NCAA two-time golf champion Rose Zhang became the first player since 1951 to win their professional debut on the LPGA Tour with victory in the Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City ©Getty Images

Tiger Woods has led the praise for National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) champion Rose Zhang after she became the first player to win on her professional Ladies Players Golf Association (LPGA) Tour debut in 72 years with victory at the Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City.

The last female player to win as a pro on her debut was Beverly Hanson, who beat the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias to take the Eastern Open in 1951.

Zhang shot a two-over 74 in the final round at Liberty National Golf Course yesterday and squandered a chance to win the event on the final hole when she missed an eight-foot putt to earn par.

But the 20-year-old American recovered from that disappointment to beat Jennifer Kupcho on the second hole of the playoff.

It completed a dream first appearance on a major stage for the Californian, who played college golf at Stanford University where she was a two-time NCAA national champion, including at Scottsdale in Arizona last month.

Woods, who also played golf at Stanford, hailed Zhang’s victory on Twitter.

"Incredible few weeks for Rose Zhang, defends her NCAA title and then wins in her pro debut," he wrote.

Zhang has long been seen as the next big thing in women’s golf.

She had won a plethora of prizes throughout her high school and early undergraduate years, including being two-time McCormack Medal winner as the world’s top amateur golfer and the recipient of the 2022 Annika Sörenstam award.

Zhang broke Michelle Wie's scoring record when she tied for 11th in the 2020 ANA Inspiration Low Amateur and won the 2020 Rolex Girls Junior Championship.

She was a four-time Curtis Cup Player of the Year and represented the United States at the 2019 Junior Solheim Cup and Pan American Games.

The 2021 US Girls' Junior champion competed in four LPGA major championships that year and represented the US again at the 2021 Curtis Cup.

In high school, Zhang became the eighth golfer to win both the US Junior and US Amateur, but the first player to win the Amateur before the Junior.

In her two years and 58 rounds at Stanford, she recorded a scoring average of 69.22 in 4,015 strokes.

Zhang ended at par or better in 50 of those rounds, and 31 ended in the 60s finishing with 18 top-10 finishes.

With 12 wins, she surpassed legends Woods, Patrick Rodgers and Maverick McNealy for most victories in Stanford golf history.

Four came during her freshman season, while the other eight were earned this past season.

Zhang tied the NCAA single season record with those eight wins, joining Renee Heiken from Illinois in 1992 and 1993 and Lorena Ochoa from Arizona in 2001 and 2002.

She is also the first female golfer to win back-to-back individual college titles after defending her crown in May 2023.

Zhang’s head coach Anne Walker has called her "the Mozart, the Van Gogh of golf."

Walker added: "She has a stroke of genius, she has an X-factor that you can’t describe, you can’t teach."

Rose Zhang has been compared to composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and artist Vincent Van Gogh by her coach ©Getty Images
Rose Zhang has been compared to composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and artist Vincent Van Gogh by her coach ©Getty Images

Zhang collected $412,500 (£333,150/€386,000) in prize money for her victory in Jersey City and it also earned her an automatic LPGA Tour membership.

"What is happening?" she said in a television interview after her victory.

"I just can’t believe it.

"It was just last week that I won NCAAs with my [college] team-mates, and to turn pro and come out here, it’s just been amazing."