During the college golf season, GolfChannel.com will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf.
Rose Zhang is one of the most decorated amateur players in the world, but when it comes to decorating, she prefers to keep things simple. That’s why the star freshman’s dorm room is painted white and beige, with nothing on the walls.
“I like plain, very clean areas,” Zhang said. “I was just excited to have my own living space.”
Plenty of room for what is already a growing collection of college trophies. In two college starts, Zhang has won twice while also leading her team to victories, at last week’s fall opener, The Molly Intercollegiate in Monterey, California, and then again Tuesday at the Windy City Collegiate in Chicago.
“I guess I’m going to have to pick a spot,” Zhang said. “I do have some shelves that should work.”
For now. Zhang, the top-ranked women’s amateur in the world, entered college as arguably the sport’s biggest recruit ever, having already won a U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior while also having success in a handful of LPGA major starts. In other words, college golf wasn’t expected to be much of transition for the generational talent – and it hasn’t been.
Sure, there have been some differences, but when it comes to doing what she does best – winning – Zhang has yet to have any issues. In her latest start, she shot 4 under in 54 holes on a difficult course in tough conditions, so penal that Zhang’s total was at least 20 shots better than 34 of the other 83 players in the field.
She got off to a bumpy start, bogeying her second hole before a double at the third, but in some ways, team golf actually helped her right the ship. She didn’t drop another shot the rest of the way while making four birdies to win by a shot.
“You’re going to have bogeys and you’re going to not have the best holes, but it’s good to have the mindset that you can keep coming back and one less stroke means one less stroke for your team,” Zhang said. “It’s very different because you’re not playing for yourself only, you’re playing for your team, and I love the team environment. Every single event, we talk about never giving up for your teammates. Being able to be a part of something bigger than yourself definitely makes a difference, and I’ve been loving it so far.”
Stanford clipped runner-up Virginia by eight shots as a team while the Cardinal men's team put an exclamation point on the day by shooting 11 under in the final round to edge Oklahoma by a shot at the Colonial Collegiate. Michael Thorbjornsen's runner-up finish and grad student Henry Shimp's T-3 paced Stanford. Thorbjornsen, a sophomore, already has two top-10s in as many starts after not having any last spring as a much-heralded freshman.
Zhang took what she calls a “chill quarter” in the classroom so that she could ease into life as a student athlete, taking a few introductory classes, including the mandatory THINK 55 course for freshmen. Like many Stanford students, she doesn’t plan to declare a major until after her sophomore year. Who knows how many trophies she’ll have by then?
Zhang’s next start will be a home game, as the Cardinal host the Stanford Intercollegiate on Oct. 15-17. Zhang and a few other Stanford players, including Rachel Heck, will miss the fall-ending Pac-12 Preview in Hawaii because the event conflicts with the Spirit International.
Zhang is confident her deep squad can withstand those absences and collect another team title.
“Our team is really, really strong to the point where whoever is in the lineup, I’m sure they’re going to do amazing,” Zhang said. “I’m not too worried.”
New, big Man(ke) on campus
While Washington grad student R.J. Manke was putting together a winning individual performance at the Fighting Irish Classic in South Bend, Indiana, he was also keeping tabs on what was going on down in Fort Worth, Texas. Competing at Colonial Country Club was Pepperdine, Manke’s former team.
“I don’t usually look at my phone during tournaments, but I couldn’t help but check the Colonial scores and see how they were doing,” said Manke, who transferred to Washington this summer after four years in Malibu. “It’s awesome to see Derek [Hitchner] in the lineup, and he was playing well. Joe Highsmith finished T-9, so it’s a ton of fun to be able to follow those guys.”
The feeling is likely mutual. The Waves, the defending national champions, finished fifth in a loaded field at Colonial right around the time Manke was putting the finishing touches on a closing 6-under 64 to win Notre Dame’s event by a shot at 12 under. Manke, who led the Huskies to their second victory of the fall, now has a win and three other top-3 finishes to begin his first season in Seattle.
