The Herald - Herald Sport
Instant success is hard to achieve but real challenge is sustaining it
ACCORDING to prolific writers, who can rattle off opinion pieces with the same energetic pomp as Jerry Lee Lewis battering out Great Balls of Fire on the piano, you should have your column written in your head before you even approach your computer.
It’s a bit like taking a penalty kick. You must have a firm idea about which way you’re going to boot the ball before you start your run-up.
With that analogy in mind, regular readers will have already deduced that I’m not very good at penalty kicks. There can be times in the columnchiselling process when I wearily prise open the laptop with a mind so empty, if you put a microphone into my ear all you’d hear would be a hollow whistling sound.
As for prancing, dancing digits like good old Jerry Lee? Well, my rigid, indolent fingers can spend ages hovering indecisively over the keyboard with that increasingly flustered footering you’d adopt when you’ve forgotten your PIN at the cash machine, the sighing, muttering queue behind you is growing and you have only one more go to get it right before your card gets swallowed.
We always get there in the end, though. For Rose Zhang, meanwhile, it’s just the beginning. Seven days ago in this very column, I’d looked ahead to Zhang’s eagerly anticipated professional debut on the LPGA Tour and made some cautious observation about amateur success being hard to replicate in the paid ranks.
But what do I know? A week on and Zhang is celebrating becoming the first player since Beverley Hanson in 1951 to win on her pro debut on the LPGA circuit.
Zhang’s play-off victory in the Mizuho Americas Classic was achieved just 11 days after her 20th birthday and nine days after turning pro. From being the all-conquering amateur with a list of record-busting achievements that’s longer than Route 66, Zhang has now made the kind of giant leap that could’ve been accompanied by a crackling commentary from Neil Armstrong.
There was huge hype surrounding
Zhang’s maiden voyage as a pro. Come Sunday, when she was leading the field by two shots after 54 holes, the American broadcasters agreed to bring TV coverage forward to capture more of this potentially historic occasion. It wasn’t quite on a par with NBC cutting into their baseball action to cover Nancy Lopez’s fifth win in a row on the LPGA Tour as a remarkable rookie back in 1978 but it was still proof of Zhang’s pulling power.
She didn’t disappoint. That Zhang actually won amid all the panting hysteria was an outstanding effort while the way she won – overcoming a few shoogles on a nervy final day before standing firm in the sudden
death shoot-out – illustrated her competitive fire and mental fortitude.
The response to her triumph has been inevitably excitable with salivating predictions about Zhang doing this, that and the other in the weeks, months and years ahead as she is held up as the latest poster girl for a women’s game that has had no shortage of thrilling, fearless, youthful talents down the years.
In this frenzied old world of ours, success, and indeed failure, regularly sparks unhinged levels of shrieking reaction. We can all be guilty of expecting too much too soon whenever an exciting new kid bursts on to the block. In the constant, cyclical churn of superstars-in-waiting and icons for a new age, these great expectations come with the territory.
Such burdens are hardly new, of course. Back in the swinging 60s, when the great Mickey Wright was winning just about everything in the women’s game, she had her own views on the rigours of being at the top of the hit parade.
“It was a lot of pressure to be in contention week after week for five or six years,” she once reflected. “I guess they call it burnout now, but it wore me out. Unless you’re a golfer, you can’t understand the tension and pressure of tournament play.”
Zhang is just at the start of her journey and the way she hit the ground running in New Jersey at the weekend underlined her abundant qualities and emboldened her youthful joie de vivre.
Instant success in the pro game is hard enough to achieve. Sustained excellence is even tougher. Is women’s golf set for the Zhang dynasty? As ever, only time will tell.
And another thing
GOING through the ages of golf’s weekend winners made this increasingly decrepit correspondent feel as ancient as the standing stones of Callanish. If I’m being honest, those rocky clumps are probably more upright than I am. Zhang is just out of her teens while Irishman Tom McKibbin became a DP World Tour winner in Germany at the age of 20.
Closer to home, Blairgowrie’s Connor Graham scored a fine victory in the Scottish Open Amateur Strokeplay Championship at just 16. Graham, last year’s Junior Open champion, became only the second Scot in 14 years to win the title and joined decorated compatriots like Bernard Gallacher, Gordon Brand Jnr, Colin Montgomerie and Andrew Coltart on the roll of honour. Graham’s triumph means the national men’s strokeplay and matchplay crowns are held by a pair of 16-year-olds, with Oliver Mukherjee winning the latter last year. This golf lark is kids’ stuff.
It’s the kind of giant leap that could’ve been accompanied by a crackling commentary from Neil Armstrong