As Rose returns, a lot remains on her plate — just not soy

As Rose returns, a lot remains on her plate — just not soy
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ORLANDO — Homework kept Rose Zhang from attending Tuesday night’s Elle King concert, one of several shows put on during the LPGA’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Not that Zhang didn’t open her window at Lake Nona’s posh Wave Hotel to catch some of the set while she worked on a problem set for her statistics class until 12:30 a.m.

By 7 a.m. Wednesday, Zhang was teeing off in her practice round on a frigid morning at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.

“Didn’t have too much time to rest,” Zhang said with a chuckle.

The 20-year-old Zhang is entering her first full year as a professional, and following a whirlwind six months, rest will certainly be an area of emphasis.

After an unprecedented amateur career, Zhang eschewed her final two years of college eligibility at Stanford last June and won in her LPGA debut to punch her ticket to this week’s tournament, which features winners from each of the past two seasons. Coming off her victory at the Mizuhos Americas Open, Zhang notched three straight top-10s in majors and qualified for the U.S. Solheim Cup team. However, playing 15 of 24 weeks to close her year eventually took its toll, and Zhang admittedly was running on fumes as she coasted to a T-13 finish at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“I think the biggest thing [I learned] about last year, my little rookie season, was just to not pile so much on my plate,” Zhang said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s been a lot that’s happened, and I feel like I continuously will have a lot that’s going to be happening. It’s almost like every single day, almost like I’m in a rush to complete a lot of things. Balancing everything and being able to handle all the attention as well.

“I think it made me realize that there are times where I need to focus on certain things and take a step back.”

Zhang was quick to point out, though: “It’s still a work in progress.”

A look at who the LPGA players will be paired with in the opening round from Orlando.

A short offseason — Zhang competed alongside fellow SoCal native Sahith Theegala in the Grant Thornton Invitational in December — didn’t give Zhang much time to put the clubs away. And her plate off the course remained hearty.

She moved. Twice.

She began four classes as she continues to work toward a communications degree at Stanford.

She changed out all 14 golf clubs.

And she’s been trying to solve somedietary issues that were exacerbated by a taxing travel schedule.

“Coming into this event, it was a little bit of a hustle to kind of get things in order,” Zhang said. “… A lot of moving parts.”

Zhang began her professional career based out of her hometown, Irvine, California. This winter she moved to Las Vegas, where she plans to be permanently. But just as she was getting settled in, she had to re-pack some of her stuff and head back to Stanford for classes.

Last week was the first week of classes, and Zhang is also taking courses in journalism, political science and media psychology.

“It is a full course load, so I’m very well-prepared to have some late nights,” said Zhang, who is about halfway to the 180 credits she needs to graduate, which Zhang says should happen in 2026 — only a year after her original graduation year — as she plans to keep taking 20-credit winter quarters along with some online classes the rest of the year.

Then there’s the equipment. Zhang has played versions of Callaway’s Apex Pro irons since she was 13 years old, but now she’s gaming the Forged Star irons, which she says have helped with her distance control as the Apex Pros had a tendency to be “too hot” on random strikes. She’s got the new Ai Smoke woods in the bag, too, along with the Ai One putter.

Admittedly, Zhang is still in a transition period with the fresh clubs, especially the flatstick.

“Quite interesting of a journey to find my putting back a little bit,” said Zhang, who had a lot of success with an Odyssey Tri-Hot 5K Double Wide.

But then she lost her trusty putter while riding with her dad on a train in London prior to the AIG Women’s Open. Struggles on the greens began almost immediately, and despite best efforts to replicate the putter, Zhang has had just one top-10 since.

“Hopefully, we’re just going to have the confidence to keep rolling putts,” Zhang said.

The last stressor, and arguably the biggest, for Zhang in recent months has been her health. Zhang assures that it’s not anything crazy but rather more of a desire to optimize her performance while playing a grueling, global schedule. She has started working with a nutritionist and been undergoing tests to find out why her and food, well, just aren’t getting along like they used to.

“I would eat vegetables and be bloated, which is not necessarily too normal,” Zhang said.

Zhang currently is on a break from gluten, dairy and most depressingly, soy. “I’m Asian, Chinese … so that’s not great,” Zhang quipped.

“I’ll obviously like reintroduce these things, but as of the moment we’re trying to figure out what’s happening,” Zhang explained, before adding, “I mean, at least I can eat rice.”

Zhang hopes to have answers in the next month or two. During that time, she’ll be practicing — and hopefully, resting, too. After this week, Zhang doesn’t plan to compete again until the LPGA’s event at Palos Verdes in late March. She’ll skip the entire first Asian Swing and four events total.

Even with the Olympics and Solheim Cup both slated for later this year, Zhang is confident she’ll have enough opportunity to qualify for those events.

Though she’s learning to take more breaks, and to say no, she’s still a grinder.

Zhang talks about how when she’s at Stanford, she’s surrounded by so many like-minded individuals who are both talented and hardworking.

“Everyone around me is doing such crazy things,” Zhang says. “Some friends are doing start-ups already. Some people are entering the internship business and have already gotten into very top, top companies.

“So, everyone in their own right is grinding, and it’s a really good environment for me to also do the same.”

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