Nine of his 12 rounds have been in the 60s, too, as Manke enjoys what he calls the best ball-striking of his career. He keeps strokes-gained stats for each tournament, and right now he’s gaining about one-and-a-half shots on the field with approach shots almost every round. His par-3 scoring has also improved; on Tuesday, he played the four par-3s in 2 under.
“Just to have that confidence with the irons, knowing that I can make a guaranteed par or push for a lot of birdies, is huge,” Manke said.
Manke also credits his strong play to his move back home. The Lakewood, Washington, native considered Washington, about an hour from home, a “dream” school when he was a junior player. But at the time, he admittedly wasn’t good enough to play there, as the Huskies were a perennial top-10 team that was attracting talents such as Chris Williams and C.T. Pan. While his two older siblings were already students at Washington, Manke opted for up-and-coming Pepperdine.
Manke was a solid contributor for the Waves in four years, but he was subbed out during stroke play at last spring’s NCAA Championship and could only watch as Pepperdine won match play and an NCAA title. Not that those circumstances factored into his transfer; by then he had already made up his mind to pursue a master’s degree in real estate at Washington.
“I wouldn’t be the player I am now without playing alongside guys like Sahith [Theegala] and Joe Highsmith and Joey Vrzich,” Manke said. “The transfer was as much for graduate school and getting a degree that I’d be proud of as anything else.”
Yes, Manke misses the people in Malibu, including Highsmith, who played high school golf with Manke. But he’s also satisfied with his decision. Classes just started last Wednesday, and he’s planning on finishes his master’s in three quarters.
“When Joe headed back down to Malibu in August, I was happy that he was going, and I was happy that I was going up to Seattle,” Manke said. “It’s been a fun change, just comfortable all around, and I’ve always played my best golf when I’m comfortable.”
No wonder Manke is enjoying the best golf of his career, a run that he hopes continues into next spring. The Huskies kick off the second half of their season in late January … at Pepperdine’s home event, the Southwestern Invitational at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, California.
“I’m very much looking forward to going back … and being on TV makes it all the sweeter,” Manke said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to get back to North Ranch and see all those guys again.”
PGA Tour University
After making the cut at the PGA Tour's Sanderson Farms Championship, Oklahoma State senior Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra was the big mover along with Wake Forest senior Alex Fitpatrick, who tied for medalist honors at last week's Old Town Club Collegiate, in the latest PGA Tour University presented by Velocity Global Ranking. Both players jumped two spots to inside of the top 5, bumping out Texas' Cole Hammer and South Carolina's Ryan Hall.
Here's the current top 15:
1. Pierceson Coody, Texas
2. Sam Bennett, Texas A&M
3. Logan McAllister, Oklahoma
4. Eugenio Chacarra, Oklahoma State
5. Alex Fitzpatrick, Wake Forest
6. Cole Hammer, Texas
7. Ryan Hall, South Carolina
8. Sandy Scott, Texas Tech
9. Jacob Bridgeman, Clemson
10. Noah Goodwin, SMU
11. Jackson Suber, Ole Miss
12. RJ Manke, Washington
13. Trent Phillips, Georgia
14. Joe Highsmith, Pepperdine
15. Joey Vrzich, Pepperdine
For full ranking, click here.
Mikey likes historic venues
The first player to multiple individual victories this season? That would be Wake Forest sophomore Michael Brennan, who won the individual title Tuesday at Colonial.
Brennan, who two weeks ago shared the medal at the Old Town Club Collegiate with teammate Alex Fitzpatrick, grabbed the 36-hole lead after Monday and then fired a closing 5-under 65 at the annual PGA Tour stop to beat Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen by a shot at 11 under.
This isn’t the first time that Brennan has won in consecutive starts. Last spring, he followed a T-5, T-3 start to his college career with back-to-back titles, at Kiawah and Pinehurst.
Kiawah, Pinehurst and now Colonial? Talk about some great venues to win on.