2021 and 2022.
“Now that I'm a professional, I believe it still feels the same,” she replied. “It's just a different status that I have now.
“A lot has happened in the past year, and I've been very grateful for those experiences. But when you're out there on the golf course and you're playing difficult courses like this, you're going to have be to able to put golf in front of you and make sure that you're technically trying to get the ball in the hole.”
Walton Heath presents a very different test to Carnoustie and Muirfield, the venues for Zhang’s past appearances in this Championship.
A heathland course as opposed to a links, Walton Heath is notable for its beautiful heather, something Zhang knows is best admired from a distance.
“When I came out here, I was well aware of the heather,” she said with a smile. “The heather is beautiful but it's terrible to be in. Not somewhere you want to be this week.
“It definitely was different from the previous AIG Women’s Opens that I've played. Muirfield and Carnoustie, those are very traditional links-style golf courses.
“I will say that I believe the course is beautiful. It's playing a little bit softer. Just because there's been so much rain. I heard Friday and Saturday, it was a downpour in the UK.
“So the whole golf course is a little bit wet, but I think if the golf course continues to be wet, there's bound to be really good players who are going to score low scores.”