At 19 years old, Rose Zhang is the No. 1 female amateur golfer in the world.
Her career has been marked by record-breaking performances, a slew of championship titles, and she could surpass the college record of Tiger Woods. Most recently, she won the highly prestigious 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur, or ANWA, tournament.
So what’s next for the world’s top amateur golfer? First, it’s the rest of her sophomore year at Stanford University.
“I’ll be super, super busy,” Zhang said in an interview with the “No Laying Up” podcast days before ANWA. “I’m planning on taking CS [computer science] 106A…I don’t know if it’s a smart decision but it’s kind of an essential intro CS class into Stanford so I’m going to try to navigate that, balance that out.”
This juggling act — of an already-renowned golf career, prospects of going pro, and the day-to-day responsibilities of being 19 in college — is a precarious one. But more stress doesn’t often lead to better results, Zhang said, which forced her to make a simple yet significant mindset shift.
Zhang now focuses more on the process of preparation rather than the final outcome. When it comes to her golf game, for example, instead of hyper-fixating on the victory, she now channels her energy into perfecting the fundamentals of her game and ensuring that she is “well-rested, well-prepped.”
“I’ve realized that, ‘Hey, there must be a way to live on a daily basis without having to be so hardcore,” Zhang said. She described going through most of life “putting so much emphasis into every single moment,” but at some point, “that gets to you quite a bit.”
She said that the week leading up to the 2023 ANWA, she was thinking more about just enjoying her fourth time at the tournament rather than winning it.
That lower-pressure approach has led to success.
The first few times Zhang competed in the ANWA, she focused solely on securing the top title. This year, she recalled telling herself days before the tournament: “Now it’s just, whatever happens happens. And it’s really an experience that you can’t really forget, so I’m just trying to keep all that into perspective.”
It might just be a coincidence that Zhang’s first-time ANWA victory happened once she adopted a lower-pressure mentality, but it could also be psychology at work.
Both too little and too much anxiety hurt performance, according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, a psychological concept developed by Robert Yerkes and John Dodson. Instead, individuals improve only when they find a moderate, balanced level of anxiety.
It wasn’t that Zhang completely released all pressure surrounding the tournament. She was still eyeing the prize: “Everyone would be lying if they were to come into this event and not want to win, because that’s what we do.”
But she also recognized that her previous mentality had been too extreme. So she found a middle-ground: a moderate amount of anxiety to create short-term motivation rather than constant agony over the final outcome.
“I haven’t necessarily been thinking about [the ANWA title], but when it comes to tournament mode, it’s more of using it as a motivation to try to play the best that I can.”
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